Dear Diary... December 2011

Saturday 31st December - End of the Year

Well it's the final day of the year, and I had a pretty leisurely day all round, not least because I've been feeling a bit bunged up with a cold of sorts, maybe due to being out in the cold and wet yesterday, but I know some of the family have a cold too so I might have caught it that way. I did a fair bit of workout time on Wii Fit this morning, did a shed load of ironing and even washed and changed all the bedding within around an hour and a half (that was for all three activities) so that it'd be nice and lovely for The Love In My Heart staying tonight for New Year. This took me nicely up to mid-morning, when after a well earned shower it was time to have a quick walk around the city centre.

My plan was to see if anyone had the battery packs for the Wii Fit, so I wouldn't have to use 4 AA batteries every time, but instead plug in the battery pack to the Wii Fit and charge it via the USB port on the Wii, much easier and more efficient. No one seemed to have them in the city centre whatsoever so I suspect it's going to be a buy it off eBay job at some point. The city centre seemed much less manic after the initial day of sales, even with Debenhams having yet another sale offer, this time an extra 10% off stuff already reduced by up to 70%. I can honestly say I've never paid full price in Debenhams for anything.

I headed back home and spent the afternoon first of all watching the Man U v Blackburn game on ESPN. What I thought would be an easy Man U win wasn't, as Blackburn made every Man City fan's New Year by putting in a storming performance, to go 2-0 up at Old Trafford was awesome. Man U did fight back to 2-2 but did that stop Blackburn? No. They kept going and from a corner David de Gea flapped at a cross as he usually does, and Blackburn scored what proved to be the winner. Crucially, this means that City are still top but with a game in hand (we play New Year's Day at Sunderland) so that was rather good. I also spent some of the afternoon watching the racing on Channel 4 and then the Final Score on BBC1 to see how the other games of footy were going.

The Love arrived just after Final Score finished and we had a leisurely evening, having a game of Scrabble with the sounds of Joss Stone and Metronomy on in the background. It was a really tight board in the end and it was difficult to really make inroads with the words in play, but I was pretty pleased with a couple of moves I did, one was ZEAL at the top right of the board making EN and AT, and another was before that, I did ZESTS which also made another word and scored 53 points. Neato. I'll make "Everything Goes My Way" by Metronomy tune of the day - seems quite apt somehow.

We later on saw some of the Winter Wipeout and I made us some rather nice food for tea - some Yorkshire Provender winter root vegetable soup with a crispy French baton, and then some lamb steak with exquisa potatoes, vegetables, lamb gravy and Yorkshire puddings, with a tiramisu for afterwards. That was nice, and we settled in with some exercises on the Wii Fit so that The Love could have a blast of it, before then getting ourselves comfortable on the sofa for the annual Jools Holland Hootenanny. Having recently seen him and his band live, a couple of the tracks we already knew from that show, so it was good to see them again.

The clock came close to chiming midnight, and it was a nice glass of prosecco each to see the year out and wish each other a Happy New Year, and the fireworks came rushing from Big Ben and the London Eye with plenty of tracks in the background to keep the crowd occupied before they all (including a rather embarrassed Jake Humphrey) to sing Auld Lang Syne and link hands. So 2011 had finally come to an end then and it was a case of seeing what 2012 will bring. Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday 30th December - Rainy Blackpool

It was a rather rainy and wet day all round today, and after doing a bit of training on the trusty Wii Fit this morning, including lots of stretching exercises and some workouts including jogging, it was time to realise what I already knew - my balance is pretty much shot to pieces at the moment. I've never been that good at balance ever since I was small, and so having the Wii tell me that wasn't a surprise really. However, the least I can do is give the workouts a go, and of course there's other games that also use the balance board - Scrabble on the Wii does for one of the games so I might have to try that and see what happens with it.

I am going to persevere with the fitness side of things though, because I know realistically that I do need to lose weight. The Love In My Heart rightly said to me that if you want to lose it, it's got to be for yourself, and it's true. Even though now it's been over two and a half years since I gave up chocolate, which proved to be a good lifestyle choice, I'm still eating too much and not all of it necessarily good. I want to try and cut down on the fattening stuff as much as possible so that at least when I am exercising more I'll feel the benefit of it. Initially my target is a stone in two months which should be doable if I stick to my plans.

I left the house and headed to The Love's place, only for her to ring me as I'd got on the bus a few stops and informed me she left her hair straighteners at mine and needed them for today, and so I got off, headed back home and got them - and then set off for hers a little later than planned. It didn't work out too badly though, as The Love collected me from Piccadilly station and we then headed to hers, where a well earned coffee was the order of the day to get us both nicely warmed up for the rest of the day's events.

Each yeat since I've known The Love, her parents go away to Blackpool for New Year, and always to the same hotel - they like it, lots of entertainment is put on over the festive period and it's all inclusive for drinks and meals, meaning less expense further down the line. And naturally they insist on a room with a sea view, although with a day like today being all murky and wet, it might not be the best view ever. The Love and I headed to her parents' place where they had all packed and got themselves ready, and soon we were heading on to the M60 and then the M61, with the murky weather being all misty in the hills between Bolton and Blackburn.

It didn't take The Love long to get on the M6 and M55, where we got off at junction 3 and headed to the pub close to the roundabout for lunch. It's quite nice in there, they even do real ale, but I was good today and had lime and soda - thinking a bit of detoxing before the end of the year might work wonders. Three of us had the fish and chips, which was lightly battered and was pretty nice, and it just was enough to see me through to teatime without being over the top. It was then back on the M55, following the A583 towards the North Shore, past the train station to the promenade and then to the hotel they were staying at.

They got themselves checked in and off to the room they went, and a very nice room too. It had a good view of the sea, and pretty spacious with nice telly, tea and coffee making facilities (with Kenco coffee sachets no less), and a very good sized bathroom. It was good to see everything worked (all the TV sets had Freeview so no complaints there) and indeed there were little gifts left by the hotel like two really nice pens, and a tin of biscuits to make you geel welcome. Little touches like that really make your stay even better - The Love's parents thought so, I think!

As we left the hotel to head back to The Love's car, I couldn't help but notice one of the tram stops close by on the way back to the car - called Pleasant Street. If it wasn't tipping it down I'd have been tempted to take a shot of the sign with the murky sea behind for the perfect juxtaposition shot! Still, the rain hammered it down as The Love and I left Blackpool and by the time we were on the M61 it was murky, misty, dark and rainy, horrid for The Love to drive in. She did an excellent job and before too long we were at one of the larger Tescos near me as we were getting our food sorted for New Year's Eve - I'm going to cook a nice meal and we even got a bottle of prosecco (her call) to see the New Year in. Realistically it's a quiet night in for us I think - going out is just too darned expensive.

I was coming down with a bit of a cold that The Love's had, so we both headed home to recuperate and dose up on Lemsip (hmm, attractive!) - I ended up watching the World's Strongest Man and marvelling how anyone could lift a wide metal block over their heads of some 160kg without anything to hold on to whatsoever, and that truck pull was something else. I know I'll never be that strong but even to gain a bit of strength would be nice, methinks. Maybe after another Lemsip tonight and some sleep I'll be able to nicely recuperate back to full fitness and ward off the crap, we shall see.

Tune of the day is "The Bay" by Metronomy from their album "The English Riviera" - it sums up what this album's all about - an intriguing mix of 1980s slightly dark elctronica and yet retaining that pop edge. It proclaims about the bay (being Torbay of course) that "this isn't Paris, this isn't London" with so much joie de vivre that you can't help but fall in love with it. I'd heard the album a bit before I finally got it at Christmas, and the more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it - isn't it great when things like this happen?

Thursday 29th December - Fighting Fit

The rain really did put a dampener on everything today. The Love In My Heart was still feeling full of a cold and coughing like mad so she decided to head home and rest, which was probably a wise move for her. She wanted to really stay and do other things with me, such as take a nice walk, but when you're under the weather you want to just head home and get cosy under the covers, and if I think if that was me I'd be doing the same. It was hard to say goodbye but I knew I had plenty to keep me entertained as the rain set in for almost all of the day.

So, on The Love's advice, I decided for once to watch the whole of The Railway Children. I've always seen it in bits and parts when it's been on telly over Christmasses past, but for once I'd watch the whole thing. I've never read the book so I can't of course make comparisons to the book (no doubt some of you will) but the bits I do remember from seeing the glimpses past are when the petticoats are used to warn a train off and Jenny Agutter who plays the eldest daughter Roberta (often referred to as Bobbie) faints in front of the train, and of course the scene at the end where she meets the father on the platform, yelling "Daddy, my daddy!" as she rushes to him with emotion.

But of course there's more to it than that and when you watch the whole film those key scenes make much more sense in the context of the plot. The station Oakworth really does exist: it's part of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway and so you can visit that on the line if you wanted to - and all of the main parts of the film were around the area. The house they lived in there is close to the village of Oxenhope and some of the scenes that were the "village" were in fact in Haworth, which of course is pretty much Bronte country up there. One day I'd like to see those places for real, just so I can get an idea of what it would have been like back in 1970 when the film was made.

Incidentally, one other thing that always struck me was that Sally Thomsett played the middle child Phyllis, and yet I remembered her more from the TV series Man About The House that often got repeated when I was younger. As you can well imagine I was also a fan of The Wombles when I was little, so Bernard Cribbins of course was known to me (and it's his 83rd birthday today when the film was shown, nice touch that) and so seeing him as the station porter actually all made some kind of sense. The rain kept hammering down as the film progressed so made it all the more worth staying in for.

The rain subsided a little in the afternoon and I had a walk down to the local Blockbuster to see what was in their sales - and they had reduced the price of several games across all formats, but nothing jumped out at me. However a visit to the local Cash Converters close to me did in fact come up trumps all round - a Wii Fit (balance board and game) for a mere £30! I'd been after one for a bit at the right price so that if the weather was foul I could still do a bit of exercise and have some fun at the same time - plus I'm sure there's other games I've got which use the balance board in some way.

Of course I'd had a go of it before, but got into the rhythm of things with a nice workout of some aerobics, muscle stretches and balance games and I was soon working up a nice gentle sweat taking part in the exercises. My plan is where possible to do at least a half hour each day on there if the weather's foul and if it's good, there may be a bicycle involved if I can get one cheapish - there's some lovely cycle paths near me and it's about time I took advantage of them. I do want to lose weight and as well as considering eating better and healthier, there's also the consideration of more exercise too.

Tune of the day is on the new Joss Stone album LP1, and one that I've actually quite liked on first hearing. Amazing to think it's already here fifth album but that's how quick time goes I guess. On this most recent release Dave Stewart (yes, him from the Eurythmics) has worked with her and done a good job, particularly if "Last One To Know" is anything to go by - that sticks in the brain rather nicely and shows off Joss' voice rather superbly methinks. Always good to know that there's some good stuff out there if you're prepared to look a little.

Wednesday 28th December - Eating Away From The Wind

It was a nice and quiet day for me today, so I spent some time in Stockport having a good look at some of the electrical shops. I was weighing up whether to get a Blu-ray recorder with Freeview HD built in, or whether instead just to get a Freeview HD hard drive recorder and then order separately a high end blu-ray player which would play DVD-A and SACD, replacing therefore my existring DVD player at the same time. Certainly the likes of Comet and Currys are struggling to shift certain units, with plenty of discounts to be had on sets, which, when you look them up on independent reviews seem to be a bit less good than the retailer would have you believe.

In the end I mulled it over and even one of the staff in Richer Sounds admitted it was a difficult one to answer. On the one hand some of the Freeview HD recorder boxes with hard drive seemed decent, although there's flaws in them all - the Panasonic Blu-ray and hard drive recorder fails to carry BBC iPlayer, whilst the Samsung hard drive recorder that's won a What Hi-Fi award can only record one channel and also if you're doing any web-based content it supposedly kills the recording. The Humax is considered the best hard drive recorder, but there's a lack of online content. Strange one, that.

Either way, upgrading is going to be a difficult decision. Part of me thinks that long term I'd be looking at a new AV amp which would carry all the HDMI switching between devices, and that would also mean I'd then be able to get the Pioneer BDP-440 Blu-ray player, which would support DVD-A and SACD, and carry all the inputs nicely into the amp via HDMI instead of 5.1 analogue. Of course if the Blu-ray player supported 5.1 analogue out, I wouldn't have to upgrade the amp at the same time if I went down that route. Of course if I just went for the Panasonic Blu-ray recorder, that could just output via optical to the existing AV amp for now, and then I'd just keep my existing player for DVD-A and SACD.

Hmm.. not one to make now, methinks, so I left without spending. Also, possibly a good thing as realistically I know that if I want to fulfil one of my ambitions over the next few months I need to try and cut back on some spending and make sure that I'm able to have enough money to be able to do what I want to do. It's a bit of a long term aim to do something special at the end of May, and having already sorted most of it out I just need to get myself together for the final bit to complete everything. All will be revealed over the next few months, you can be assured of that. Let's just say it involves me finally getting to do what I've wanted to do since being a small boy..

Later on The Love In My Heart came over looking rather lovely in her new top that I'd got her for Christmas and some lovely jeans, looked very smart indeed. We were heading to the Elizabethan in Heaton Moor to meet up with a couple of our friends (one of whom I go to City with, and is a very special friend of mine) and swap presents and such like. They'd been away seeing family and the get together now gave us all time to catch up and have a good time - and that we did! The food was as lovely as ever and I couldn't resist the steak and ale pie for the main, let me tell you.

It was great to see both our friends and we exchanged presents, and I have to say that they really did get us lovely presents, but probably spent a bit too much on us - they're far too kind! In the end I received some rather nice CDs in the new Gary Numan album "Dead Son Rising", Megadeth's new one "Thirt3en", the REM compilation "Part Lies, Part Truth, Part Garbage" as well as the new Joss Stone release "LP1" - and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean for the Wii. My nephew has it on the DS so I can imagine he'd like to see what it's like on the Wii as well. They also got The Love some lovely presents, especially the bag from Oasis that I'd have bought myself had I not already spent up on The Love's presents, so well done them!

The time went far too quickly, as did the lovely ale and wine, and with the wind outside howling furiously it was very nice to be in the warm, oh yes. It subsided just enough by the time we left and that was good, so we headed back home and got back just before the rain came down again, where The Love spotted that there was a red button recording of Michael Bublé from the Radio 2 Christmas sessions on, and so we watched that. As you can well imagine she was rather pleased seeing him do his stuff, and his version of "Jingle Bells" at least has the Puppini Sisters on it, one of whom (Stephanie O'Brien) I find rather attractive!

As for tune of the day it simply had to be one choice: "The Fall" by Gary Numan, which is a storming single and one that's a real highlight of the "Dead Son Rising" album - and having heard it live with my friend several times this year it comes across rather powerfully when you've got some kick ass Industrial rock behind it as well - definitely one that grows on you, methinks. I'm sure that album will be getting a fair few plays over the next few weeks, that's for sure.

Tuesday 27th December - Bargain Buy

The Love In My Heart and I had a nice chilled out morning, I made us some breakfast and The Love rested for a fair while, she's not been 100% well at the moment and I thought a restful lie in might do her some good, and it proved to be the case. Whilst she was taking some time to sleep for a bit, I fired up the PC and tried out FIFA12. Even with keyboard, it seemed pretty playable and you could tell that it was super slick and smooth with the newer PC setup I had, so it felt rather good all round to give it a blast. I knew that it did need a gamepad though and so that was my mission for later in the afternoon.

The Love headed home to rest up and get some quality time to herself, and although it's always sad to say goodbye it felt more so today. I just felt really close to her especially at the moment and I think she feels that too, so it's good to know we've spent our time together well. I settled back in and made myself a light lunch whilst keeping an eye on the horse racing on BBC2 as it was the Welsh Grand National today, which proved to be a two horse race in the end with a good finish. Mind you, their first race televised on the day had a dead heat - quite a rarity that!

After I'd catalogued all the new CDs I have now (Excel spreadsheet is perfect for this so I know exactly what I've got and not got) I thought that I'd venture into the city centre to see if I could locate a good gamepad to play PC games (including FIFA12) on. The centre was rammed with shoppers everywhere, particularly the Arndale Centre, and I just wanted to get out of there and get what I needed, not that Game or Gamestation had actually heard of PC gaming of course, it all seems to be PS3, Xbox and Wii now with no trace of any new PC games out there. It does make you wonder considering the popularity of certain games on the PC if they're misssing out massively here, but hey ho, their loss of my money and all.

I had a brainwave: what about the Currys clearance centre place on Great Ancoats Street? Might be worth a go there I suppose. I walked from the centre to there as it was easier to do that than wait for a bus with millions of people wanting to get on at the same time (absolute no-no as you can guess) and probably quicker too, and so it proved. I went in, and perused around to see so many items just lying there all looking battered, especially the TV sets - I bet everyone went amok on Boxing Day. Anyway, near the front of the store was the PC accessories section, and some boxed and new Belkin stuff for not that much expense, and just to the left of that, several brand new in boxes Logitech Rumblepad 2s, which is one of the recommended FIFA controllers! Looked at the price, was decent - £29.99 reduced to £19.99, so bang on what I had to spend.

I then went to the till and waited in the queue to be served as half the staff were fetching items that had been won in an auction earlier on in the day - and eventually there I was at the counter. The assistant scanned the barcode and said "that'll be £14.99 please". No complaints from me of course, an extra 25% off and effectively half price from what it'd normally be charged. Woohoo! Payment handed over and all was well, and it didn't take me that long to walk back to the bus stop and get the bus home with minimal fuss. Looks like my cunning plan worked wonders after all then.

I booted up the PC, installed the Logitech gaming software which minimally runs when needed so it's there to help with the controllers, and then ran FIFA 12. And oh yes, that was tons better. The left analog stick in classic mode controls the player's movement, the buttons do what they're supposed to and also means I can use the likes of sprint, jockey and hold position with ease, and of course the shooting with 3 button and added to direction means better shooting. I started a league playing as Man City and didn't do too badly to start with so felt pleased, and of course it just feels so much better when the players look the part too. Rock and roll!

Tune of the day is in fact one of the tunes from FIFA 12 as well, you can imagine my happiness when out from the speakers came the intro to one of the shortest singles of the year but one I quite liked: "Wreckin' Bar (Ra Ra Ra)" by the Vaccines. Seems to suit the game rather well and be the perfect in-game tune whilst tweaking the controls or getting the team selection right for play. I'll have to go back and listen to the whole of the album again now as it's full of catchy numbers...

Monday 26th December - Cinema: Impossibly Empty

The Love In My Heart and I had a nice relaxing morning (well, we've earned it) and The Love made a rather nice breakfast all round which got us both nicely awake. It was good just to relax with the news on and see what was happening and how mad the sales were on Boxing Day (I avoided them like the plague, I wasn't meithered with being up at a stupid hour.) Lots of people seemed to have been up since 1am though queuing outside certain shopping centres just to try and get one bargain in the sale - and reporters could see the mad crush as plenty of them sprinted in. I wouldn't mind - half of them we saw on BBC News 24 were Chinese for some reason.

I checked the cinema times as The Love and I wanted to go to the cinema to see Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol - well The Love did more than me because of a certain Tom Cruise who stars in it, whom is her favourite actor of all time (understatement!) I checked and the Showcase had one showing at 2.05pm which was pretty perfect for our afternoon plans. My friend expected it to be rather busy on the day but I suspect everyone was fighting for bargains in the Next sale though - we got there, and the cinema was rather quiet, so much so that only one of the two cashier points in Showcase Belle Vue was open!

We got our tickets (matinee price of £5.90 thereby cheaper than their normal £7.10 charge, hurrah for that) and took our seats - and almost till the trailers we were the only people in the whole screen. In fact I reckoned only around twenty people in all were in for this showing, so it was nice and chilled out. So what did I think? Well to be honest the film was pretty good: lots of action and plenty of stunts which go hand in hand with the Mission Impossible theme - and the one where Tom Cruise runs along the side of a building way high up on the 100 plusth floor is something to behold.

In fact, what surprised me the most was Simon Pegg having one of the main roles - his same character in Mission Impossible III was a bit part character but seemed to be promoted to a proper field agent for this one, and he really did look at home in the role. Wouldn't we love Tom in return to guest star in Shaun of the Dead 2 or something? Hehe. Anyway, lots of action, drama, suspense and even some light humour in there really did make it enjoyable, and Brad Bird, the director who also produced The Incredibles, takes a lot of credit for that, for making the story work and also the character interaction work. The Love, as you can imagine, was rather pleased seeing Tom in a suit and open necked shirt, and said "he looked good!" - to which I responded that so did Paula Patton who played Jane, especially in the dress she had on for the party in India.

We headed back to mine where Man City had drawn 0-0 against West Brom, rather disappointing that. Especially as Man U had won 5-0 against Wigan and so had gone joint top with just goal difference being the deciding factor at the moment (we have +5 better, mainly due to the 6-1 win at Old Trafford earlier in the season - their only defeat in the league in fact.) We then headed over to see my uncle for a bit as my cousin needed a hard drive to put in his PC as his other one had crashed and died, and I had a spare drive he could use, so that was that all sorted nicely. We had a coffee and a brew and a good chat with my uncle and auntie about all sorts before we headed to mine.

I started work on the evening meal whilst The Love relaxed with the film Becoming Jane on BBC2, and everything was cosy. I made us a lovely meal in the end - mushroom soup with some lovely crusty bread to start, and was then able to relax for a while as most of the main cooked in the oven, and I could open a bottle of Brewers' Dark and relax. We then had the main of gammon in a honey glaze complete with some exquisa potatoes and some vegetables, and the gammon was simply gorgeous, it has to be said. Add some creme brulee for dessert and that was us very happy.

After tea and after The Love had indulged herself with more Coronation Street, we put the Wii on and had a good go of Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games. It's rather good, it has to be said. The intro was amazing and showed just how much attention to detail it has, and then the games themselves are all very playable indeed. What I liked was that although a fair number of events needed the nunchuk for one control method, they always had a control method with just the remote only, meaning that if you only have a limited number of nunchuks you're not penalised and can play four player (like I can with four remotes) which is ace.

The events we tried out were all good playable fun, and of course you can play as your Mii too (hurrah!) - we tried the show jumping event which was very good to try out, and the badminton really was playable as well, I teamed up with my good old fave Sonic for that one and won! The football, whilst not FIFA by any stretch of the imagination, was very playable and simpler controls so that everyone could pick it up, which was rather good of course. And the beach volleyball was also very fun and playable, as was the javelin and long jump we tried out - The Love thought the method of the clapping used to get the audience behind you worked best if you clapped the remote in time, and she was right - but a lovely touch nonetheless!

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather nice "Olympic (Word Production Mix)" by 808 State from their Blueprint compilation album I got yesterday. It's the proper theme tune for The Word on Channel 4, but the full version, and never before released before now, so good to hear it in full and proper as the band intended it. It still has all the trademarks of the original track, the killer bass and hookline, lots of synth leads and a clapping background sound that just gets everyone in the right uplifted mood, and hurrah to that I say!

Sunday 25th December - Happy Christmas!

Well, Christmas Day had arrived and it was very nice to spend plenty of time with the family and give some lovely presents to people, as well as receive some great ones too. It was very kind of everyone to get me such lovely things and I really appreciate it, but I appreciate more the enjoyment that people get when they open their gifts from me - it's the very least I can do. So, first stop on the day was to my uncle's place, where they were opening presents to and from themselvs later in the day, but opened mine now and enjoyed them. They very kindly got me the Manchester City Legends of Football DVD box set with some classic City games on, as well as the IKEA Dvala duvet cover set I was after too. I also got a CD each from my cousins which was very nice of them - the new Kasabian album and Richard Hawley's "Coles Corner" too. Hurrah!

The five of us made our way to my auntie's place where she was serving the traditional Christmas breakfast that we usually have - egg, bacon, sausage etc with some tea, orange juice etc, the perfect wake me up methinks. My auntie, cousin, girlfriend and their less than three month old son loved their presents, and they very kindly between them all gave me some more CDs too - also very nice, with the Rush "Time Machine 2011" live album, Metronomy's "The English Riviera", Brett Anderson's new one "Black Rainbows" and 808 State's "Blueprint" compilation with some rare and unreleased tracks on there - cracking. I knew there was method in doing a Christmas list for everyone!

Breakfast was fab as usual and I didn't eat lots because I knew that Mum would be doing the Christmas dinner later and I wanted to save myself for that, but the food was lovely, downed with some orange juice and I got to hold the near three month old baby for a while too - he's so cute with his cheeky grin and lovely smile and he curls up to you when in your arms which is also great. It was also good to see that everyone was having a good little fuss of him and with his little Santa outfit on certainly looked rather lovely. Awww.

It was then a short trip over to Mum's where I'd spend most of the day there with her, my two brothers and one of my sisters - the other spending Christmas Day in her new house with husband and kids - fair enough I thought. My nephew was also there and he seemed rather happy as he had his Nintendo DSI and Lego Pirates of the Caribbean Game to boot - and so he was showing me what he had to do on that. My brother got me a rather nice book with the history of Sesame Street, complete with a DVD of early footage. It's a great read and had much fun reading that at leisure later with the likes of Big Bird, Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, Count von Count etc all in there and correct. Yaay!

My sisters had got me some lovely presents - I'd already picked the gift up from the elder of the two sisters - CSI Season 8 on DVD, yaay! - and my younger sister had got me this lovely blue lamp from IKEA I was after (even with bulbs, bless!) and the My Fair Lady special edition DVD (she knows how much I love Audrey Hepburn so was well chuffed with that let me tell you) and Mum had spent far too much on me than she needed to - one present would have been enough! She got me a nice striped shirt, a soft green v-neck jumper from M&S (it's super soft too), some Lynx, socks and some Muppets socks too, the Fleet Foxes "Helplessness Blues" album as well as a "I love my computer" mug and some biccies. Honestly, one present would have been more than enough! They were all lovely though.

I spent some time with my nephew helping him construct some Lego City sets he had - one in particular was like a surf shack type place on Lego beach along with a boat. I let him build and only intervened when he needed to place a brick in a certain place that he wasn't sure of, so it gave him the thrill of building it himself but having someone there to reassure him was the right thing to do. And later on after the rather lovely Christmas dinner, we tried out the Cars Monopoly - and it worked out rather well. They simplified the instructions to make it more kid-friendly, which meant we all understood it and were able to play. My sister joined in too so three of us had a game and my nephew trounced us as we landed on his Lightning McQueen space and owed him plenty of rent - oops!

It was nice to just relax in the afternoon and I spent some time with the family chattering away and I think everyone enjoyed their Christmas presents, which was good. It was also nice that Mum had got in some lovely real ales for the Christmas period and the only difficult decision about what to have with the Christmas dinner was which beer to pick - and so went for the trusty Hobgoblin in the end, which proved to be a perfect fit and just the job. I went home from Mum's late afternoon rather laden with bags of presents, and some for The Love In My Heart too, it has to be said, which was really lovely of everyone. Tune of the day incidentally is "There's Always Something There To Remind Me" by Sandie Shaw, as I mentioned to Mum I'd seen her live in York and that was the first song she thought of - a good one mind!

I spent some time at home then setting up the lamp in the bedroom and checking it all worked (it was rather nice actually) and later on The Love In My Heart came to collect me, as I was staying at hers tonight. I picked up the overnight bag and her presents and we went over to her place, which looked gorgeously festive with the Chrismas tree looking so lovely and presents underneath it. We exchanged cards and we both loved the cards we got - and yes it was a Forever Friends one - simply because it looked so gorgeous. Before opening the presents to each other we spent time opening the presents from our respective families which was a nice touch.

And The Love's family were very generous indeed - her mother and father were trying to get me the Logitech F310 gamepad but couldn't source it, so gave me the money instead to track it down myself and buy it, which was fair enough. I also received nice gifts too from the rest of her family - Senna on DVD (oh yes, going to have to reserve a night to watch that), some nice real ales, Morrissey's "Southpaw Grammar" reissue CD with the tracks the way Morrissey wanted them, Jesse Malin and the St Marks Social "Love It To Life" CD as well as the second Swing Out Sister album "Kaleidoscope World" so all was well there indeed. Very nice of them.

But The Love really did excel herself with four rather gorgeous presents, and things I really really wanted as well. For a start, the Manchester City Umbro diamond sky blue shirt, with the classic Umbro diamond down the arms and the classic Manchester City logo on it too - as you can well imagine that was rather lovely to open. Then there was the rather nice Hugo Boss aftershave too - one which I know I feel good in and I'd not had some for a while as the old bottle had run out, so good to get some more. And two games too - and recent releases at that, both I wanted lots, like FIFA 12 for the PC, handy of course as Man City are in it heavily and the Etihad Stadium is featured, and Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games for the Wii. Excellent! I was so pleased with that little lot.

The Love loved her presents too - I really did make an effort to get her some lovely gifts. She was pleased the most I think with the Mel heart wedge shoes I got - not least because she didn't expect them (I got a good bargain there too) and because I knew how much she'd been after them when she saw them in Debenhams over the Summer. See blokes, always pay attention when shopping with your beloved, because then you know what to get. Simple really. I also had managed to locate her the old Paul Weller "Headlines and Hang-Ups" video that she used to own and love, so knew that was special to her as well as the Michael Buble Christmas album (and why not!), a really nice burgundy lace top from Warehouse, a Ted Baker purse and one of the Mike Gayle novels missing from her collection.

We snuggled up later and I had my Clouded Yellow and Yorkshire Terrier ales as we watched the episiode of Downton Abbey. I'd not watched the series for a while but soon got back up to speed, and it was amazing how quick the two hours went. Certainly it's still the best drama ITV had put on in ages and well worth watching together and enjoying the historic drama. I really liked it when there was even a small punch up and fight between two of the characters as the tension had built all episode so was good to see that come to fruition - and of course the ending's left it perfectly poised for another series, which makes perfect sense to me. All in all, a fab day, fab pressies and even nicer to cuddle up to my very special love at the end of it.

Saturday 24th December - It's (Almost) Christmas

Today was about dotting the t's and crossing the i's for the Christmas festivities. Having already got the shopping done, it was a case of being able to sit back and relax for the most part of the day - that is, once I did the visits to the cemeteries. Some of my relations are no longer with me, and so I always spend a bit of time on Christmas Eve to visit the cemeteries and pay my respects. It's a good thing to do because on Christmas Day itself not only are a lot of other people there, meaning you don't get a private moment to yourself, but also being there on that day just seems a little too painful.

I went to the two cemeteries I needed to visit, found the memorials in both and did the right thing, before leaving with a tinge of sadness inside me knowing that I'd much rather those in question being here than elsewhere. I suppose when you stop to think about how horrible death actually is, it makes you think even more how hard it can be to cope with it initially, and how the memories you want to keep over time are in fact the ones that you treasure, where good things happened, and how you were a part of those memories. It's things like that which understandably keep you going.

Part of the routine is also afterwards to head to the nearest Costa and have a coffee and maybe even some cake. It gives me chance to rest and pause, but also gets myself together so that I can enjoy the festive period a bit more from that point onwards. I got the creme brulee latte and a nice piece of lemon cake, and what's more I had enough loyalty card points to essentially get them as a freebie, so that was a little treat to myself. I grabbed a morning paper when in there and so was having a leisurely half hour or so with coffee, newspaper and cake, a perfect way to wind down methinks.

Back at home I cleaned the kitchen and did some vacuuming in the living room, and with the tree lights on it's now beginning to feel a bit more like Christmas, even if the weather doesn't feel that festive. It's actually quite still and mild today and should be so tomorrow as well, and all the rain from yesterday has virtually dried off, which goes to show how mild it actually is. As it's getting dark, it now feels like being a big kid again, waiting to see what happens on the next day...

And with that, it seems appropriate that a Christmas song is tune of the day so what better than the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's classic "Fairytale of New York" which really does get you in the festive mood. It just isn't the same without hearing it, and of course uproar happened when the censors decided to take the word "faggot" out of one of the verses fearing it would cause offence, when people actually were intelligent enough to understand it in the context of the song. It's a classic, and when you hear the chorus playing anywhere you know it's that time of year.

So, everyone, have a lovely Christmas, and hope that you receive and give some lovely gifts, don't eat too much on the actual day and enjoy the time with your families, loved ones, and friends. I'm sure that I am going to do pretty much all of that, and with me seeing The Love In My Heart tomorrow that's going to make the day even nicer. Please do have a wonderful time and I'll report back with how my day went once the festive period is settling down a bit...

Friday 23rd December - Rain Rain, Go Away!

It's done nothing but rain today. Rain, rain, and then more rain. And I had to head out in it, but with good reason. Early morning I wanted to get all the food shopping done for the festive period so that I didn't have to faff around with it all tomorrow (method in my madness you know) and I knew that if I left early enough and if the weather wasn't good, it'd hopefully be empty in the large Tesco. And you know what? It was. Eerily so, but I wasn't complaining about that.

In fact I'd emptied my jar I have of all the 1p and 2p coins you get in loose change, the idea being that I'd change that for the real cash and then use that towards some shopping I may need to get from Asda later on in the day, and the Tesco has one of those coin machines where you put money in. I only thought I had around £2 worth of copper, so imagine when the machine counted a very nice £6.26. Decent, and I cashed the voucher in at the customer services desk which in turn meant I now had a pound coin for the trolley so I could start shopping in earnest as well (I didn't have one with me due to lack of normal change, so it worked out well in the end).

Got virtually everything in Tesco and that was all good, and the only thing I didn't manage to get hold of was the packets of steam fresh vegetables, but I did pick up some lovely stuff as I'm cooking for The Love In My Heart on Boxing Day night which will be good, and also some other bits which I can put together if we both need a nice quick meal as well, so there's some options there if they are required, thought that it was the least I could do really. One trip to Asda later that morning and the steam fresh veg were acquired along with a nice bottle of wine for The Love, so she has a choice of two.

With the rain teeming down I spent most of the afternoon cleaning the house, which proved to be a good move as it'd save me time doing that tomorrow and also meant that I could make sure that everything was all shipshape and right and not have to run around manically. It felt good and I had Metallica on at full blast to really motivate me to clean more - so "Sad But True" from their legendary self-titled "black album" is tune of the day - I was happily singing along to the chorus whilst getting the bathroom all sorted out and neat.

The rain subsided enough later to give me enough of a window to head to my sister's and visit her place, and bring a bag of presents for herself, my brother in law and my niece and nephew, so that was rather nice over a lovely cup of tea as well. It was nice to have a lengthy chat and more of that happened when I walked from there then to my auntie's place for a bit, before then heading to Mum's, having a coffee and having a rather nice chat with Mum as well, which was good. I finalised everything for me for Christmas Day as well and it seemed that the rain was trying to come down again so I made it home before the weather decided to head for the worst.

Thursday 22nd December - Two Towns, One Day

I had a bit of time on my hands today so decided to go ahead and make the most of it, by heading to two local town centres and to have a very leisurely look around the shops there. It made more sense to do it as the weather was forecast to be milder today than tomorrow with not much chance of rain (so that's good methinks). So after having some breakfast and making sure that the house was tidy, it was off on the bus and first into Stockport, where I had a good walk through the shopping precinct and down towards the Peel Centre to take a look at some of the shops there.

In fact they had a Gap Outlet there now and so I had a quick look in there to see if there was anything of interest to me - there was, but as they always seem to be, not in my size. Ah well. I was still pretty pleased though that it seemed that some of the electrical retailers weren't on your back the moment you walked into their store. I wanted to do a price comparison on a Blu-ray recorder that I've been weighing up but wanted to do it in my own time, so to speak. What was good was that it proved that I knew that neither Currys nor Comet would get anywhere near the price I'd seen it online, so that was useful to know.

I spent a bit more time looking in more shops before the long walk back through the Merseyway precinct, and up the hill to the train station, where I got a day train ticket for the Greater Manchester area and got the train to Manchester Piccadilly, stopping at the Costa Coffee close to Platform 13 for a well earned coffee and then on to the train at Platform 14 and off to Bolton. I'd wanted to go in a couple of record shops there and as I had time on my hands today, I thought "why not?"

In the end after walking around the town centre for a fair while, I eventually found X Records in its location to the North of the town. It was a treasure trove of vinyl and CDs, stacked all very neatly against the walls and shelves and it was a case of going through the sections in alphabetical order to find what you need. It all seemed well organised and there was plenty of temptation looking at me if I so wanted, but nothing jumped out at me to say "buy me!" - but still, plenty of things there to consider parting the cash with including some rather nice 12" indie singles. Just wish I'd have spotted some Man From Delmonte in there.

It was good too to peruse around some of the other shops in Bolton and also go through what was the old market and see how nice that little shopping centre is with the likes of Debenhams in there - it certainly seems good all round these days and a good mix of the old and new in terms of retail. I did note though that close to the centre there seems to be three different retail parks - and wondered if that was such a wise move on the local council's part to have all that space used for them. Still, well worth the trip out and headed back home on the train (packed with people due to everyone trying to get to the airport!)

Tune of the day happens to be something I played later on when I got home and spent the evening in relatively relaxed mode. I wanted to wind down nicely and found that a bit of Swing Out Sister was in order, particularly their first album, and on that is the rather good "Surrender" which takes me back to when it was popular around 1987, but also shows that even now it stands up rather well against a lot of the modern not so good stuff out there. I just wish they'd tour again so that The Love In My Heart and I can go and see them...

Wednesday 21st December - Top Of The League for Christmas

It was nice to just wake up at a very leisurely pace in the Travelodge in York this morning, and after getting ourselves up, showered and changed, The Love In My Heart and I headed off to Costa Coffee so I could have some lovely coffee and some toast for breakfast (they do do toast if you ask them nicely, top tip of the day) - The Love had ham and cheese toastie with a cup of tea, and so all was well with the world once we'd been fed. It was nice too to read the morning paper with the coffee and just relax and that just really got us up in the right frame of mind.

We headed back to Betty's Tea Rooms as The Love wanted to get her father some mince pies, and also got a couple of the fondant fancies for some of her relations too. I couldn't resist the mince pie with frangipane and almonds and so had another one, which was far too lovely. We walked down Stonegate as I wanted to go to the real ale shop in there. It was far too nice, and far too many good ales on selection, including a massive load of St Austell ones including stuff you normally can't get anywhere except Cornwall, stuff like Proper Job, Admiral's Ale, Proper Black, HSD etc but best of all they had Clouded Yellow, which I love. So it was two bottles of that and a bottle of the York Brewery's Yorkshire Terrier, and all was very well with my world.

We checked out of the Travelodge later, paid the discounted parking charge (much less, happy bunnies we were) and left York passing the race course and on to the A64, M1 and M62 again back to Manchester. Over the hills at Summit it was rather foggy, and despite this and a 50mph speed limit due to roadworks, some drivers seemed to want to hit around 80 plus up there. Fools, I thought. I know that I'm in very safe hands with The Love driving, so we left the M62 and headed down the A664 to her parents' place and dropped off their nice little food gifts before heading back to hers.

We had a leisurely afternoon in the main, with some lovely telly and then having a game of Scrabble. The Travel set is now permanently resident at hers so that if we fancy a game we can just dig it out and get on with it. I was quite pleased to play OPAQUE in the top corner for 72 points (blank used as P, double letter on Q and of course triple world) but The Love came up with some good moves of her own too, and we must be getting better these days as a game which used to last an hour and a quarter these days takes around forty five minutes no less!

After some gorgeous spaghetti and Swedish meatballs, my friend and his wife (also my friend too!) came over, and my friend and I headed off to the Etihad Stadium whilst the two ladies were due to have plenty of wine and plenty of chatter, which was good for them both really. My friend and I wanted to see Man City finish off the year at home with a win to keep us top of the league, and would mean that we'd be at top at Christmas for the first time for well, ages really.

It wasn't that difficult either in truth. We spent our time passing it around, winding Stoke up and generally wearing them down with the style of football we now play. The first goal proved we can score ugly too as a Yaya Toure shot was helped on by Vincent Kompany and after a scruffy attempt at a clearance from the keeper Thomas Sorensen, there was Sergio Agüero to finish off and make it 1-0 with the simplest of finishes. A few minutes later and it was 2-0, with a thunderous drive from Adam Johnson really making the class tell. Unfortunately Man U were also winning 2-0 but hey ho..

The second half was almost a procession and I don't think Stoke had a shot on target, that's how easy it was for City in the end. At 1-0 we were singing to Stoke "1-0 to City, it's like Wembley again" (cos of the FA Cup Final) and at 3-0 we had plenty of banter with them. Their fans deserved better than the performance from their team tonight, and a neat move with Samir Nasri resulted in a simple effective finish from Agüero for the third goal. The tannoy blasted out Elvis's "Blue Christmas" and we left the ground knowing that despite Man U's 5-0 hammering of Fulham, we were the top dogs in the league.

We had a coffee at The Love's place, and once I'd got home I whacked on BBC iPlayer as I wanted to see the TOTP2 Christmas Special that had been shown on BBC2 earlier, for a very very special treat - a long lost archive performance of David Bowie performing "The Jean Genie" live. It was amazing stuff, and Mark Radcliffe who was hosting it said quite rightly "Just feel the raw power of David Bowie" - and it was spot on. Proper music from a proper man, and with Mick Ronson's guitars doing their bit too, just awesomeness. Tune of the day was a very easy decision having seen this!

Tuesday 20th December - Rhythm and Blues in York

It was nice today to get away from Manchester for an overnight stay somewhere else, and a break from the norm. After having a lovely time on the works Christmas lunch, it was now time to spend some quality time with The Love In My Heart away from work, which is always a good thing to do. Months ago we'd booked to see Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra in the Barbican Centre in York, and having been there earlier in the year I knew it was a nice venue to go to. Plus I'd booked a Travelodge in the centre for not that much money either, so hopefully it'd be a nice chance to enjoy ourselves a fair bit.

I headed on the bus to The Love In My Heart's place, and she was pretty much ready to go when we got there. What was nice was that she looked very lovely in her outfit, and was looking forward to having some time away too. She had decided to drive to York, and we knew that there was a car park close to the Travelodge where you got a parking discount, which made it a bit less painful in terms of how much that would cost - parking in such a historic city as York usually isn't cheap, let me tell you.

The Love and I went along the M62, over the tops at Summit, past the turnoff for Leeds and then headed along the M1 to the A64, and went along there till the turn off which took us past the racecourse (which I'd never seen for real so that was a bonus and a half) and then into the city centre, past the train station, under one of the historic wall arches and on to the car park, and after a little bit of skiled driving, into a space. So with ticket for the car park, it was off to the shops to do some lovely shopping, and leisurely too at that.

It was nice to take the time to walk around the shops, and I even got myself a nice merino wool jumper in TK Maxx for a mere £16 which looked lovely, and just my sort of colour too, so that was good. The Love and I went in Betty's Tea Rooms, not for lunch or anything (we did that earlier) but to have a look at the cakes and little sweet treats as she wanted to get a couple of little presents in there. I did treat myself to a mince pie with frangipane topping with almonds, and that was stunning, really lovely and it just felt more Christmassy once I'd had it. We also looked in a lot of the little independent shops and admired the stuff on show.

Walking down Stonegate I was a bit upset, as I thought that the Cat Gallery shop was down here, and I couldn't see it. I had resigned myself to thinking it had gone bump when a right turn showed me otherwise, it had relocated to another street. It still has tons of gorgeous Rosina Wachtmeister stuff, so it was very lovely and very tempting to buy myself more of those car figures, but I was very good and resisted. We walked along through the Shambles and some of the more historic streets, and one of the shops made their own chocolate, which The Love asked me to head into and check out the lovely smell (well it was for her, I don't do chocolate anymore so it was far too nice a smell to be tempted)

After a lovely mooch in the shops, we went and got our overnight bags and checked into the Travelodge. It used to be a former Ramada Encore hotel, and the place looked pretty nice. We had a third floor room facing the front, and the bathroom was all green coloured glass with a walk in shower, all rather lovely actually. The bed was comfy, the telly was working, pretty much spot on which is good. After all that walking we got showered and changed and ready for the evening, The Love in her rather nice 60s inspired dress with boots and me with one of my favourite jumpers that I got in TK Maxx Windsor for a mere £9 (but it should be around £50 normally) and we all looked set to rock (sort of)

First stop was to have an evening meal and so we went to Harkers, a very nice looking pub close to the Betty's Tea Rooms. They did two courses for £9.95 which looked a good deal so we went for that. The Love had the tomato and basil soup for starters, which looked good, but nowhere near as good as the crispy calamari I had with garlic mayonnaise. Honestly folks, the best calamari I've ever had - ever, and I mean that. It was that nice that The Love who doesn't normally like it tried it and said to me that served like that, she'd eat the whole lot too. And that was just the starter - the main of the Shropshire chicken (and a whole little chicken each at that) with skin on chips and choice of sauces, was just beautiful too. All washed down nicely with a pint of Yorkshire Terrier - the sort of meal that you want to have but don't always get. Result!

We walked back through the city centre, past Clifford's Tower and along the outside of the city walls to head to the Barbican, and made it in good time to get to the upstairs balcony bar, get a drink and take our seats before the show started. The tickets said 7.30pm start and that's what happened, so you'd think that those who came late would have read it? After each song more people came in and you just think "good job it's not a proper theatre show, or you'd be buggered wouldn't you?" I looked at it as their loss as both the support act and Jools' band in the main were rather good.

So up first was Mark Flanagan, who as well as being one of the guitarists in Jools' band, has his own solo slot too, and he got the crowd warmed up very nicely with some blues compositions - some co-written with Jimmy Bergin, whom he made an album with, and some from his first album "The Chosen Few" which seemed rather nice workouts all round. He really knew how to play and the drummer and bassist complemented him rather well. The later stuff he performed almost went more into the alt.country type bracket, but still with plenty of skill and playing. And of course he was playing as part of Jools' band in the main set too.

A short interval and then on came Jools Holland his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra (official site) - and for two hours and ten minutes the crowd were treated to a proper show. What The Love and I noticed was that he gives all of he band members their slots to shine in certain songs and so that he could announce them, which was rather nice. The two singers in his band were excellent too - Rosie Mae came on and did "Got My Mojo Working" with a powerful blues voice, and for the more soulful stuff there was the lovely Louise Marshall, who carried that voice superbly well. Infact the two of them would backup sing if anyone else such as Jools was singing and they really were enjoying themselves. One track with Louise, "Father Time" was nothing short of ace.

A quite surreal moment happened half way through. Jools announced that there was an unannounced special guest, who was in a Manchester band but was learning to play the saxophone with one of Jools' players as his teacher. We were wondering who it was before Jools brought him on - Shaun Ryder! Yes, that one from the Happy Mondays. As a sax player you could tell he was still learning but strangely he didn't actually look that much out of place when he was giving it a go. And fair play for doing so too.

After a few more really well crafted songs, Jools got ready to announce Sandie Shaw, whom of course was part of the reason I'd wanted to go to York instead of Manchester (she didn't play the O2 Apollo you see). And was I disappointed? Oh no. Sandie was fab. She came on in an orange glittery dress, and in her bare feet (good to see that the barefoot contessa is still doing her thing) and first off did a rather nice version of The Beatles' "Love Me Do" which with the orchestra sounded rather good all round.

But next up had me with a massive smile on my face, and The Love looked at me and wondered why. Then she realised - it was "Long Live Love" - my favourite Sandie song from her 1960s era and one that is just pure joyous lovely happy pop music. With the orchestra it sounded beautiful and Sandie's voice was in such good form. Tune of the day - easily, to hear that live which I never thought I'd hear was just such a moving moment for me. Hurrah for gigs eh?

Sandie then did a slower more chilled out version of "Puppet on a String" similar to a version she'd put on her website a few years back and closed with "Always Something There To Remind Me" which I know that both The Love and I like. No disappointment there at all - a lovely little set and I was so pleased to hear her do that. Ruby Turner came on and brought her powerful soul diva voice to the last part of the show and that really got some of the crowd up and moving, and that felt good - lots of good vibes in there and plenty of happy faces everywhere. Before we knew it, it was 10.30pm and all over - two hours plus had passed without even noticing.

On the way back to the Travelodge, The Love was really happy and she said that not only had she enjoyed the gig massively, but that the whole day had been lovely and perhaps our nicest time out together for ages. Awwww, I just wanted to give her a massive hug there and then! It's nice when you can spend such lovely times together and even more so when it's with someone really special like she is. I snuggled up to sleep in the Travelodge one very happy man, let me tell you, with the sound of Sandie's singing in my head, thinking about my all time favourite Sandie song "Nothing Less Than Brilliant", cos that's what The Love is in my eyes.

Monday 19th December - Turkey Monday

I had a rather relaxing morning, finishing off sending Christmas cards and the like to people but also making sure that I had everything in the house shipshape for the next few days. It worked quite well as I could spend the time in the morning getting a few things well and truly sorted out, including getting some Mach 3 razor blades. They seem to be like gold dust near where I live at the moment and even the local Tesco didn't have any, but thankfully one of the discount pound shops came up with the goods for a measly £5.99 (which is actually a decent price for them). Mental note made of where to get them in future.

I got showered and changed and then headed on the bus into the city centre to Ra!n Bar, where I was to meet up with almost all of our team at work to go on our Christmas lunch. We were supposed to be on the first floor but it turned out that the heating had failed in that room, so they reserved us a space downstairs from the main bar with the corner below where the telly is normally above, and although a tight squeeze, it did mean it was quite cosy and we could chat to people which was good.

The meal wasn't too bad, considering it was a mere £10. The vegetable soup was pretty good and tasty with plenty of vegetables in there and a nice warm crispy bread roll and butter go with it. The turkey main was fine on the whole although the roasted spuds were massively overdone and there wasn't enough stuffing in the stuffing ball for me, but a couple of them did seem colder than others and that was a bit of a shame. The Christmas pud for dessert was served like a cake slice with the brandy cream sauce on top, and it was passable too, although I'd have much preferred it to look more like a Christmas pud, if you know what I mean.

We swapped the Secret Santa presents and I was really pleased with what I got - a Man City bar set with pint glass, bar towel and some coasters, and the pint glass had the Man City logo on. It was a proper one from the City shop too (I can tell because I've been in there often enough to spot it) so thank you to whoever got it for me, it was much appreciated and I might be tempted to have a King Goblin beer later and drink from the glass. We shall see.

Tune of the day is Pete Green's marvellous little Christmas song "Everything's Dead Pretty When It Snows", because, folks, it's true. Doesn't it feel a bit more Christmassy with proper snow everywhere and feeling more festive than the constant rain that we've had today? Well, I'd like to think so. Pete has very kindly offered his song for free download too, so there's no excuse not to hear it. Download it now, and enjoy the festive spirit that it brings!

Sunday 18th December - One Nil, Not To The Arsenal

It was a busy day as The Love In My Heart and I had planned to clear out my understairs cubbyhole. It works out quite well in terms of storage and things like that, but unfortunately I'd kept a few too many cardboard boxes, and it was clear that they needed to be chucked out. I soon got to work and we worked out how many we needed to get rid of (lots) as well as some other crap in there that I would never use. I did also locate a box full of Commodore 64 games I thought I'd lost, still all boxed and organised. I got a couple of plastic boxes and transferred the contents to that box instead, and that worked out a lot better.

It ended up being three tips to the local recycling tip - one for the cardboard boxes, another for some wood, paper, magazines etc and the final one for the rowing machine, which I discovered yesterday was beyond repair as one of the handles for the rower had snapped off, so unless I fancied going onehanded, it wasn't much use. I did vacuum out the carpet in the cubbyhole too and it looks much more organised too, with stuff you can find and also means I could store the trusty Dyson in there when not in use, not a bad idea at all that.

We headed back to The Love's place and whilst she was getting herself sorted and changed I spent some time keeping an eye on the Portsmouth v Southampton game before my friend came over, and it was then off to the Etihad Stadium to see how Man City would do against Arsenal. Of course after City's loss against Chelski on Monday and with Man U winning earlier, it was important for us to get back to winning ways. I knew that Arsenal were a threat up front particularly with Robin van Persie (who "scores when he wants" according to their fans) and that we had to be on guard.

The game proved to be one of the best of the season with both sides going for it. Pablo Zabaleta put in a lovely cross only for Sergio Agüero to hit it over the bar when he should have scored, and at the other end City survived a goalmouth scramble. Mario Balotelli also went close with a stretched kick after he brought the ball down brilliantly, and it was real end to end stuff that I couldn't take my eyes off for one second. As half time approached with the scores locked at nil nil I had a feeling that one goal might just win this.

The second half started after I had to queue for bloody ages to get my friend some chips, for some reason the service was über-slow today. Anyway I only missed around 40 seconds which wasn't bad, and during the second half City came more alive. A few minutes later, the decisive moment as it turned out. Mario Balotelli timed his run superbly down the left, cut in and shot, their keeper saved it but Agüero kept it alive by heading across the face of the goal for David Silva to finish it off nicely. Oh yes, get in! 1-0 to City and the place went mental, I tell you.

How it stayed that scoreline for the next half hour or so I have no idea. Robin van Persie was adjudged just offside but had a delicate dink over Joe Hart for the fun of it anyway, Samir Nasri put a ball too far behind the likes of Agüero and Balotelli to score a second, Zabaleta intercepted a ball and smashed a half volley against the post, and Arsenal went close with Thomas Vermaelen late on, with a curling shot and a snapshot that Joe Hart superbly saved, he was on top form today it has to be said. A real cracker of a match and one that puts us back top, yaay my team!

Once the traffic died down my friend and I headed out of the ground, out of town and then I walked from Southern Cemetery to see one of my friends as it was her birthday today. I managed to get her this really nice little kit where you can make your own felt owls, and as she is a crafty sort of person, I thought it was something she'd love (and she loves owls too, hence my card had some owls on). It was good to have a lengthy chat with her and her boyfriend about all sorts, how it's annoying when people talk when bands are on, what the Christmas plans are etc, and conversation flowed for over two hours with the time speeding by. Oh, and very very nice Victoria sponge cake and a cup of tea. What more could I want?

As I walked back to Southern Cemetery and got the bus home in record time, enough to get to watch City on Match of the Day 2, it had been a good day, if a little cold. Tune of the day is "Sleep Well Tonight" by Gene, one because it's one of my friend's favourite songs (she adores Martin Rossiter of the band and now he's doing solo shows even more reason to) and also because that's what I think I'll do after a busy but very worthwhile and rewarding day all round.

Saturday 17th December - And The Winner Is..

I went into the city centre early on this morning to get the hair chopped nicely for the Christmas period. For some reason the Northern Cutter wasn't open at its normal time, so it gave me the perfect excuse (as if I needed one of course) to go to the Manchester Coffee Co down the road and have one of their lovely small americano coffees (which is not small at all) for a mere £1. It's a lovely coffee and their deal before 11am really does work well - and I was tempted to have cake too if I hadn't have had breakfast before I left the house.

Back at the hairdressers all was now functional so I went in there and had a rather nice cut all round. The staff were playing the Ministry of Sound Electronic 80s CD set, and of course track one on CD one is "Vienna" by Ultravox, and as it's such a classic it's tune of the day for me. The CD player for some reason kept cutting out power bizarrely though and so it was on with XFM as my hair was chopped with their usual brilliance. I had brought in some wine and chocs as a little Christmas gift to them which they really appreciated, so that was nice to do. If someone does a good job, it's nice for them to know.

I went around the city centre for a while and didn't particularly need to buy anything, so felt pretty pleased that I could see other people have to walk around many packed shops whilst I could just happily browse at leisure. Of course had I needed to get anything else I could have done so at the time, but it was just good to take a gentle stroll around the city centre, take in some of the Christmas markets and generally potter about getting myself some useful ideas for the New Year as to what to possibly get in the sales too.

I had a relaxing afternoon keeping my eye on the football with a few cups of coffee before The Love In My Heart came over, and we were straight off to Mum's first of all to see her and have a brew there. She very kindly gave The Love her Christmas present then so that she could open it on the day, which was lovely, and the bag the gift was in had "Santa rocks!" on the outside which very much made us both giggle. It was good to see that Mum was in fine fettle and chattering away to us both about all sorts, and the Christmas decorations at Mum's looked all rather lovely.

We then headed to John Lewis in Cheadle, as The Love wanted to pick up a Christmas present for one of her relations and we knew that there was the place to go to get it. We timed it well as not long after we'd got the present it was almost kick out time - we'd got there at around 6.30pm and didn't realise till then that it closed at 7pm so did well really. We got back, I put on Strictly Come Dancing on just in time for The Love's fave Jason Donovan to do his first dance, and I started work on the chorizo and pancetta pasta bake. That worked a treat actually and made it taste even more meaty!

Once we'd consumed the food, we settled in for the rest of the Strictly final and we both knew that with the standards being so high, any one of them could have won. I had a feeling that Harry from McFly would win and sure enough he did, with the band mobbing him to Bruce Forsyth's dismay. However I also really enjoyed Chelsee Healey as well, and she really did sound like a proper Manc Northern girl (she's from Eccles near Salford in case you wondered) and down to earth and all lovely, so fair play to her for giving it a good go. Isn't it nice when you see people actually being nice and lovely?

Friday 16th December - Work Over

Well it was good to finally get everything cleared and up and out of there so that I could leave work and happily look forward to the next year at work. Yes, finishing today meant that no more work for me until 3rd January 2012, so it was good to get everything nailed nicely. I got to the bottom of a problem with a saving permissions issue with a network drive and how it could have been caused, and indeed how to get round it to provide a possible solution for it too. I also then finished my findings into a test I'd been doing and published the results of that, made sure our backup server had a new batch of tapes ready for backing things up so I didn't have to worry about that either.

In fact for most of the afternoon I was working alone as everyone in the office wasn't in for one reason or another, so I spent the time getting everything nicely sorted out so it'd all be up and shipshape for when I returned in January. Of course it was a bit lonely being on my own too but one of my colleagues came over around 3pm and wanted to find out some stuff what had been going on, so was good to chat to them too and feel like I was a bit more ready to call it a day and head home via Tesco to do some food shopping first before anything else.

I spent the evening mainly in relaxed mode once I'd done the ironing for the evening, and wanted to be sure that all the clothes were done and out of the way so that I didn't have to think about it for the rest of the weekend. What was good was that when I got home I had a nice little package in the post - no less than the new MJ Hibbett and the Validators album "Dinasour Planet". The soundtrack of the theatre show of the Edinburgh festival from a few years back, lovingly made and with lots of people helping out, a real feeling of performance which is nice.

In fact, one of the tunes from that album is going to be tune of the day - "Please Don't Eat Us" which is a plea to the dinasours to not eat the humans. What makes it is that a choir of little ones do the chorus and with their most cute of pleas ask nicely -"Please don't eat us, we want to be your friends, not your ingredieeeeeents" and it just works so well. I do think that the whole album needs to be listened to as one so that you would understand how the show worked, but this standalone is just bloody good fun. And shouldn't all indie pop be like this? Well, yes. It should. So there.

Thursday 15th December - Christmas Cheer

A few weeks ago I'd planned a night out for myself, The Love In My Heart, one of our friends and one of their friends so that we'd all have a nice Christmas-type meal out together. Realistically we knew that Friday night wasn't the best night because that would be when plenty of office worker types would be doing their dos for the start of the weekend - particularly if people from the offices wanted to finish early for Christmas and take the week before the festivities off. With that in mind, the Thursday night made much more sense to book and we managed to get a table at somewhere where myself and The Love have eaten before, so all well there.

Before all that I had a day at work to get through, and I made some headway into a strange query I had that had me puzzled for most of the day, thinking how I'd manage to overcome it and working on some theories which might be possible solutions. It was good in a way to be able to think a bit more on my feet and as I was racking the brains, I inadvertently came across another solution to a problem that had been slightly bugging me too, so that was good. It was all coming together nicely and it hopefully meant I could finish tomorrow on time without any hassle.

I got home, got showered and changed into a nice outfit with a striped shirt and some trousers, and then headed out into the city centre. The Love In My Heart was already in Kro having arrived there a few minutes before me, we managed to eventually get a table and chairs so we were sat down, me with coffee and The Love with wine before our friend arrived with his friend, and all was well with the world. We'd booked a table for four for their Christmas meal, as it was central to everyone and it made a lot of sense to go somewhere that also served nice ale - and the Build A Rocket Boys beer was back on. Oh freaking yes.

The four of us went to our table which was all laid out rather lovely, and before long we had our starters. I had the butternut squash soup which was completely spot on, and The Love had the pate which admittedly also looked rather good. The main turkey course was excellent too and the way that they served it made a lot of sense. You got the turkey, gravy, stuffing and sausage on the plate, and then you had a bowl full of fresh vegetables, a bowl of potatoes and a small bowl of red cabbage so you could mix and match the food as you needed, and that worked very nicely.

The dessert I had of the spiced apple crumble with vanilla ice cream was spot on too as everyone else had the cheese board, which was definitely well worth considering if I go there again, with lots of different cheeses, crackers and fruit along the way, so that definitely was rather gorgeous all round. We even had coffee after that which just finished off the meal rather well all round. The food throughout was gorgeous and none of us had any complaints whatsoever about that. In fact too it wasn't even that expensive either so that definitely won hands down, and certainly the beer was on top form as was the conversation.

We then headed to the Molly House as they normally do a good beer selection and tonight was no exception, with the addition of the Santa's Little Helper beer from the same brewery that bring you Deuchars IPA everywhere. It went down well and we were discussing how that some ginger real ales can be very gingery, case in point being the Beartown Ginger Bear which they had on cask there and I tried that out to see what it was like - definitely much stronger in ginger than say the Ginger Marble beer, so a good comparison to make there I reckon.

The music in the background in there was very 1980s for a fair part of it, something which we all didn't mind. I even got to hear that 80s classic from Nik Kershaw, "I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" so that's tune of the day I reckon - been a while since I heard it but it made perfect sense to have a bit of a retro music session whilst winding down the evening rather nicely. The Love looked gorgeous in her dress it has to be said, and I'd very much like to see her again in it sometime soon, that is for sure.

Wednesday 14th December - Meatballs and Beer

Another pretty busy day at work all round really, but I managed to make some headway in some jobs that I wanted to get done, and feel like at least by the end of the week I'll be able to finish everything off I need to do and have a well earned break away from everything. Today I managed to get to the bottom of tidying up lots of bits of the desk which I use for mainly development work. The laptops I had back from the staff in exchange for new ones I'd managed to put away for now till they're needed for loan use, and the desktop PCs that I had had ready were put in the relevant places and all soted out too.

I felt much happier as I headed home with my desk looking a tad more like normal now, and so it was on with plenty of other things. I nipped into the city centre on the way home as I needed to get something from one of the card shops, mainly a couple of birthday cards for people. I managed then to pick up some meatballs on the way home as I wanted to make some spaghetti with meatballs, and I had some fresh spaghetti that was close to sell by date, so it made more sense to use that later on.

The Love In My Heart came over, and as she was relaxing watching the soaps and also some of Come Dine With Me, I set about making us the spaghetti with meatballs which proved to be an instant hit all round. We were thinking about a couple of things about Christmas and I suggested that we take a trip out to Carringtons in Chorlton, as they do some nice beer and wine and she could see what it was like. I had raved to her about how nice the Didsbury one was, and so she could see what I meant about all that lovely beer and wine.

Believe me, she was impressed. The amount of different beers from around the world that they had was rather nice, lots of German beers for example but also plenty in the real ale department for people like me, including the likes of Hornbeam brewery in Denton, Dunham Massey beer (Deer Beer = gorgeous) and lots of others. One of the Christmas ones took my eye though: "Snowman's Revenge" by the Wentworth Brewery, and one from the Barnsley beer company - "Get Thi Coit, Tha's Pulled" (I shall leave you to translate that from Yorkshire speak) and lots of others were very tempting indeed.

I had the Snowman's Revenge a bit later on as we settled in to watch the Jamie Oliver Christmas thing where he was making lots of good ideas for Christmas food. I have to say that the turkey wellington looked rather nice all round and that was good, and the ice cream would have been a winner only for the fact it has lots of Snickers bars in it, and I don't do chocolate any more of course. Still, I'm sure for many people that would be appetising enough to munch on! It was all good but we were tired bunnies due to lots of work on, so we were reluctantly calling it a night a bit earlier than usual.

Tune of the day though is the rather lovely "I'm Leaving Now" by Johnny Cash from the American III: Solitary Man album. In all the darkness of some of the cover versions on that album, this is a real joy, it just feels so upbeat even if someone is leaving during the duration of the song, and it just seems to have a good vibe to it. It's not always about telling the story through the song but the expression and how you tell it - certainly the case here and one well worth playing a few times to really appreciate the guitar playing too. Oh yes.

Tuesday 13th December - To Market, To Market

After another busy day at the office it was time to leave and head into the city centre for a while. I didn't leave work till later than normal tonight, primarily because the one of our multifunction printers seemed to fail to communicate with the central server for charging and login access etc, and when you rebooted it, despite being on the correct network vLAN and everything, it just didn't want to talk to the server correctly. As such, it was pretty much useless so a call out to our printer vendors was needed to get them out to it. I didn't mind hanging back to check it over, but wanted to be sure I was right beforehand.

It was a leisurely walk along Oxford Road and then Oxford Street, past the Cornerhouse and indeed the Palace Theatre where already plenty of ladies were congregating to see Dirty Dancing the theatre show later on, and as I headed towards Albert Square you could feel everything get a bit more Christmassy. In fact as I was stood underneath Zippy (the locals call our lit up Santa this as it looks more like the Rainbow TV series character you see) some cooks were filming a piece for Channel 4 and offering people these meatballls to. Think they were surprised when a couple of pantomime dames turned up. Oh no they weren't! (etc)

Anyway, a few of the lovely Flickr folk were meeting tonight for a gentle soujourn around the Christmas markets and a good look around the stalls at the same time. It worked out really nice as we headed around some of the stalls, admired the wares, and got some nice Christmas themed images which always works out rather nicely for this sort of thing. We stopped in the middle of Albert Square as that was about the best place to get a shot of the iconic Zippy Santa from the front of the town hall, and then made our way towards the pedestrian lights and down Brazennose Street.

Along there we noticed that the man with all the sweets that was on last year was on again, but with different wares - this time more nougat and stuff like that with all sorts of weird and wonderful colours, and believe me, they looked far too tempting considering I'd given up chocolate many years ago. We stopped at the Austrian food and drink bar here to have one of their sausages on a roll for tea because the food was lovely (and cheaper too) and I even indulged myself in a non-alcoholic Gluhwein as well, which was quite fruity and pretty tasty as things go.

After a warm drink it was then time to walk along to King Street, where there was a stall with plenty of Santa figures. We had a good look at all of them as it was a tad on the twee side, but it still worked to get some useful shots of the Santas en masse. We did notice though that it was just before 8pm and most of the market stalls were closing for the evening. I did seem to think that last year they were open much longer and it did feel rather quiet on the streets tonight. Whether this was because everyone had done their shopping or not I don't know, but it made the wind feel a bit windier!

We walked down Market Street towards Piccadilly and stopped off at the gardens to admire the reindeer there that were in First Street last year, and also the merry go rounds in Piccadilly Gardens, before we all headed to respective buses and trains. It was good to see some folk and even some new people too (which of course we made very welcome as you do) - and so a good day out was had by all in the end. As for tune of the day, well I could think of several but plenty of cheesy tunes were being played in the Austrian food place on Brazennose Street, including "Life Is Life" and stuff like that. However, as one of the new people is a big City fan (yaay) - Boney M's version of "Mary's Boy Child" is the tune of choice, which inspired a certain City chant down the years!

Monday 12th December - The End

I had a pretty good day in the office today really, mainly because I was being quite productive in a few ways but also solving quite a lot of problems for people too, whch is good. One I was particularly pleased to nail was getting my section of the office sorted out so that it was a lot tidier and less full of clutter. I'd finished working on three PCs so I loaded them on the trolley ready to roll out during the week, and then also spent some time sorting out the laptops on my desk to make sure that those I needed to work on were there but those that weren't were neatly filed away. Felt much better for that to be honest.

After work it was off on the bus to my friend's place, as he'd very kindly invited me over to watch Manchester City's away game at Chelski. Sadly I thought that this might be where our unbeaten league run this season may come to an end as our record at Stamford Bridge is pretty poor. On the other hand records were meant to be broken so who knows what might happen? It seemed tonight though that everyone was on their way home on the bus at the same time, so the bus was packed and so I just stuck on the Quadrapop game on the phone to keep me occupied most of the way there.

It was good to have a chat to my friend, and he mentioned that he might want to play some of his old Windows 95/DOS type games on his XP box, and a lot of them don't work. I suggested he try out Virtualbox to run a machine virtually and run the old games on that. We got it installed, had a Windows 98 CD but it wasn't bootable, so no can do there yet as he didn't have a floppy disk to make a Windows 98 boot floppy to do the first part from. I tried it myself later when I got home with my original Windows 95 CD (yes, I have one!) and that actually worked well (ish) once you took off some of the features in Virtualbox, so I even ran Quake on it and PGA Tour 96, which actually worked superbly!

Anyway, back to the football. The game kicked off and within two minutes it was 1-0 to City. Sergio Agüero threaded a lovely through ball to Mario Balotelli, who rounded Petr Cech and nonchalantly stuck it away into the empty net. We couldn't believe it, and for at least the first twenty minutes we were passing the ball at will and really keeping the home side quiet. Sadly it didn't last and the longer the first half went on the more Chelski got into it, a through ball to the right found Danny Sturridge, he put a super cross in and Raul Meireles finished off with a volley to equalise. Defensively we were bobbins.

However, would it have been the same if only for a poor refereeing decision? Not long after we'd scored, David Silva burst through the middle and was brought down. Looked a penalty to me and on replay the commentators both agreed it was a penalty. Even Gary Neville, the Sky pundit and staunch Man U diehard that he was when he played for them, agreed. I didn't know if the game would turn on that moment, but we'd find out during the second half as I'm sure that with the home advantage, Chelski would press on.

And press on they did. City still had their moments of course but it was the home side who looked like getting the winner. Even more so after Gael Clichy earned a second yellow and a red card. No arguments from me as they were both bookable offences, and that really did mean a rearguard action for City now and they sacrificed Agüero to keep the back four tight at first, and that worked for a while. However Chelski went forward, the ball struck the hand of Joleon Lescott (he did have his hands up which probably didn't help matters) and they got a penalty, and having come off the bench, the script was written for Frank Lampard to score the winner. Meh!

So, then, the end of City's long unbeaten league run and in fact the first defeat in the Premier League since May 7th (also a 2-1 defeat, this time at Everton). If we were now to do another seven month unbeaten run, that would do us nicely, but I'd just like us to remain top of the table at Christmas, which might prove tricky if Man U win at QPR Sunday lunchtime. Tune of the day is for two reasons, as it seemed apt: "One Step Beyond" by Madness. And not least because the Chelski tannoy had it playing and lots of their fans were dancing a la Madness to it - fair play to them actually!

Sunday 11th December - Tree!

It was a case of two possible missions today: first off, get a Christmas tree and have it up in the house to make the place feel more Christmassy. Second: have a nice walk around Knutsford and a relaxing time of it. So, with The Love In My Heart in tow, we had a leisurely wake up, got ourselves ready and changed and had some breakfast before heading off in The Love's car. As the weather was raining quite a bit, she felt that going along the M56 motorway might have been horrible, so we went the alternative route: on the A34 via Wilmslow and then along the B road through Mobberley and into Knutsford.

She parked up in the car park we usually go to (it's free on Sundays, not daft us!) and headed along the main road of shops. Not everything was open, but those that were did at least get a constant flow of visitors coming along and perusing their wares. Some of the little independent shops realised that it was more than sensible to have little items that weren't too expensive, and so tempt you into buying items. It was quite a good idea, and in one of the local card shops The Love bought a birthday and Christmas card, so that worked out pretty well overall.

We then headed up the hill and to the other main shopping street, where less was open but those that were weren't doing too badly at all. A cake and coffee was needed and into Costa we went, where I had the raspberry and almond bake to go with my medium Americano, and The Love had a choccie yule log to go with the Blackcurrant tea that she wanted. She had dreamt about having blackcurrant tea the night before and so it was almost with fate that when she asked at the counter what fruit tea that they had, it was the first one they said - and Twinings at that. Hurrah!

With us both refreshed, it was goodbye to Knutsford and off to the Golden Days Garden Centre near Cheadle on the way back to see what Christmas trees that they had. They had some good ones, but the prices weren't that cheap and I was sure I'd paid a lot less for the same quality tree in the last couple of years when I went to Summerseat Garden Centre. We then went to B&Q (rubbish selection) and another smaller garden centre just off Kingsway, but nothing much there, and even one place on Stockport Road which had trees didn't seem to be much cop for lots of money.

In the end, there was another shop on Barlow Road that we tried, and this won for various reasons: the trees looked decent and certainly were the right size and height, they weren't also expensive either and they seemed to be able to get them netted pretty quickly. The fact that some trees were reserved for delivery or collection and that plenty of people were getting one from there too told us all we needed to know, so we got one each and all was well there.

Eventually at home I found my tree stand (it was in the shed outside) and once we got the screws on the bottom tightened so that the tree was up, with some lovely baubles and decoations on the outside of the tree, it looked the part and looked rather classy. It was perfect timing as I was doing us the tea and we had some lovely chicken with little sausages and stuffing, organic baby potatoes and some steamed vegetables, and that went down very well indeed. Just the thing to get the energy back after spending time sorting the tree and other things out. Feel a bit more Christmassy now.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Tango Tangle" by Duke Special, from the "Silent World of Hector Mann" album. I was channel flicking before and the Strictly Come Dancing results show was on, showing some of the dancers from last night. A few took on the likes of the Argentine Tango and the Paso Doble, and I kept thinking that this track would have been perfect for them to dance to. Had a feeling how cool it would be having Duke, Chip with cheese grater thingy and the band on the show performing whilst someone (or the professionals) danced. Genius!

Saturday 10th December - Hurt

I had a fairly relaxed lie in this morning as I felt that I hadn't been sleeping so well over the last few days. To get a few hours rest and relaxation was just what I needed, and this meant that I was in a much more agile frame of mind when I set off for the post office. I was posting a couple of Christmas presents to friends and family who don't live close by, and I was also posting off my usual little thing of a CD I make with some of my favourite songs of the year on along with a card to some other friends around the country. Thankfully I had the common sense to buy a load of large letter stamps yesterday so I was able to post them in the postbox first and only worry about the recorded delivery and heavier stuff at the post office.

With the rain lashing down it was time to head to the city centre, and accomplished quite a bit. I managed to get the present for my friend sorted out that I wanted to get, and that meant pretty much that all my Christmas shopping was nigh on complete, so felt pleased. In fact the only difficult decision I had was what to get really, as I'd had some great ideas from my friend and they were all good, very good in fact. I then went to one of the card shops and picked up a couple of nice blank Wintry themed cards which I needed, and a couple of birthday cards for people as well.

It does frustrate me somewhat that card shops don't realise that one twelfth of the world do have birthdays in December but they're made to feel second class by shops being swamped by Christmas cards. I mean, what the hell is it with the "December birthday" cards? It's almost as if you're avoiding a normal birthday card by buying one of those, and it really doesn't do anyone any favours at all. I was just pleased to find two nice cards that will appeal to those who I've got one for (because I'm like that!)

After I got home I spent a fair bit of time during the afternoon cleaning around the house whilst also doing some ironing, washing and watching the racing on Channel 4 and the snooker on BBC1, which looked quite good and pretty dramatic too. It was nicer too to have a nice relaxing shower and get myself all ready and looking nice for when The Love In My Heart came over later, who looked lovely in her boots and dress, let me tell you. I'm so lucky, I think. I made us both a coffee and we had a good chatter and catch up.

I then set to work on the tea for us both, and after a really nice earthy mushroom soup with some gorgeous triangle seeded bread, it was then on to the main of spaghetti carbonara. It was useful to make it as both the garlic bread on the side, the pasta and the sauce were close-ish to sell by date, so didn't want to waste any of the food. It proved to be a good move all round really, and the carbonara came out very nicely indeed - lots of flavour and taste. It helps when I added extra pancetta that I'd got separately to add to the mix, and why the hell not eh?

Against my better judgement, The Love wanted to watch the final of The X Factor, and reluctantly I agreed. I knew it was going to be predictable to a degree, and there was no surprise to see the mentors team up with the acts and do a duet with them (this assumedly was to save costs of getting some bigger name to sing with them instead). However, not even Michael Bublé's appearance (which I know The Love enjoyed a bit as it was a festive number to get her into the mood of adoring Michael even more than she does - and that's saying something) could prepare me for the abonimation that happened during the show.

Leona Lewis came on. Now, to be fair, the lady can sing, and given the right song which suits her voice, it's more than passable ("Bleeding Love" - case in point). However, whoever thought of the idea of her covering Nine Inch Nails' emotional and dramatic "Hurt" needed shooting. Leona's voice didn't suit it, and the way it was arranged and the way she performed it eked out all the emotion and feeling of the original. And of course, it built up into the crescendo big ballad number just to try and make it suit her more. Which didn't work. It just was wrong on so many levels and it makes me wonder if Leona herself couldn't have put her foot down and said something to her management. I was not happy and just disgusted with her ruining a classic that I've adored since its appearance on NIN's "The Downward Spiral" album back in 1994.

That's why then I need to make the original version of "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails tune of the day. People need to listen to the original (or to be fair, Johnny Cash's superb cover version which keeps the feeling intact and coupled with NME's recently voted "best ever music video" gives the song a real meaning, fair play to him) and then compare to Leona's version. You'll soon listen and see that it's not right for her and her performance didn't help her credibility one bit. And if that sounded hateful, then it wasn't, I promise.

Friday 9th December - Moving

I spent all of this morning in another building and one that we look after. The staff had informed us that because they wanted the department to be a bit more structured, people were going to be moved around the offices and so some on the ground floor were being moved to the first floor, and those on the first mainly down to the ground. On the whole it was a case of me being on hand checking for any network connectivity and ensuring that all the PCs were set up, working and that they could do what they needed to do with minimum fuss.

It on the whole went well, the main issues normally were that some of the network cables were pretty long for what they needed and some of them could have been shorter, especially as I then found out that some of the other rooms would then need the longer network cables in the end, so it worked well making sure I kept all of what was needed and changing those around to me made perfect sense in the end, and by the time lunchtime came around the staff were pretty pleased with how it all went, and they were up and running and without issues, so yaay!

I spent a fair bit of time in the afternoon checking over a laptop that for some reason didn't want to connect to the wireless network, and soon managed to get that sorted as well as work out a plan of action for next week. I also managed to persuade our Information Officer to place up a document I'd helped create which would be helpful to some members of staff who are copying documents with small margins, and I was the one who found the fix to sort it out, so all good there.

I decided to go to the large Tesco tonight, because I had some Clubcard vouchers and wanted to see if I could get some clothes with them. Unfortunately I really wanted a new pair of jeans but they didn't seem to have any that were my size in the colour I was after (boo) and so I just did the normal food shopping. Mind you as I was getting some wine for The Love In My Heart for tomorrow night, I spotted that the real ales were 4 for £5. And then I noticed that the rather nice King Goblin from the Wychwood Brewery (which they don't make that much of!) was in the offer. It's normally around £2.25 a bottle, so two bottles of that and two bottles of Tribute seemed to make the £5 well worth spending!

Tune of the day is Paul Weller's "Around The Lake" which is a download only single released to give people a taster of what next year's album "Sonik Kicks" is going to be like. It's good that he's still making excellent music and it sounds on the whole quite a dark piece as well - don't know if that was intentional but that's the impression that I got anyway. And of course I'll be going to see him next year in that London as well, so that's all rather exciting!

Thursday 8th December - Nuuuuuuuuuuuuman!

After a busy day at the office it was time to head home, have a cuppa and wait for my friend to come over, as we were off to the HMV Ritz in the city centre to see Gary Numan tonight. It was the second half of his tour to promote the new album "Dead Son Rising" and having heard a fair few tracks live when we saw him earlier on in the year in York, we knew that it was going to be a pretty good show all round. To be fair, every time I've seen Gary Numan live it's always been an excellent show and full of plenty of good stuff. I'm more partial to the newer Industrial stuff than my friend is though, it has to be said!

We got into the city centre and managed to find a place close to the venue to park, and the rain started to positively lash down as we approached the HMV Ritz. There was also a queue, and it turned out that this was because the doors were at 7pm instead of 6.30pm as on the ticket. Once the doors did open they did at least get everyone in reasonably quickly, and so it was all good there, and good to get out of the bad weather. What we also noticed was that to the left side of the stage seemed to be a good spot for us to get a view from - so we headed and got there in good time.

It's been years since I went in the Ritz and the first time I'd been in since they've done it up and turned it into the HMV Ritz. The dancefloor used to be massive with seating to the sides and the balcony on top with more seating, so the middle was the floor. It's now a lot shorter and almost square in look, with the stage taking up plenty of space making it feel a bit more intimate. One of the security people told me it holds around 1200 maximum and that 900 or so tickets had been sold, so not quite a sellout. Still the excitement was building up as the time ticked away.

On came Jayce Lewis (official site) and it was basically him on lead vocals, occasional guitar or drums, with the lead and bass guitars just to the left/right of a video screen showing all sorts, with the drummer at the back and a synth man to the left producing all sorts from there. It sounded quite intense and a little Industrial and Jayce really wanted to get the crowd bounding around. The sound was decent enough but maybe he didn't need to spit occasionally as he played. Mind you, you could tell he was a Numan fan himself as he got the crowd to yell out "Nuuuuuuuuuuman!" occasionally. Quite liked what he and the band did though, and quite dark - no surprise when you learn who his manager is!

The crowd though were waiting for Gary Numan (official site) and as usual, no disappointment from me or my friend anyway. Starting off with "Down In The Park" which went down a treat with the masses, he then went into plenty from the new album including "The Fall" which I really like, so that's tune of the day right there. It was good too that he kept the brooding dark Industrial stuff for the main part of the show, so the likes of "Jagged" and "Haunted" got an airing from the Jagged album, and the title track of "Pure" which I love to bits. All seemed well and the guitarist (now also in Pop Will Eat Itself) looked like he was having a whale of a time.

Mind you, Numan did save the best till last, with a beautifully awesome "I Die You Die" - I adore the modern day piano arrangement at the start and really adds to it somewhat, and then for the encore, "Cars" (well he couldn't not do it could he?) and even a proper one for the diehards, "My Shadow In Vain" before getting the whole audience going "Whoa! Whoa!" at various parts for "Are Friends Electric?" as well. That of course had the crowd going and my friend was pretty impressed with the end of it all, and that really did lift the spirits despite the rubbish weather outside. Third time we've seen Numan this year, and all good!

Wednesday 7th December - Going Out With Pride

I always knew that tonight's game for Manchester City in the Champions League might prove meaningless. The last round of games had seen City lose 2-1 in Naples to Napoli, and this meant that qualification was out of our hands. All we could do was beat Bayern Munich tonight, and hope that Napoli slipped up against Villareal away. Of course the fact that the Spanish La Liga team hadn't scored a single point whatsoever in the group thus far made the task seem not that possible, but we did have to believe that we could go on and do something, or else what was the point?

Myself, my friend and his wife all headed for The Love In My Heart's place, only for a really nasty hail storm to greet us as we were heading close to hers. In fact The Love had got herself pretty soaked and wet from the bus stop to hers and the brolly only did part of the job (boo) - and so we were all a little bedraggled when we got to hers. Myself and my friend left the two girls to have a good natter whilst we headed to the Etihad Stadium, knowing realistically we might not qualify but the idea would be to at least win and see what happened.

The noise coming from the stadium sounded good - not just from the Bayern Munich fans on the top tier, but also from a City marching band complete with drums and trumpets, who were doing the Mario Balotelli song as they walked along the outside of the stadium to their places in the ground. I got in, got us a brew, and the Champions League theme music came on - make that tune of the day as it always sounds ace and gets the hairs of the neck standing on end when you have it played full blast before kick off. Shame if it's going to be the last time we hear it now.

The game got underway and after a nervy start City started to assert themselves nicely, with a couple of close calls from Sergio Agüero and Edin Džeko, and I hoped that a goal would come. When it did, it was classy. The ball came in from the right, Džeko helped it on and David Silva chested it and then unleashed a half volley from all of twenty five yards into the bottom corner. That alone made it worth the admission to come and watch City tonight and that with the other game being 0-0 meant that we were very much still in the hunt for qualification. I wasn't getting too excited yet, but at least it meant that it stayed interesting for a little while longer.

City went forward again after a nervy start to the second half, and a neat flowing move saw Džeko thread the ball to Yaya Toure who slid it under the Bayern keeper for 2-0. All was good from our side and we had a fair few chances to add to the lead with Džeko, Gareth Barry and Agüero all having good chances. It looked good defensively with Stefan Savic at right back in his better position doing a really good job overall, and that was pleasing. News did come through though that Napoli had taken the lead and then gone 2-0 up, which effectively meant game over for us.

That said, we stayed till the end as we always do and cheered the team off the pitch. They had done all they could and in six of the other seven groups, ten points would have easily qualified us into the knockout stages, which shows how tough the group we were in actually was. What did cheer me up though was that Man U had lost 2-1 in Basel which meant they were eliminated. I think I'd have rather did what we did tonight and go out with some pride rather than go out to a demoralising defeat in Switzerland, to be quite honest. So it's Channel 5, ESPN or ITV4 on a Thursday night then but let's see how we do...

Tuesday 6th December - Presents and Tremors

Another busy day but productive one at that. I worked out that despite all my hard work making one of our sysprepped desktop images work with these AMD-equipped PCs that came in, unfortunately it was missing several pieces of software that the academics use. However, what made it easier for us was that we had an academic laptop image, and I just did the same sort of wizardry I did yesterday with it. And for good measure I also included the relevant drivers for the PC too - and amended the registry config file so that sysprep knew it needed to look in more places for the drivers to install. Amazingly, it all worked!

I headed into the city centre after work as I had a present to pick up from Waterstones that had arrived in store. It's easier do to the click and collect because the prices are often cheaper, and also no one else has had their hands on the book when in store so you know it's going to be a nice and clean copy too. And added to that, I can build up loyalty points on my Waterstone's card and get cash back via Top Cashback - so all well there then. The staff in there were their usual efficient selves and I picked up the item I ordered, and that meant that another present had been purchased and I'd wrap this up later.

I also went and found (at last!) a suitable Christmas card for The Love In My Heart. I wanted one that just said the right sentiments on that wasn't over the top but wasn't cheap and nasty looking either, and I read one card and that really did seem perfect to me. I agonised over a couple of others when in another shop but just thought that they weren't quite up to the mark, so pretty glad really that I waited to get the right card. These things are important - it shows how much thought and effort you put in but also how much you're thinking about someone. And I'd like to think I think about The Love a lot!

I headed home and not long after The Love rang me to let me know she was on her way but not to do any tea as she was bringing over a pizza from Domino's! Very nice, and so we had a nice meaty feast type one to share between us before we settled in to watch Masterchef The Professionals. My, I wanted to have those plates of food that Ash cooked up for Michel Roux Jr and Gregg Wallace, they both looked gorgeous to eat and by the sound of it, tasted pretty excellent as well. Yum yum.

It was then out with the Scrabble and the two of us had a pretty good game whilst The Stone Roses' self-titled album played as the background - I'll make "I Am The Resurrection" tune of the day and it is also currently the walk on music for snooker player John Higgins. During the game it worked out well too because I played FRONTIER (R already in play) and FLUSH for a massive 78 points overall, nicely done. In fact The Love tagged on to a word I'd played to make TREMORING - a nine letter monster that scored a triple word too - well done her!

Monday 5th December - Technical Genius

Another good positive day at work today, as during our team meeting we sorted out the Secret Santa and made sure that we knew who we'd got to get a present for. I was pretty pleased with who I'd got and I have a cunning plan to get them something which they'll like but also something which will be a little fun too. And why not? I think too that it's good to have regular meetings and be kept up to date with what's going on, it's much more positive sounding now.

I also worked out a puzzle of sorts which had been driving myself and a colleague a bit round the bend on Friday. One department ordered some new PCs from our supplier, and they went for the cheaper option which has an AMD chipset and AMD processor. All well and good(ish) but our staff Windows XP sysprep image (we'll be going Windows 7 for staff during 2012) is built on an Intel processor, and as such there's a known issue when you bring it down on AMD kit - it doesn't work! There's a very good reason for this though, which I'll try to explain as simply as possible without blinding you with science.

Intel processors in Windows XP load a driver called intelppm, which is effect the processor driver. Of course if you've got an AMD processor, there's no point of loading this, right? If it does load, and doesn't detect an Intel processor, then XP simply bombs out and restarts (or blue screens if you've not set XP to restart after a system failure.) So, what do you do to get round it? Well, normally in Windows safe mode, you'd edit the registry so that this driver doesn't load. But you have a sysprepped image, so safe mode isn't possible.

Thankfully because the XP sysprep image is a Novell Zenworks image, there is something you can do (and make a backup copy of it before you start)- use imgexp to load the image and update it. The registry key you change is in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM and so in effect you load the registry hive contained in C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\config, called system, and amend it. Using imgexp, you can extract the file out of an image to the XP box, load the registry hive in regedit, amend it, and then unload the hive. The file is saved on your box, and you then simply delete the relevant file in the image in imgexp, and then add the newly-amended file.

Once that was done, I was then able to bring down the sysprepped image, and it worked, straight out of the box, no issues, so it meant that we could keep the image exactly the same as the rest, and know it works (we simply had to add in the network card and graphics card drivers later, but everything else detected correctly) and even better, we now have an AMD version as well as the standard Intel version, just in case we get anything else with similar kit. I might even be able to integrate the other drivers into the image in some way which would be quite nice to do...

That all done, I headed into the city centre, picked up a good bargain in one shop that would double as an excellent Christmas present for someone (now only have four presents left to get out of a starting list of over thirty!) and even managed to get something else which The Love In My Heart asked me to get whilst I was in the city centre, and that made perfect sense to me. I managed to also get home before the wind and the rain decided to howl in rather nastily, again. I must admit it does wear you down a bit to see the weather so bad to be honest.

Tune of the day on the other hand is rather epic and certainly kept me going nicely whilst doing a shed load of ironing that I needed to do tonight, and it's the opening track off Dream Theater's "Octavarium" album, "The Root of All Evil", it just has a dramatic intro, crashes in rocking and really does have that sense of what's to come on the album but also an epic feel all of its own, being part of former drummer Mike Portnoy's battle with alcoholism in his "Twelve Step Suite" as well.

Sunday 4th December - Howling Wind and Rain

My, today wasn't the day to be out, and both The Love In My Heart and I both decided that we'd call off a planned trip out to do a little bit of shopping and have a mooch round Knutsford. Indeed, The Love had some stuff to do early in the morning, so she did that and I suggested it'd be worth her getting a bit of sleep and rest at home with the weather being so bad, and this meant I could also watch the FA Cup game on ITV1. It sounded like a plan for everyone and so she was resting and sleeping whilst I kept my eye on AFC Totton v Bristol Rovers, which proved to be a very exciting game indeed!

Not least because the Bristol Rovers players were all trying to outdo each other in the spectacular goals department, almost as if they wanted the nominations of the "Goal of the Cup" award all to themselves. Sort of like when Dennis Bergkamp would almost singlehandedly have "Goal of the Month" won hands down with multiple nominations. They were three of the best strikes you'd see all weekend, and within five minutes of each other. The third goal was the best one, coming from the left foot of a right footed player and being hammered home low and hard from twenty five yards, absolutely rifled in.

The 6-1 scoreline at the end was a slightly heavier result than it needed be really, but fair play to Totton for keeping going, and their goal at 4-0 down was definitely deserved for their efforts, and even at 5-1 down they were still attacking and going for it, good to see. I'm sure the TV money and exposure will help them long term too. And then came the draw - and with The Love In My Heart at my side, I wanted to see who we'd get. Gianfranco Zola drew us at home. Good. Li Tie drew out the ball next to us, which I already knew was... Man United. Ouch! That is one tasty draw. So we're either going to start our defence in style or fall at the first hurdle. That said, a) we're at home, b) we beat Man U in the semi at Wembley, and c) the last time we played them it was 6-1....

The Love and I did decide to have a little trip out to John Lewis in Cheadle, mainly to have a look around and maybe get some ideas for little presents left to get or something similar. We did notice some Calvin Klein golf little gift sets which we thought would be good for anyone into golf, particularly if they want to be an executive out on the golf course! I also spotted the Michel Roux cookware, and believe me, the prices were almost as dear as eating out at La Gavroche, if that makes any sense to you. We also had a good look at some of the cards and other gift things but nothing jumped out at me - yet.

Still, we headed back to The Love's place and she made us some lovely hunter chicken for tea, whilst having one of the music channels on with Michael Buble having a top 20 Christmas countdown. No way did he select it though because there's lots of tracks that he would have had no idea about (Mel Smith and Kim Wilde for one) but at least that list did have Wham's classic "Last Christmas" and because The Love likes that one too it's tune of the day to get us both into more of a festive mood - well it is three weeks to go and all that.

Saturday 3rd December - Delia, What's The Score?

A wet and windy Saturday all day round really, and I had to try and time my walk to Tesco to avoid most of the bad wind and rain coming down. I think I managed reasonably well and spent some time getting some lovely food for tea tonight, as well as a bottle of wine for The Love In My Heart, and of course stuff to eat during the week as well. I remembered that I needed washing powder but when I got home there was a realisation that I'd forgotten to get some garden peas. D'oh! The Love very kindly stepped in and said that she would get them for me when she was out later - so dinner disaster averted.

My friend and I then headed to the Etihad Stadium to see if Manchester City could keep up the unbelievable run we've been having against Norwich City. We also got there earlier than normal because we knew that before 2.15pm in the stadium it was two for one on the chips, so we thought that was our lunch well and truly sorted out. Indeed it was, and we seemed to get more chips than normal as well, so an added bonus there. Add to that a warming cuppa and we were both ready and armed to face the cold, I had a hat and gloves on because I knew it was going to be a tad nippy out there.

The rain started to hammer it down as we all paid our tributes to the late Gary Speed with a minute's applause, and it was good to see later on that all fans across the country were very respectful indeed of that. City got undrerway and it really did seem like Norwich were putting ten men behind the ball. That said, their lone striker Steve Morison maybe should have scored first, but he succeeded in putting the ball too far forward for Joe Hart to save. They were just defending for their lives and it took a moment of brilliance from Sergio Agüero to break the Norwich hearts - he had the ball at his feet from Micah Richards, and Norwich defenders all round him, but he saw a gap and toe-poked it brilliantly along the deck to put it in the far corner, and 1-0 City.

Second half came and the game opened up, and that meant City could head forward and score more. And score they did. We got a free kick and Samir Nasri put the ball into the box, everyone missed it including the Norwich keeper. Ooops! 2-0 to City then. And that soon became 3-0 as well, with some lovely movement from a corner, David Silva found Yaya Toure and he curled in a gorgeous low shot to make it 3-0. It was nice and easy for City now and I just wanted us to keep a clean sheet. Unfortunately that didn't happen, as Norwich headed forward and Steve Morison headed in from a cross.

Was a bit gutted about the lack of clean sheets, but nonetheless City went for it again and near the end their substitutes combined brilliantly. Yaya Toure put the ball into the box, Adam Johnson held it up well and in came Mario Balotelli, to hit it past the keeper and then knock it in with the shoulder to make it 4-1. It was nonchalant, and typically Balotelli. Later on Match of the Day, Gary Lineker even admitted that Mario is one of his current favourite players. Well I never expected that!

It wasn't done though, as from another City corner, the ball came to Vincent Kompany and he lashed it across the box in the direction of Adam Johnson. He cut in and I knew he was going to hit it low along the deck - and in the bottom corner for 5-1. Quite a few people near to us had left with the score at 3-1 to get to their cars, oh what a shame, they missed two goals. I had to smile really as it makes me feel rather smug all round - you pay to see the whole ninety minutes, not eighty five and it does make me wonder why people need to rush off so early...

Had a relaxing evening in, avoided the rain, saw some of Strictly Come Dancing and did admittedly think that Holly Valance looked rather gorgeous all round, and made The Love and I some buttenut squash soup to start, steak chips and peas for main and The Love had this gorgeous Gü chocolate souffle dessert afterwards (I had a cherry morello dessert instead as of course I don't eat chocolate). She loved the dessert all round though and that made her watching The X Factor (meh!!) all that more sweeter. I was glad I was doing other domestic things and avoiding it to be honest.

Tune of the day though is nothing like that pile of turd that is X Factor, but instead shows what proper music can be like - "The Birds" by Elbow. It's the album opener to their "Build a Rocket, Boys!" album and is eight minutes long, but doesn't feel like that at all - it feels instead majestic, anthemic and overall rather lovely. It has plenty of sweeping chords and movements and just feels a beautiful piece of music and songwriting. Given the choice, it's a no brainer. Elbow wins every single time.

Friday 2nd December - Rain and Over-reliance

It never rained, but it poured today. Literally. The rain bucketed it down for most of the day and indeed the evening when we were out, but it was also a rhetoric for work today as well. Everything Active Directory related seemed to want to topple over, so any service tied in to that (printing system, Outlook etc) was all a bit icky. Of course this meant that there were quite a few calls coming in to see what the issue was, and as it's out of our hands as such we've had to inform people that it's being looked at, and hopefully resolved later in the day (which to be fair it was.) It did inconvenience quite a few people overall though, so it was interesting to note that we might be a touch over-reliant on a centralised service.

Apart from all that, we had some new PCs in that a department had purchased - not that they asked us about specifications beforehand. They were an AMD-based board with Sempron processor, so they obviously went for the cheapest option. Not that good really especially as our sysprep image failed with constant reboots, most likely because the relevant hard disk driver or processor driver for AMD isn't loaded even with sysprep, and as such that means that we might have an uphill battle to sort them out. Makes you wonder why the department concerned didn't speak to us and we would have advised them to get the next model up..

Anyway, I was collected from work by The Love In My Heart and her father as we were heading up to Blackburn for the evening. There was a Christmas-themed service at the Cathedral and it's all in aid of a children's hospice whom The Love's family supports. The least I could do was go along and be supportive, and in a way having a bit of a Christmassy feel does at least get people starting to be more in the festive mood, so all good there. After The Love successfully got out of the city centre, up the M61 and along the M65 and past Blackburn's football ground, it was then navigating the rather stupid town centre one way ring road before getting a space to park and heading to the town centre.

There we met with The Love's sister, and the four us popped in to the pub close to the cathedral for something to eat. They even had Pendle Witches Brew on, so a very very easy decision for me there, let me tell you. I had a bacon and chicken panini and that went down rather nicely, and The Love had chili con carne for apparently the first time in ages. It seemed nice enough though, and plenty of chatter was the order of the day as the pub was admittedly rather busy.

We headed to the cathedral, managed to get some seats in there (was very busy though) and the service started. The priest who works there has quite a warm sense of humour but always very good natured and friendly, and that certainly made it feel a bit more special for the little ones. They had a really good choir singing and we had to do our bit with the carols too - not that I minded, I had saved the voice at the ready for singing along - and some of the favourites were on including "Away In A Manger" - tune of the day because, with piano alone, it just feels all rather Christmassy and brings back memories of being young.

The Christmas trees inside the cathedral were lit, we had readings from Eva Pope (she's been in Corrie and Bad Girls) and Malcolm Hebden (Norris from Corrie in case you wondered) as well as the Mayoress of Blackburn as well, so that was rather good and gave it a good break from the singing in between each part. The choir and band really did sound musical and it made me have a warm glow inside despite the freezing cold and rain outside (and believe me, it was that - especially as The Love's journey back down the M61 was wind swept and rainy!)

Thursday 1st December - The Year's Too Fast

December? Already? I know. The year has gone far too quickly for me to be honest, and I know that if I stop for any reason it'll just fly by. I don't know quite why it is, maybe because of some major projects I've been a part of at work, maybe because life for me personally is going pretty well, or maybe because these days I keep myself occupied and the time I spend is put to constructive use? I don't know. All I know is that there's a mere twenty four days to Christmas, I've thankfully nailed almost all my shopping for presents, and the nights are certainly getting colder (as if you didn't already know!)

After work today I walked up Oxford Road to collect an item that was one of the Christmas presents left to get. The shop I went to were really friendly and helpful, and on top of that they had Morrissey playing over the speakers, enough for me to certainly want to stay in there just that little bit longer and mooch around. Excellent. As I was being served, I could hear the opening part of "That's How People Grow Up" and I admittedly stayed around so I could listen to the whole song, cos I like it. So tune of the day for me that one and at the same time another present sorted.

Later on in the evening The Love In My Heart and I did a bit of online shopping, as my cousin in Bournemouth recently gave birth to her second child, a beautiful baby girl. Awww. Of course this meant we could look at shops that sell baby clothes and get something really cute. I had some ideas in my head and The Love actually really liked one that I picked, saying that it was really classy, so that was sorted. Another item we saw we both recognised as we've seen some children out and about with the same hat and mittens on - with a cat-like look on the hat. It's cute but maybe a little too cartoony, you know?

I made us both something to eat for tea and we settled in to watch Masterchef The Professionals. Straight away we both thought that Alison would get through as her food, albeit a little late, for the critics was spot on. I'd have happily have had that souffle for dessert myself and when the likes of Jay Rayner say that they'd have eaten that in a Michelin starred restaurant, then it should be good enough critique to not be ignored. It did look rather good. Some of the others though either tried too much in the time limit, or they rushed things through and weren't careful enough, something that is tricky to master that.

It feels good to just be relaxed and snuggle up on the sofa with the news on too - sometimes it's just ever so nice to feel that sense of relaxation after a day at work and having someone very special to hold close. I suspect too that The Love didn't want to head home last night and would have happily stayed close to me - but as her work shift this week is an early one, she'd need to get up at some crazy hour, and so she didn't feel it fair to disrturb me so early - even if I'd happily get up with her. Sometimes she's just too considerate for her own good, but it's lovely admittedly...