Dear Diary... December 2012

Monday 31st December - The End of The Year

I had a bit of a lie in this morning knowing that most likely it was going to be a late night for me on New Year's Eve, most likely watching Jools Holland's Hootenanny as has been almost customary now for myself and The Love In My Heart over the last few years. I just think that these days it's just too expensive to go out, get massively drunk and end up not seeing in the New Year the way that you'd want to, plus as well of course you get to be snuggled up at home, in the warm, and if you fancy whatever you want to drink then that's entirely up to you.

I did need to head to Tesco though to get some food shopping in, mainly for a meal for the two of us tonight and so I worked out which bits I needed to get, but also got some food for during the week, and made sure I was topped up with anything I might need to keep me going as well. I originally wanted to blitz around there but it was clear that there were too many people with trolleys hogging the aisles not letting anyone else get to the items that they needed - most frustrating when the loaf of bread you want is between a set of old dears who seem to think it's their new social space - by the bread counter. Sheesh, good job I'm more patient than I used to be.

I got home later and watched the recording of Channel 4's The Last Leg from last night - an irreverent look at the year from Adam, Alex and Josh. It was very good fun as per usual and the little side gag about Jimmy Carr and tax brought howls of laughter from everyone. Jamie Oliver was on and actually pretty funny describing his addiction (sort of) to chilli, and how people often were taking his napkins from his restuarants as souvenirs. There was more of the "Is it OK?" questions that were popular during the show's run in the Paralympic Games, and one classic moment of all - a teacher asked a class what runs but has no legs. Expecting the answer "a river" some of the kids said "a Paralympian!" and were then told off. Nooooo! Perfectly fair answer considering the British team's efforts (and one leg amputee gold medallist Johnnie Peacock was on the show too)

I've spent a fair bit of time getting the house sorted, washing the new bedding from IKEA that I got for Christmas from my sister and using that tonight (always think it's best to give something new a wash beforehand - just feels cleaner and fresher then) and it'll be hopefully a relaxing night. Although my norovirus has thankfully gone and done one, my tummy still isn't 100% so I'm going to mainly drink water and not anything alcoholic and see how I go for now, what I don't want to do is end up throwing up on tonight of all nights, that would not be good whatsoever.

So, until next year, have a great New Year's Eve, and remember if you're seeing the New Year in with friends, loved ones or just those special people that you spend time with, make it a great and safe night together, and just after midnight, if you have it, throw on Deacon Blue's "Queen of the New Year" and play it at a decent volume - it's tune of the day for me and when you hear it, you'll remember it and think "Oh yeah, why haven't I played that earlier?" much like I did. Have a great one folks!

Sunday 30th December - Resting and Recovering Part 2

Despite me waking up and feeling infinitely better than yesterday, I had a chat with The Love In My Heart and we agreed that it would be best that I stayed at home and minimised any risk of giving anyone anything - and that she would take her Mum and Dad to their hotel on her own. I think it'd have been lovely to keep her company but I knew that at the same time she was right and that it was best that I would recover in good time. So it was a lie in at first and then to catch up with some telly I missed.

So as part of that, I watched the documentary on BBC2 on Racing Legends. I'd seen one the other night with Sir Stirling Moss and it was fascinating stuff, with Patrick Stewart being the über-fan who was with him. This time round it was chef and racing buff James Martin, who met Sir Jackie Stewart and the two of them had a blast, with memories of the career flooding back, how Ken Tyrrell formed a team around Stewart and how he would have handed the reins of team leader over to Francois Cevert had the talented French driver not been killed in the US Grand Prix of 1973. It was really fascinating stuff.

Interestingly James Martin had a helmet which was styled very much in the one that the late great James Hunt used to wear, and he genuinely seemed nervous when he was going to drive Jackie's 1973 Tyrrell in Monza of all places. By the time it was all over though he didn't want to stop and you could tell how much he loved driving the car - and the lessons he'd had from Jody Scheckter in getting the smooth driving style right certainly paid dividends in order to get the car driven correctly too.

I also saw the BBC's season review of the F1 season and that was pretty good, with a lot of the drivers and team managers giving their insights into how the season went - and of course like him or loathe him, you have to say Eddie Jordan got the Hamilton move right and said it first, so there you go. So many moments, it was hard to cram it into an hour but it really was one that was well worth watching. Bit sad that Jake Humphrey has decided to go and present football for BT Vision next season - but it's his choice I guess.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the excellent "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac, which the Beeb used in their F1 season review, just like they still do for the coverage of the F1. Looking at how 2013 is going to shape up though, there's going to be no Monaco Grand Prix live. What the hell? This is the race that is the most iconic of all F1 races, even if it might not always be the most exciting. We do get Canada back which had Jenson Button's epic 2011 win, but still.. not happy about that!

Saturday 29th December - Recovering with Superstars

After yesterday's amount of throwing up, I just hoped that I wasn't going to do any of that today. I would have been cooking a nice meal for The Love In My Heart tonight but I felt that I couldn't possibly do so when I was poorly, and just in case I still had anything in my body I didn't want her to catch it either. She was really understanding and even asked if she could get me any shopping that I needed. Awww, she's such a sweetheart and it was massively appreciated, although I did say I'd venture out and get some fresh air.

A few abortive wake ups later and I eventually surfaced around 2pm - which is not like me at all but felt that the sleep was needed. I made a quick trip to the local Tesco ensuring I'd given myself a thorough shower and clean first, and then quickly got some Lucozade, paracetemol etc and some soup so at least I could eat something easy to digest for now, and then headed home where BBC Final Score kept me going for the afternoon, with a rather dramatic match at Carrow Road keeping me more than occupied as Manchester City scored twice in the first five minutes and then had to battle with ten men later on to hold of a resilient Norwich City, and we won 4-3 in the end.

I had had some Lucozade and kept myself hydrated with lots of water and the occasional paracetemol just to try and ward off what seemed like a massive headache coming, which I wasn't so pleased about. I just thought about getting well for Monday, as it was New Year's Eve and I wanted to spend that with The Love In My Heart at the very least even if I wasn't going to be with her tomorrow when she takes her Mum and Dad to their hotel that they stay at for New Year. That did give me some drive at least.

Thankfully there was the evening's telly, and something I'd been looking forward to for a while since I'd heard it announced - Superstars was back! Granted it was for a one episode special with eight men and eight women who had all got Olympic medals competing, but with everyone having to do to the iconic gym tests, it was always going to be at least good fun if not competitive. The athletes looked a good bunch too, from boxing champions Nicola Adams and Anthony Joshua to dressage darling Laura Bechtolsheimer, and the big guns like Mo Farah also taking part.

I won't spoil it for you in case you haven't watched it, but thankfully the spirit of the original series remained intact. A big plus was getting Paul Dickenson on commentary like it was for the 2003 and 2004 series - he knows how to call these things properly. I could have done without Denise Lewis to be honest, and thought that Gabby Logan with Iwan Thomas was enough of a presenting combination (Iwan's enough of an athletics expert in his own right and had taken part in Superstars before, so he knows the drill). The athletes themselves were a plus though as some of them really did want it and put the performances in.

I just hope it's given the public enough of a whiff of appetite to do a full series. I already have it planned in my head and if you're reading BBC, I will host it no problem. Get it hosted in and around SportCity in Manchester (BBC Sport is based in Salford after all) and make it eight events from ten that you have to do, and bring back the steeplechase, cycling in a velodrome et al. At least the gym tests were proper this time as it should be. And with all that tune of the day just has to be "Heavy Action" by Johnny Pearson, which of course is the Superstars theme - rightfully so too.

Friday 28th December - Shopping and Spewing

I decided that it would be a good idea to head into the city centre and brave the sales, and see what I could get with my vouchers for HMV. I had a couple of ideas in my head, and what I normally do is look at what I put on my Christmas list, see what was left on there and use that as my shortlist so that I'd get myself something that I wanted. With that done, I headed on the bus into the city and thankfully early doors it wasn't so busy. I headed into HMV and admittedly it was pretty busy in there with people perusing the sale.

Unfortunately most of what I wanted seemed either to have sold out before Christmas or was much more expensive than I would have got online, and that was a shame. One of my ideas was to get one of the Disney Pixar Blu-ray discs that I was after, and then this would mean that if it had one of those Disney Movie Rewards point things on, I could rack up the points and be able to then get another disc for free and reap the reward that way. It would have been fine if that was spottable of course.

I decided to head to the Lowry Outlet Mall next and so took the X50 bus out of town which takes you along past the Imperial War Museum and from there it's a short walk over the bridge and to the Mall. I had a quick look around, mainly M&S to see if I could get any clothes for myself, but nothing doing. I then realised that the 50 bus now runs to the Lowry as well, so I got on that and back into the city, had a coffee at the Virgin Money Lounge, and even had a call from The Love In My Heart and had a quick walk around Zara with her before she headed back home, saying it was just too mental in town for shopping now (and it had got busy!)

I headed home too but felt really shivery as I walked to the bus stop and when I got in I just felt very very cold, and so cranked the temperature up to keep warm and had some paracetemol to keep me going. I just felt it best to relax as much as I could so it was on with the 2011 F1 review on Blu-ray and then some CDs as well, listening a lot to Nitzer Ebb's "Body of Work" compilation again. I still regard "Lightning Man" as a pretty cool song after all these years so that's tune of the day. I had drifted in and out of sleep during the day and felt really run down.

I'd got to the time to make myself some tea but didn't feel 100% and when I made it, I struggled to eat it all, not like me I have to admit. I had to stop about half way through as I felt pains in my stomach and didn't feel too good, and I feared the worst. Around an hour later those fears were realised as I made it upstairs and to the loo, with the head wrenched over. I knew I was going to be sick, but it was pretty violently sick as well. It wasn't very pleasant and I was worried that something had hit me massively. I decided the best course of action was to head to bed and then I was near the bathroom if I needed to be.

Over the course of the night I needed to pay another three visits to the toilet, each wrench of sick just as violent as the last, and it wasn't very nice at all to say the least. I hadn't even drunk that much alcohol or anything like that but I was suspecting norovirus, as I'd gone from being cold to very hot and some of the other symptoms I was feeling seemed to be very similar. Looking it up pretty much revealed the same and it wasn't very nice to have come down with it - at this time of year especially.

Thursday 27th December - Coffee and Electronica

After a well earned lie in this morning, it was time to say goodbye to The Love In My Heart, at least for the day anyway as we would be heading out to my sister's in the evening for a bit of a family get together, which also would mean that we'd see everyone in one fell swoop before the New Year, so made perfect sense for us both to head out to and have that time. I made us some coffee and croissants for breakfast, with The Love opting for a regular coffee and me a Costa Americano from the Tassimo. Now I know how to make it less strong if I need to, I opted for a little below maximum strength, and that worked really well.

With breakfast eaten and the weather slowly turning brighter, although the threat of rain was hanging over, The Love headed home and was going to have a relaxed afternoon whilst I was going to spend some time listening to the new CDs that I had. First up was Nitzer Ebb's "Body of Work" 2CD set, which was effectively a retrospective on their career with Mute Records - the first CD having the choice album tracks and singles, with the second CD having a raft of good remixes. Starting off with their early classics such as "Join in the Chant" right though to the likes of "I Thought" it was a good selection.

Best of all though some of the remixes on CD2 we usually on hard to find 12" or CD singles, so perfect to have them added on one CD. The George Clinton remix of "Fun To Be Had" is certainly one that stood out for me, and that was rather funky, as you would expect. Best of all though has to be the single version of "Murderous" on CD1, that really does kick a massive punch, and that was cool to have on CD, so tune of the day without question. I think had I not been drinking a latte at the time it might have been tempting to bound around the room and sing along.

I also listened to the Deacon Blue album as well and that was a really nice surprise. Even after all the years since the likes of "Raintown" and "When The World Knows Your Name", the band still know how to craft a song with the title track "The Hipsters" being especially wonderful and catchy with lots of strings providing some lovely backing to it all. A song that you need to have to listen to in an open top car as you drive through the countryside in the summer in fact, that sort of feeling.

It also gave me a chance to get all the CDs and Blu-ray discs that I got for Christmas all neatly put in alphabetical order and on the shelves, and so make everywhere neat and tidy. I guess for me it makes life easier if I can locate everything quicker and be able to play them without much hassle. I also made sure I entered the codes from both the Pixar Shorts Volume 2 and Toy Story Blu-ray discs on the Disney Movie Rewards site so I could rack up the points from them - I saved up enough previously to get Monsters Inc on Blu-ray and now am almost there for another Blu-ray disc - the idea being is that I upgrade all my existing Pixar content from DVD to Blu-ray..

Wednesday 26th December - Jack, Black and Coffee

The Love In My Heart and I had a very relaxed Boxing Day indeed. None of this going to the sales for us lark - primarily because we didn't want to wake up at 5am and queue outside the Arndale Centre like some people would do. Oh no. It was a more chilled out day, with a nice long lie in, some lovely breakfast whilst keeping an eye on the world with BBC News 24, and then slowly getting ready for the day ahead and a leisurely relaxed way at that. It was nice having a cooked breakfast and the sausages that The Love made in particular were just brilliant.

With the racing on the telly with the Boxing Day Kempton meeting on, I checked out the cinema times and we made a decision to head to AMC Cinemas in town. We both get student discount rate there (an employees' perk that we actually use a lot, woo) and also if you park in the NCP car park underneath (the new bit closest to the Hilton, think it's Car Park B) then you can get your parking ticket validated in the cinema, meaning you get £2 parking for up to four hours instead of the £10 you'd normally get charged, so that's a bit of a result there to be honest.

We headed to the city centre, The Love parked up easily enough and out of the lift and into AMC. There was no queue at the box office for the 2.45pm showing, so we got our tickets and were straight into Screen 1, which I have to say was pretty empty. We weren't bothered, it meant we could enjoy the film and be more relaxed. So once the trailers and adverts were done (thankfully not that many) it was on with the main feature, and for the second time in two years we were seeing a film with The Love's favourite Tom Cruise in - this time Jack Reacher, based on the Lee Child novel One Shot (which is one of many with the Jack Reacher character in).

Having never read the books, I can't tell you if it's close to the book's plot or anything like that, but if you want action and thriller as well as drama, you'd pretty much enjoy it. Werner Herzog is superb as the evil Russian in it, a bit understated in parts but you can tell how he plays the survivor so well and how his minions have that look of fear in their eyes when he is around. Robert Duvall as the gun club owner and someone who turns out to know Reacher from the army is an excellent foil too, and really does have that element of being an old general that is respected.

And Tom? Suffice to say that The Love was happy - she got to see his bare chest, he kicked backside on numerous occasions with or without guns, and a massive car chase in which I know he'll have stunt driven himself along the way. It was a thoroughly enjoyable slice of action and judging by the fact Cruise and Duvall were at the Etihad the other week with the author Lee Child (Cruise has admitted that he is a massive fan of the books!) then there might be more on the way in the future. Well worth a trip to see if you get chance, and I might have to be buying that on DVD when it comes out for her!

We then headed back to mine, and we avoided the traffic coming out of the Man U v Newcastle game. Sadly United had won 4-3 and City had lost 1-0 at Sunderland so the gap at the top was back up to seven points, a bit worrying really as I suspect that even at this stage it might not be closeable enough unless we go on a run and a half to snatch the title away - and on current form we don't look like managing that. Still, it was time to relax a bit and after a clean up of sorts in the kitchen, it was time to set up the Tassimo and see what it could do.

I followed the manual and so filled up the water tank, put in the cleaning disc and then put a cup in, let the cleaning cycle run its 4-5 times as it said, and then it was ready to sort itself out and make some lovely coffee. I put a Costa Americano pod in, let it do its wizardry and then watch it perform its stuff. Out came some gorgeous smelling coffee and with some milk added, we tried it, and it tasted gorgeous. One of my friends had given me some Kenco Medium Roast pods, so I had them as well as the Costa Americano and Latte pods. I tried a latte later on, and that was yummy.

I made us a very nice meal for tea, with some pork medallions with shiitake mushrooms and a nice sauce, along with some horseradish mash and some steamed vegetables, which hit the spot, as did the New York cheesecake for dessert too. I'd recorded The Snowman and the Snowdog so we watched that together, and although it was good I felt it was a little too formulaic and didn't have the impact that the original did - although when you saw the little boy burying his dog at the start you couldn't help but feel moved, so at the end it was at least a bit more of an uplifting ending than the original. My nephew has the Snowman soft toy, which admittedly does look cute.

Once that was done, we fired up the Blu-ray player, and the Onkyo surround amp, and on went Black Swan. It was brilliant, much better than even I expected (I wanted to see it at the cinema but never got to) and Natalie Portman's performance was her best I'd seen her in - no wonder she won an Oscar for it. IMDB ranks it #177 in the greatest films, which gives you an idea. Not everyone will love the idea of a film based on ballet, but it's more about the central character Nina played by Portman, and how much she gives into carrying off the role. Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder are excellent too, but fiendishly ace is also Vincent Cassel as the dance teacher.

There's a lot to take in and the film is typical Darren Aranofsky in that you'll either get it, or you won't and you'll hate it. Of course having seen Pi and Requiem for a Dream, I get it, and the way that the world is seen through Nina and just how much her mind consumes her at first makes for difficult viewing but once you work out what's going on it makes for a really different view on the whole thing. We both really enjoyed it and there were moments of deep intakes of breath with drama too. I would say again though it's very much a love/hate movie so do bear that in mind. Tune of the day is Clint Mansell's brilliant "A Swan Song (For Nina)" which closes the whole thing wonderfully well.

Tuesday 25th December - It's Chriiiiiiiiistmas!

It was nice this year to be able to have a little bit of a lie in before I would get up on Christmas Day morning. My plans had slightly changed this year which meant that I didn't have to wake up so early and cram so much into the day, so it was pretty good just to get up at a more leisurely pace and be able to wake up, get myself up, showered and ready, and then look the part for the whole day. I also had a fair few presents to open from family and friends that had arrived at the house, so I opened those first.

My friends who I have great weekends with had got me a little something as a thank you for the hospitality, and one of those I've been friends with for years, but even so I didn't expect Mongrels Series 1 and Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol on Blu-ray as well as the Nitzer Ebb Body of Work, How to Destroy Angels EP and the new Fear Factory CD. It was actually really humbling to open that lot and it's so nice to be appreciated, but honestly, they so shouldn't have.

More nice presents to be opened too - my auntie had got me a nice shirt and these two little wooden cat figures that will be sat on the kitchen windowsill, my sister got me some towels from Ikea (it's what I wanted!) as well as a nice new duvet cover set and a bottle of some gorgeous Winter Treacle Porter ale from Innis and Gunn. Yum! One of my neighbours had also got The Love In My Heart and I a gorgeous tin of Scottish shortbread biscuits - perfect to go with a coffee I reckon. All good there and I felt all Christmassy as the telly had some Christmas classics on including The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York" - tune of the day for obvious reasons.

I went around to my uncle and auntie's place, and the four of them (they plus my two cousins) were in fine fettle. The house looks really nice now it's all finished and done up, and the wood burning fire in the front room really does pump out a lot of heat - if they weren't so dear for the wood, I'd be half tempted to get one myself to be honest. They'd very kindly invited me over for breakfast which was very nice, and we swapped presents too. They'd all got me a little something, including the F1 2011 season review on Blu-ray, a voucher for HMV, the new Deacon Blue CD and Black Swan on Blu-ray, which I'd been after for ages so was really pleased to get that. And the Jessica Ennis book too which I will need to make some time to read, I think!!

It was then a rest at home for a little while and I tested out the F1 Blu-ray which looked and sounded completely spot on, so was really pleased to be able to enjoy that, not least the Canadian Grand Prix which Jenson Button won in epic circumstances last year, was great to watch that again. It was then a walk over to Mum's as she'd asked me over for the Christmas dinner, and it was lovely to see her, my brother and sister and my nephew, who was rather happy as everyone (including me!) had got him some Lego sets, so I said to him that after dinner we'd make the Lego fire station together.

More present exchanging followed, and I think my sister was massively chuffed I'd got her the JK Rowling book "The Casual Vacancy - according to Mum my sister was calling her boyfriend and Mum rotten for not getting it her, and now of course she knew why! Her and my nephew had got me the Dream Theater "Falling Into Infinity" CD, my brother bought me La Haine on DVD and the PJ Harvey Peel Sessions CD, and we settled in for Christmas dinner, which was very filling but also very very nice as well, lots of turkey, stuffing, bread sauce, roasties, carrots etc, all gorgeous and my Mum as per usual excelled herself.

After dinner, Mum handed me her presents to me and also some from my cousin and his girlfriend, some more lovely Ikea bath towels and some Lynx etc. Mum got me a nice shirt, a tin of Danish butter biscuits, some Lynx etc and also gave me this really nice clock which was in the shape of a Formula 1 car, and the face was on the rear wing, from the former Panasonic Toyota team. I knew what this was and what it meant, and I felt very humbled to be given that to be honest - but I know that I will look after it and it'll take pride of place in the house.

I spent time with my nephew in the afternoon building the Lego City fire station set. What's good these days is that each bit of the set comes with its own bag of bricks all numbered, so we started off with bags 4 and 5 for the front left of the station,bag 6 for the next side bit, and then 7 and 8 to finish that off. Bags 1 to 3 were for the two fire engine trucks which even came complete with a ladder that you could rotate and lift, brilliant stuff. It took us a couple of hours of careful building to put it all together but you could see the happiness in his eyes when he made it - so that made me feel good.

Later on my brother dropped me off at mine with bags of presents, and then dropped me off at The Love In My Heart's place, where I was staying overnight. It was lovely to see her of course and we could swap presents, but we opened some presents from each others' families first. It was really nice of a lot of my family to buy her some presents, and Mum had got her some Just Pink perfume from Next and slippers, my brother got her a Ted Baker smellies set, my sister had got her something from The Body Shop etc, so all good there.

In fact The Love's family were just as generous - her Mum and Dad got me the London 2012 Olympics highlights on Blu-ray, one of her sisters some ale and the Pixar Shorts Volume 2 on Blu-ray, and her other sister got me Toy Story on Blu-ray as well as something else which made sense when I opened The Love's presents. Because The Love had very kindly got me a Tassimo coffee maker! Not just that but she'd got me some Costa Americano pods (and her sister some Costa latte pods) to go with it, so that was a start. She also got me a very nice Bench watch with a dark green face, which was one I was after for ages, the Duke Special Little Revolutions Two CD, a gorgeous shirt from Marks and Spencer in a dark check which feels soft and gorgeous, and the Jake Humphrey book about his F1 travels over the last four years as BBC's presenter. Wow! I felt really special and lucky let me tell you.

We snuggled up in front of the telly and watched the Downton Abbey special together, which for me at least was a bit of a let down. It seemed a little predictable in places although it was a sweet moment when the head housemaid Anna was there dancing a Scottish dance that she'd learnt from Rose and so danced with her husband Bates looking on with considerable pride. Lady Mary had her baby but not before a possible tragedy would strike her husband Matthew - it's been left on a cliff hanger at the end of course so that it could be open ended, although the actor who plays Matthew hasn't signed up for another series, hence the suspense bit.

All in all it was a lovely day and so nice to see so many of my family and share some wonderful happy times with. I know how lucky I am and how wonderful it feels when The Love in particular bought me such lovely presents. Thing is I now want to try the Tassimo out and have a lovely coffee from it but I'll wait till I get home so I can set it all up in the kitchen, give it a cleaning cycle etc and make sure it's all good to go and serve me some lovely coffee. I snuggled up in bed just thinking how happy the whole day was - yaay!

Monday 24th December - Raining Rememberance

As is my tradition on Christmas Eve, I take time out to remember the loved ones in my family who are no longer with us. To me it's a very personal thing but one thing that I know is important in that you don't forget people, but you remember them with a sense of pride and belonging and also remember the many happy times that you will have spent with them over the years. I can remember various moments of childhood growing up around some of my relations, staying over and having plenty of Canada Dry ginger ale and playing with a train set, and also lots of happy Christmas memories of family being together and happy.

It's too easy sometimes to think that everything in the world is all rosy and lovely (and sometimes it is) but I think also you become a better person by how you have those fond memories of those you love (and still love) and keep those close to you as special moments that you've had. I can easily recall many happy stories over times and I know that The Love In My Heart appreciates just what it means to me to remember for the right reasons. Even though I know she would offer to take me to the cemeteries if the need arose, she also knows this is something that I do on my own and it's my own private time.

So it's a trip to two cemeteries in all - Manchester Crematorium first, which is close to Southern Cemetery. One of the buses I took there had been delayed somewhat and it was full of customers heading to Chorlton and complaining because they had to wait so long. As it transpired, a bus had broken down, which could happen at any time to be honest. The Crematorium had a service which looked like it was either ongoing or finishing, so I passed silently and nodded as I headed to the plot where my relations are, with lots of flowers scattered all over the gardens - so many tributes, so many people, all gone but not forgotten.

It was then from there on to East Didsbury and the short(ish) walk up to Mill Lane Cemetery in Cheadle, and it was good to stop there and visit my relations in there too. Again, the cemetery was very busy and with the rain absolutely lashing it down I didn't want to sit on the bench close by as it was soaking, so I stood there close to the plot, had a few quiet moments (and a few tears it has to be said) to myself, and then headed out of there. I find it very emotionally draining too to be honest, but know that it's the right thing to do and I know that other relations will have seen that I have been too.

It was then over to Costa Coffee in Cheadle centre, and time to compose myself a little, so a coffee and lemon cake was in order so I could relax, sit by the window and watch the world go by and get myself all settled for the festive period ahead. The coffee was very warming and perfect considering the still foul weather out there, and it was good to simply relax and take it all in. I felt better for it and headed home feeling like it was now time to be ready. The rain was lashing as I got home and I thought that it'd be good just to settle in for the rest of the day.

It only felt appropriate that on a day like today, remembering those you love is the right thing to do. So tune of the day reflects that - the wonderful "Death Is Not The End" as covered by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I've already decided that this has to be played at my funeral when I die, because the words mean so much and musically it just has that feeling of hope in all the despair. And it's a cover of Bob Dylan, which kind of connects me to some of my relations no longer here too.

In the meantime, may I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and hope that you have a wonderful time with your family, friends and loved ones. That's what I plan to do and hope that everything works out to be lovely, as I am sure it will be for all of you. And remember not to eat too much - although if it's anything like Mum's portions on Christmas Day that might prove to be a bit difficult! Have a great one, and let's hope for some snow tonight just to make it feel that bit more special...

Sunday 23rd December - Christmas Carvery

I had a pretty relaxed sort of day all round really. I decided in the morning that it would be nice to treat myself to some new jeans which I could look smart in, possibly even for going out tonight in, and knew that if I got into the city centre early enough, it wouldn't be too busy and that I should be able to saunter around without too much hassle. I knew too that TK Maxx would probably be the place to go, and so I headed on the bus into the city centre and straight into TK Maxx, which seemed pretty quiet to me.

I soon found out why - it had opened at 11.30am for browsing only but you couldn't buy anything till 12 noon, to make sure that purchasing stayed within the maximum number of hours allowed under the trading laws. As it turned out I was able to browse and find not one but two pairs of jeans, so I decided to get myself both of them as a Christmas present to myself - and why not? I managed to get a pair of Levi 504 jeans in black and in my size for £40, and also a pair of Firetrap jeans also in black and also in my size too, and they were in the clearance section for £20. No arguing there, and thankfully they had lots of staff on hand when the tills did open so it didn't take me too long to queue up and pay for the items.

I got home a little later and spent a fair bit of time during the afternoon getting a few things sorted - ironing what I was going to wear tonight and also cleaning the house so that I wouldn't have to do much more before Christmas itself, which to me made perfect sense. I even had some time to rock out on Rock Band 3 on the Wii, and was pretty successful at doing a few songs on hard bass again so that felt pretty positive. I also watched (again) Pointless Celebrities from the night before, and it was good to see that Jayne Middlemiss and Jamie Theakston won and won pretty well it has to be said.

I set off late afternoon for The Love In My Heart's place and managed to get in and out of the city centre pretty quickly, which was good as the centre looked positively rammed with last minute shoppers. I got there and looked pretty good in the new jeans and my shirt, and The Love wore a nice top and jeans with shoes and looked smart yet casual too, which was just what we wanted. We headed out to The Sheldon Arms close to Ashton-under-Lyne where we were meeting up with a couple of our friends for a meal together. The place certainly felt festively decorated but in a classy way and that made everyone feel relaxed straight away.

Their carvery is really really lovely, so we all decided to plump for that for the main course. We all ended up having different meats too, our friends had the beef and the turkey, The Love had the belly pork and I had the ham. All four were gorgeous, with stuffing, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, carrots, Yorkshire pudding and gravy for me just adding to the overall niceness. And of course plum pudding ale too that they had on as a special beer which certainly did taste rather fruity too - happy days all round.

As it would be the last time we'd see our friends before Christmas, we swapped presents, and I think everyone was pretty happy with what they got. One of my friends' presents hadn't arrived in time (because it was being hand made!) and so the place I ordered it from sent me a little card so I could hand it to him, so he could see what was being made - and that pleased him no end. Our other friend was also happy with two books and the Fun and Olly Murs albums (I'd even got the limited edition of the latter with the DVD as well, so that'll mean that she will look forward even more to seeing him live next year).

My friends got some lovely gifts for The Love too - The Polar Express on DVD (a film she loves!), a Jack Vettriano 2013 diary which I know she'll use at work, and a gorgeous Boots Sanctuary Covent Garden massive gift box. I gave my friend a tip off about it when I saw it half price in Boots and it certainly felt like you'd got a lot for your dosh because of it. My friends got me some lovely presents too - some coffee pods for a Tassimo (which I'll either get for Christmas or buy one in the sales!), some gorgeous Man City gloves that look warm and classy, along with some socks in a gorgeous box to go with it, Ted on Blu-ray (oh yeah!!) and the Led Zeppelin Celebration Day 2CD and Blu-ray set, which has their famous London O2 Arena gig from 2007. And seeing as I couldn't get a ticket, it'd be the next best thing.

I had the sticky toffee pudding for dessert which was gorgeous, as was my friend's pavlova too (I almost wished I'd had that too). Drinks and conversation flowed freely and it really did feel like it was Christmas now, and as for tune of the day well it's going to be (shockingly!) Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You". It was played yesterday in the Christmas songs programme on ITV1, and I discussed with my friend that in fact she had written it herself but did it in the style of Motown. And all I want for Christmas? Well, The Love In My Heart, obviously.

Saturday 22nd December - Last Gasp

I got up relatively early today and The Love In My Heart very kindly dropped me off at the large Tesco on her way homeward. It was a good plan that I had to get in there, get all the Christmas food shopping done and then be relatively relaxed at home all morning. It worked out well - with someone in Tesco deciding that we had enough of Christmas songs and played a plethora of 1980s hits instead including The Human League and Heaven 17, which certainly made me smile and sing along as I shopped. I got all I needed, got out of there and was pretty much straight on a bus home - now that's my kind of shopping!

I had to nip to my little Tesco straight after as I knew I couldn't carry everything in one go, but only really needed lots of bottled water and a couple of other items, and so it was relatively painless as I headed around there, in out and back home in next to no time, so that allowed me to watch Football Focus whilst having some lunch, and then did a bit of rocking on Rock Band 3 including nailing Judas Priest's classic "Painkiller" on hard bass no less. I tried expert, and failed at the same point three times - a bit hard that song is!

My friend came over and we were soon on our way to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City's final home game of the calendar year 2012 against bottom of the table Reading. On paper, we should win, and with Reading having only one win all season you'd think that if we were to score early on, then we might get a few and be able to pull the gap back at the top of the league to three points again before Manchester United took on Swansea away tomorrow. That was the theory, but it didn't quite happen like that in practice to be honest.

The word frustrating seemed massively appropriate. No matter what we did, the ball wouldn't go in. Carlos Tévez was put through by Sergio Agüero but his shot was well saved, a couple of headers from Javi Garcia went close, and a Gareth Barry header also found the Reading 'keeper. It really did feel like they had 10 men behind the ball at all times though bar the odd break forward, and their plan of containment was working for the most part. 0-0 at half time and although relatively confident, I did feel like we were trying too hard to walk the ball in and play the fancy stuff instead of striking from distance on a very wet and slippy surface.

In the second half, the formation changed as Edin Džeko came on so we had three strikers to go for it and try to get the win, and he came close with a header from Pablo Zabaleta's cross, and Reading had a possible shout for a penalty when one of their players went down in the area. We still were going for it though, David Silva headed agonisingly close and Agüero shot wide in almost the same spot he'd scored that dramatic title winner in May. Just when all seemed lost and deep in stoppage time, Zabaleta fed Silva whose ball found Gareth Barry at the far post and his header hit the back of the net. Thank heavens for that! 1-0 and a slightly lucky win, but it's when you don't play at your best and win that's a sign for me of that the title isn't just over yet..

After warming up with a coffee at The Love's place it was back home and to have a fairly relaxed evening, and I watched the favourite Christmas songs on ITV1. I have to say that I was rather pleased that the public voted the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York" as their favourite song, and it is bloody brilliant, so tune of the day was a very easy decision there. Even now when you hear it you just automatically think of Christmas, it's just one of those moments. Woe betide those who cover it badly (yes Ronan Keating, it's you I'm talking of here) and those who dared censor the song one year by removing the word faggot. It's a classic and rightly so.

Friday 21st December - Costume and Christmas in London

As The Love In My Heart and I had both finished work for the year, a while ago we'd booked tickets for the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and booked the trains too. Knowing that it was the last Friday before Christmas, we of course booked the trains nice and early which meant that it wasn't going to be too expensive a day all told, and that we'd made the times sensible so we could get around the V&A easily enough. The advantage too is that the Museum is open till much later on a Friday, thereby giving us options if we needed to.

So The Love headed to mine and we got the bus into Piccadilly Station in more than good time to get the 1055 departure to London Euston. It was a bit rainy in Manchester, and as we sped through the countryside on the train, most of Staffordshire and the Midlands looked pretty wet - with lots of fields and rivers flooding as you could see from the comfort of the carriage. It brightened up considerably once we got past Milton Keynes and by the time we trundled into Euston, the Winter sun was out and it actually felt pretty mild - made me wonder why I needed to bring some gloves with me.

We walked the short distance to the Crown and Anchor pub close to Euston, which is fast becoming one of my favourite pubs - and certainly one I usually head to when in London these days. I had reserved us a table and I was pretty glad I did - it was packed in there. Three lovely things happened in there - they had the Sharp's Winter Berry Ale (the same brewery that make Doom Bar, yummy), the haddock and chips and minted peas that I had was stunning, and The Love's roast chicken also was utterly gorgeous, so we were very happy indeed. It was a lovely atmos in there too and that just made us feel nice and relaxed for the day ahead, so all good there.

We soon headed on the 14 bus from close to Euston Square and off to the V&A. It sweeps through Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus and then Hyde Park Corner on the way, where lots of people were getting on to go to Harrods, not realising that from there it's pretty much walking distance (it really is). We got off at the V&A with some time to spare before our alotted time to see the exhibition, and had a good look around the main shop, with lots of lovely art and craft stuff, some of which was discounted. It was very tempting to get the books in there, but they were rather heavy!

We went around to where the exhibition was, and for the next hour and a half or so we were just in awe about how brilliant the exhibition was. I won't spoil it for you, but if you've got a ticket for it, you will love it. There's plenty of outfits from all genres of film, and the way they're laid out means you can get to see them all pretty close up and get some background from the film itself too, with in some cases the actor or the costume designer talking about it, notable in two cases as there were several outfits worn by Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep on show from various roles.

There's obvious highlights and for me it had to be one of the Givenchy dresses as worn by Audrey Hepburn for the film Breakfast At Tiffany's, which just oozed style, class and beauty all in one. That as well as Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Neo from The Matrix, and perhaps even more iconic than Audrey, the blue check dress and ruby slippers as worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. The blue had of course faded (well the film was made in 1939 of course) but even so, it just felt wonderfully iconic. There's shed loads of others that you'd adore and The Love liked the two outfits as worn by Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet for Titanic.

In short then, you have to go - if you've managed to get a ticket of course. Unsurprisingly it has pretty much sold out quickly and if any tickets become spare, get one and go. I promise you, there'll be plenty of "oooooh" and "aaaaah" as well as "wow" moments throughout, and it felt very inspiring to be there to see it all. It's not just about a load of dummies with the costumes on either, the way it's displayed really does feel like you're going into a cinema production and being part of the show yourself, and the shop afterwards tempts you to buy lots of film goodies too. Now if they had a black and white Audrey Hepburn t-shirt that might have been doable...

From there we took the short walk and had a leisurely walk around Harrods, although I have to say it was rammed full of people, and we were looking at the food in the hall and just having to double take at some of the prices. The Christmas shop on the second floor was full of lavish crackers, annual calendars, teddy bears et al and it actually didn't feel that expensive in some places, although elsewhere it was style, panache and expense all in that order. It was also ridiculously hot in there which wasn't comfortable, so we made our exit and headed up the road towards Piccadilly Circus.

Walking along Regent Street and seeing the "twelve days of Christmas" on display with some gorgeous lights across the streets felt magical, and Hamleys was full of little shop assistants as elves proclaiming "4 sleeps till Christmas" for all the little ones, and it was pretty festive. The same to be said on Carnaby Street too - with lots of Rolling Stones discs lighting up the street there and looking pretty but in a different way. We took the short trip to Covent Garden and the reindeer by the square and all the blue lights around looked gorgeous too and we felt very festive indeed. There was even a Rolling Stones shop with lots of memorabilia and CDs for sale, so it's kind of right that I make "Start Me Up" tune of the day.

It was then a stop off at the Marquess of Anglesey for tea, with downstairs packed but the upstairs restaurant part nice and quiet and relaxed. I had the steak and ale pie, and I was so pleased that it was a proper pie, ooh yes. That made my day of course, as did the rather nice and different sticky toffee pudding with ice cream for afterwards. The Love's cottage pie looked nice and warming and lovely too, and just felt nice to relax and see the lights go by around us.

We headed back to Euston later and the train home was relatively busy but also very warm too for some reason, we relaxed and snuggled up as the train sped through the dark, got stuck a little behind the Caledonian Sleeper train but then made up the time impressively to be back into Piccadilly on time, and then it was back home to mine on the bus to crash out after a long but lovely day all round, and one that really did feel so much more relaxed and stress free too - with no shopping to be done or anything, just a nice walk around, see some lovely costumes and just be together. If only everything was so lovely and simple...

Thursday 20th December - Hair Cuts and Media Centres

I had only one thing of note to really do today - and that was to get my hair cut for the Christmas festivities ahead. It was therefore off to The Northern Cutter where the lovely ladies did their magic and got my hair looking very presentable and short (not too short) and I always like to give them a little something at Christmas, so some wine and chocolates were heading their way as a little thank you. They've always been really good to me, they don't charge loads for what they do, and they're always very friendly and chatty, which is the sort of thing you want really.

In fact it was definitely a good atmosphere in there today as everyone was getting in the festive mood and the two ladies were in a 1980s mood as they played the third CD from the 3-CD set of the Ministry of Sound Electronic 80s compilation that I have. Somehow having your hair cut to Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" makes lots of sense to take you right back to that era, so tune of the day was a relatively easy decision really. It also just reminded us of how good that era was musically, even if economically the country wasn't in the best shape ever.

After that I headed around the city centre as I had a couple of Christmas cards to get, but for a different reason. I normally pay a visit to the cemeteries where some of my relations are buried before Christmas and I do like to leave a note to say that I'm thinking of them as always but more so this time of year. Of course a card with "Merry Christmas" on it just doesn't really cut it for that reason, and getting a nice card with a Winter type scene that's blank inside isn't always the easiest to find, but WH Smith at least had some that met the criteria. I felt a little relieved too as I was starting to worry that it might not be so easy to find.

Later on I met up with The Love In My Heart for a coffee, as she herself had been into the city centre to get her hair done. It looked gorgeous and I can see why her haircut is more expensive than mine - mine's just a simple chop chop cut to keep it short, hers looks classy, stylish and really does give her that look of being a beautiful and sexy woman (which she is anyway, but it just makes her even more so). It was good to chat over coffee and watch the world go by before she had some stuff to do at her Mum's and I headed home for the afternoon.

Back at mine, I was experimenting with the Raspberry Pi, this time chucking OpenElec back on and trying to see if I can add any more XBMC add-ons apart from ITV Player and BBC iPlayer. Sadly as it stands both 4OD and Demand Five didn't work even with the latest releases, apparently this is down to the coding that both of those platform use, but certainly Youtube worked fine, and I was also able to successfully access some shared content on my PC and play it back via the Pi, which was pretty good stuff. I even worked out that for some reason playing MPEG-2 video isn't possible unless you actually have an MPEG-2 licence key, which makes some form of sense.

In fact ITV Player is pretty smooth on that, with lots of old stuff such as The Big Match revisited watchable, so some classic 1979 football action between Bolton and Ipswich was mine for the taking if I felt so inclined. It made a lot of sense actually in that to have something so small and compact acting as your media centre would mean it wouldn't be too obtrusive. A wireless keyboard and mouse and it's pretty much there with no cable clutter too, so that might be next on the list. We shall see what happens...

Wednesday 19th December - Work Is Done

It was the final day of the year at work for me. In case you're wondering why, we were given an additional discretionary day on Monday 24th (ie: Christmas Eve) because of achieving the Investors in People standard, which meant we'd finish on the 21st. However I booked the 20th and 21st off weeks ago so I could have a bit of a longer Christmas break, which made to me at least perfect sense. I think too that you do need a few days to sort of wind down before the festivities kick in with families, friends et al and so had it pretty much worked out what I wanted to do today.

And all bar two PCs which failed imaging with some spurious reason and I set off before I left, I was pretty pleased that all the remaining PCs now have all the extra specialist software installed that we needed to. What this effectively means is that when we place them back into the new building and when they're dotted around everywhere with little banks of PCs and Macs on each floor, it'll mean we can literally put them in place, connect them up, lock them up and they're good to go. I had to stay behind a little bit, but it was my own choice, I wanted to be at a point that things could be done and sorted out, so felt pretty pleased in the end.

I headed home and the rain was attempting at best it could to tip it down, wasn't too good really, but I did see Celebrity Pointless from yesterday (as I was too late to watch today's live)- I'm catching up slowly and so will watch today's one before tomorrow. And my, Emma Forbes still looks rather lovely it has to be said - and deservedly with Neil Fox beat all the other celebrity couples - they knew their stuff and were sensible about their answers too. I must admit when I manage to supply a pointless answer myself, that's pretty good too and it's always good when I can do that with a football question like they had in round one.

Later on The Love In My Heart came over, I cooked us some tea (which was a bacon type steak with barbecue sauce and cheese along with wedges and vegetables) before we headed out. I dropped off two sets of Christmas presents at my auntie's and my sister's before heading to Mum's to see her for a while. We had a good chat with Mum about all sorts and she was reliving her recent trip down to Hampshire and telling us how much that she enjoyed it, which was good to hear.

Mum also gave The Love and I our joint Christmas present and wanted us to open it there and then. We sort of knew what it was, but nonetheless were really pleased. It was a wicker picnic basket, complete with cutlery, plates and even four wine glasses, so perfect for if we fancied a really nice picnic in the Summer months. I know that The Love has been after one for ages, and the blue check pattern inside and the leather belt loops to hold it all in really feels classic, iconic and lovely. Hurrah! We may well have to use that next year when the weather gets a bit nicer...

We headed home later and The Love headed home too, she had had a long day for various reasons and so wanted a bit of a sleep (can't blame her really!) and that gave me the opportunity to have an early night myself. It was good though to listen to some music and generally relax late at night though, with some Bat For Lashes going on in the background - the excellent "Laura" really standing out as a song of choice at the moment from her most recent album so that's tune of the day for me.

Tuesday 18th December - New York in Manchester

It was another pretty busy day ahead of me, but that meant that time would go pretty quickly. We actually found out that a course that I was supposed to be on tomorrow had been cancelled, and so as such this gave me more time to get more things finished off before I finish work for the Christmas festive period. Most of the day was spent imaging a whole bank of PCs that we'd disassembled yesterday. We had a plan that we would bring the base units over to the building we're based in, connect them to the IT Zone here (the PCs are the same spec so can use all the cables) and then image them so that they're up to date and ready for the new build.

It made pretty good sense, and by the end of the day all but two or three of them had imaged successfully and at least then be ready to add all the extra specialist software tomorrow. There's lots of them so I created a task sequence in SCCM which installs them all, and it's quite considerable too, we're talking all of Adobe Design and Web Premium CS6, Adobe Acrobat Pro 10, AutoCAD Architecture 2012, Autodesk Revit Architecture and Revit Structure, Inventor, 3ds Max Design, Vectorworks and plenty more where that came from - a considerable amount of software to be added.

Talking of Adobe software, I carried out the plan to effectively start moving the distribution points between one to another. The easiest way to do it is to add the distribution point that you want the software to be distributed from in future, make sure that's copied correctly, and then remove the old distribution point. Of course if you wanted to you could have multiple points, but the main part of the exercise was removing them from the original main distribution point as that handles plenty of other SCCM related tasks.

With all the work done, it was time for me to head home, get myself showered, changed and ready to head out into the city centre, where I'd be meeting up with The Love In My Heart for one of her relations' birthdays. We went to the Grill on New York Street (we've been there before) and The Love very sensibly booked in advance which meant that we would get 20% off the food bill as well (it's normally more than that but the discount is reduced during the Christmas period). All was well and we had a nice booth table for the four of us, so plenty of chatter and food ensued.

The food I had was lovely, and from start to finish it was a gorgeous meal. I had the chicken and sweetcorn chowder soup for starter, which came with more fresh chicken on a little skewer, which I added to the chowder for added chicken goodness. The fish and chips I had was gorgeous too, lots of fish, gorgeous minted peas, a mound of hand cooked and cut chips and some lovely tartare sauce - and I even had some ice cream to finish. I have to say though that the drink prices are where the place makes the money - a mere £5 for a bottle of Thwaites' Wainwright ale (which is probably around £1.50 down your local Asda or Tesco) but then again the food discount does at least offset that a bit.

After the meal, The Love and I headed to Odd in the Northern Quarter where real ale on cask was on the cards for me and a nice glass of wine for The Love, and we sat upstairs in the relative calm and chilled out-ness of the place. It was good to see that although it was busy, you could at least hear yourself talk and have plenty of lovely conversation (hurrah). It was nice too that The Love looked so gorgeous in her new dress - a bargain it was and she looked lovely in it, with lots of blue in there but looking classy. Made me feel better that I'd dressed for the occasion and looked good too.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the brilliant "Hurry Up Harry" by Sham 69 - more because of near the end of the working day, I just got it into my head and thought of the line "We're going down the pub!" which if I wasn't heading out to Mum's tomorrow night after work, then I probably would be heading there. It also made me subconsciously think of it as we were heading to Odd after the meal tonight. I'd love this tune to be downloadable content for Rock Band - I'd simply have to belt out the words!

Monday 17th December - Busy Times Ahead

For those of you who think that it's all quiet and nothing happens when it's out of term time at work, you actually couldn't be further wrong to be honest. We've actually got a building that's part opening next month and as such this means that we've got to move a few things around but also ensure that the parts of the older building that need to be worked on can be. So in essence we had a team of six or seven of us dismantling the PCs from the main IT suite and placing them in storage for now, and then they will be placed back in situ in their new locations later on.

That took up a fair bit of the morning as did two meetings - one about a possible server move and the implications that it would have on the future, and it looked like we were able to put that back until sometime in the future, which was a relief, and the other was our team meeting, which outlined some of the work that we've got to do between now and the Christmas break, and then what to do between the New Year and the future, which was pretty intense. It's good to know that we will be very busy though so we shall see how it goes.

During the afternoon I also spent some time working out a plan of action in order to move some applications from one distribution point to another in SCCM, and I worked out what to do, how I would do it, and when that would be implemented. For good measure I also packaged up Adobe Dreamweaver CS6 standalone so that if anyone needs it, they can send it out - and in 32 and 64 bit flavours as well which I'm sure went down a treat really. It felt rather positive on the whole.

Then at home I had an evening of more experimentatoon with the Raspberry Pi - with the new version of the Raspbian OS being released along with its corresponding "app store" so I tried the OS out along with a few of the apps, and it seemed to be pretty useful on the whole. A nice addition is Libre Office, which is what the OpenOffice project has branched out to now, and also some games which seem to run better from the pure command line from within the OS itself, and one of them demonstrated the graphics power of the GPU within the Pi pretty well, it has to be said.

I did take some more medicine and also tried as much as possible to ward the cold off - I want to get well before Christmas and with plenty going on it made perfect sense for me to do what I could. I even had a bit of a retro listening to music session by playing Senser's mid 1990s classic album "Stacked Up" and nothing defines the whole feel and mood of that album than its opener "States of Mind" with its slow intro followed by a full on rock and rap fest that comes at you at over 100mph and just doesn't let go, and plenty of time in indie nights that many tracks off that album would be played too - so tune of the day was an easy decision really.

Sunday 16th December - Wiggo-ing To Win

I had a very relaxed day and spent lots of time dosing myself up on Lemsip, cough medicine and the remainder of the mulled wine all warmed up, not necessarily in that order of course but you get the idea. It was a lie in followed by keeping nice and warm and snuggly, followed by a bit of testing of things. I had the idea that I could turn the Raspberry Pi into a very tiny little media centre, and investigated one possibility - OpenElec. This uses the cross platform XBMC media player which has lots of little add-ons to make it very worth having and worth streaming video etc from it.

Installation onto the SD card was a breeze, and I also found some add-ons which you could copy to the card either during installation or afterwards (you could access the Pi via its IP address and see the file structure, copy the installation files into a folder on the card and then tell XBMC where it was). As such this meant that the likes of BBC iPlayer and ITV Player were add-ons for it, and it worked very well indeed. Granted it wasn't the same interface as you'd be used to on iPlayer for example, but it did work.

I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half or so watching the documentary From The Ashes, which was all about the 1981 cricket Test series between England and Australia, and how Ian Botham came back from having the captaincy taken away from him to be an inspiration as he and the team battled back to win. It was nice to see the inside story from a lot of the players and how once Australia started to lose the team seemed to fall into dischord somewhat. Fascinating stuff, and backed with a good soundtrack of the era as well including The Specials' all time classic "Ghost Town" - so that's tune of the day.

Later on was BBC Sports Personality of the Year, which is always very good with the way that they cover the year's sporting event. Of course with the massive successes of the Olympics this year, the programme went on a bit. In fact it lasted a gruelling three hours, but didn't feel like that at all. We had the whole crowd doing the Poznan too as Vincent Kompany and Sergio Agüero came on stage with the Premier League trophy, with Gary Lineker chatting with Agüero in Spanish - pretty impressive it has to be said.

Lots of the Olympic and Paralympic medallists were featured too, with lots on the likes of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy, Katherine Grainger, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir et al, and most of the major sports also mentioned or covered as well. One of the biggest cheers of the night was for Martine Wright, who was badly injured in the 7/7 bombings in London, but fought back to represent her country in sitting volleyball at the Paralympics, a truly inspirational woman.

As for the award itself, I did vote for Bradley Wiggins, and I was pleased to see him win. After all, if you've won the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and become the first Briton to win the Tour in the process, and then a week later go and win the Olympic time trial gold medal, you've got to be pretty special. He also looked very cool and Paul Weller-esque in his outfit as well, so that certainly added to proceedings - as did Jessica Ennis in her lovely red dress, and even the Duchess of Cambridge with David Beckham handing out the awards. It was great stuff and well worth the three hours of time.

Saturday 15th December - Bunged Up And Rough

In truth I didn't sleep very well overnight. I felt massively chesty, bunged up and felt like I was constantly overheating. The Love had even opened the window overnight to give me some fresh air, but that didn't help either and I just felt so bunged up. I headed home in the morning and just wanted to curl up on the sofa with a hot Lemsip and that's pretty much what I did for most of the morning, with a pause whilst watching the television for a dosage of some cough medicine as well.

I pretty much have conceded the fact that I am full of a horrid cold bug that has been going round for the last week or so now. A few of my colleagues at work have already been in the throes of it as have some of my relations, so I suspect it was only a matter of time before I caught it myself. That said though I think I'll do the sensible thing and stay in over the weekend, listen to some music or watch some DVD or Blu-ray discs, and make sure I keep warm and drink lots of hot liquid. Thankfully I've only got three days left in work next week so I'll have to try and battle through that but it's not going to be easy.

I was listening to the Newcastle United v Manchester City game on Radio 5 Live as well. Of course I don't have Sky (way too expensive) and going to the pub to see the game with me full of a cold didn't exactly sound good to do, so I've had the radio on and listening to the game. It sounded all good in the first half with a flowing move resulting in Sergio Agüero scoring early on and just before half time a corner headed in by Javi Garcia for 2-0 at half time, so all was good there.

The second half though meant that Newcastle could regroup and that meant that they could go for it attacking their famous Gallowgate End. Demba Ba scored to pull one back to 2-1 and I was getting pretty worried to be honest as I wanted the team to pull the gap back to Man U to three points before their game with Sunderland today. I think though that it's just typical of football that one goal just seems to give momentum to the other team, and being bunged up and nervous together didn't really help matters either. Mind you, Yaya Toure's third goal did the business and gave us a well deserved win - yaay.

Tune of the day was a pretty easy decision really - it's the rather ace "Still Ill" by The Smiths, with the title being rather apt I reckon. I just seem now to have some heartburn on top of everything else, so really am trying my hardest to stay in, dose up etc. I might even record Match of the Day and head to bed for an early night later to be honest - not sure if I'm going to last till that late to be honest. Darn it, go away cold and do one before Christmas Day please!

Friday 14th December - Two Into One

It was the final day and deadline day of the Windows 7 staff rollout project today, and pretty much with the last department completed, it was more of a case of seeing if we needed to do any last minute tweaks and checks, so that meant we could concentrate more on keeping things working for the student deadlines. It transpired that a lot of the essay deadline and hand-ins were today, and with the weather not looking at its best and chucking it down massively, I suspect that not everyone would necessarily have made the effort in. Must admit though that if you're writing an essay, electronic submissions are so much easier.

I also spent some time checking the software distribution had finished, as well as updating the driver package for a HP Probook laptop. We got the 4540s model in earlier in the week and as well as having a revised BIOS and Windows 8 preinstalled on the hard drive, we also found out that since the earlier batch of 4540s that we got in the Summer, the wireless network card had been changed as well, so the drivers wouldn't install when we brought down our Windows 7 image task sequence via SCCM. I sorted out the BIOS settings so that we could PXE boot correctly, but then had to locate the Intel Centrino 6235-N wireless driver and add that to the driver package. All done.

Later afternoon was our department Christmas get together so pretty much most of our team went over to another building where the do was, and there was plenty for everyone - some nibbles, soft and alcoholic drinks including two cask ales (yaay) and that sort of thing. We had a little speech at the start praising us for the efforts that we'd made during the year, and plenty of Christmas songs were being played too to get us in the festive mood. Most of us were waiting for the raffle to be drawn to win some prizes.

After a while, the draw took place. Lots of money had been raised for Christie Hospital, which was good to note - I think it was at least over £1500 or so, which meant a shed load of tickets had been sold, and some of our technology partners had donated prizes, including the likes of a Google Nexus 7, Amazon vouchers etc. I didn't win, but one of my colleagues in another team won the Nexus and I think he was pretty chuffed. Some of the prizes had gone to tickets held by the technology partners, who had instructed that they be auctioned off - which meant more money to be raised.

There was also a Christmas quiz to fill out and one side had lots of first lines of Christmas songs. Myself, one of my friends from another site and my colleague (who had won the outstanding Customer Service award that gets awarded periodically, and he won) got all of them right in pretty much five minutes or so, and so as I was heading home later I left the answers with a colleague so that they would be able to hand them in and hope that we might even win something.

With the weather being still wet, I went on to the bus straight into the city centre and then via a quick stop in Aldi, straight on to the tram and on to my friend's place, where I was meeting The Love In My Heart to have a nice meal indoors. This at least meant I could stay nice and warm and cosy as I did feel pretty rough (in fact my friend mentioned to The Love that I looked rather red faced, which might have been a sign of me overheating somewhat). We had some nice relaxing music on and so after some nice little nibbles, my friend and his partner were very hospitable and had made us a cottage pie.

And wow, it was massive. Even between the four of us the dish that the pie was in was just too big, but it was lovely. Our friend did tell The Love and I that in fact it was using meat free mince instead, fine by me that. Sometimes the meat free mince actually tastes nicer and has less grease and fat, and really did feel wholesome and tasty. The cheese board for afters was excellent too with some gorgeous cheddars as well with some crackers and pate. Delicious all round to be honest and just the thing.

I even was treated to a crema intensa coffee from the Carte Noire range via my friend's Tassimo machine, which really did taste gorgeous and was a lovely way to wind down the evening. The Keep Calm and Stay Cosy compilation 3CD set was playing throughout the evening, and it was a nice surprise to hear that John Mayer's excellent "Heartbreak Warfare" has been included in that compilation, so that's tune of the day. I was feeling headachey by the end of the night though and so was glad to crash at The Love's place and hit the pillow.

Thursday 13th December - To Market, To Market

I must admit I didn't feel my best this morning, and felt throaty and as if I was going to cough. I must admit I was pleased to have got the hat and gloves yesterday though as I think that I may well need it for the weeks ahead. It always feels better if you've got warm gloves on and the hat to keep the cold off the head as well. It just meant that I would want to spend time in the office where possible keeping warm but also managing to get plenty of work done, and that I did to be honest.

I also spent some time deploying some Adobe software to set of PCs that had ordered licences as well, and for some reason it seemed to be taking ages for the software to deploy. I informed the member of staff that it was still deploying and so to leave the PCs on, and I'd check them in the morning to make sure that they were working okay. I might have a feeling that the network speed in the room that the PCs are in might be a slower speed, so might be worth checking out.

I did have to take a colleague around one of our buildings today as they're working with a few departments about some building moves, and one of the things that the powers that be want is more security cameras around the buildings (and not before time I should add). Because I know the building concerned inside out it was good to take him around and suggest a possible site location for a network point that the camera would be connected to - which as it turned out would also be nearer to the location than the one specified originally, so well worth the trip just for that.

After work though it was time to head out and have a few drinks with a couple of friends who happen to work in another department. It's always nice seeing the two of them as we get on really well, have a similar sense of humour, and with the weather being cold, I definitely think it was a case of staying in places, keeping warm and having a few drinks. So a mulled wine at the first beer stop was more than welcome to be honest, and it did taste rather nice - whoever made it seemed to have a knack of getting the right amount of spices and wine in there.

We then headed to another pub around the corner which had comfortable sofas and so we could relax and chatter - mainly about films which are shown at Christmas, and we were trying to work out which ones always gets shown. One of my friends admitted that she wanted The Snowman on DVD - it's a timeless classic. Of course this year there's the sequel coming out on Channel 4, The Snowman and the Snowdog, which I might just have to watch. Other films mentioned included the likes of ET, The Railway Children, Muppets Christmas Carol, Elf etc. There's plenty more where that came from.

After a pit stop at the Christmas Market in Albert Square for a very nice pork roll or a large German sausage (insert double entendre joke here) then it was a nice leisurely walk along some of the markets and seeing their wares, before heading to the pub to have a nice quiet drink and chatter. It was always good to relax with a drink too and part of me admittedly wanted a coffee, although the pub concerned had informed us that their machine was out of order. Another mulled wine did come into serious consideration though.

Our final stop was in Kro, where one of my friends decided on a cup of tea, and I almost went down the coffee and cake route, but resisted. It had chilled out a bit in there by the time we were in there, so it was nice to have plenty more chatter and look forward somewhat to the festive season ahead. As we were discussing Christmas songs and which songs we like, I had to nominate the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl's "Fairytale of New York" simply because it really does typify what trying to have a Christmas hit was all about. So tune of the day there and all was well with the world.

It was a lovely night and I just felt it started to get the festivities off nicely and in the mood. Shame though that I was feeling a little icky by the time I got home - and not because of the nice ale I'd had during the evening but because the chesty cough and throat felt like someone had shoved something horrid down the throat. Wasn't too good there and I just hoped that I could hold out - or if I am going to come down with a full blown cold, bring it on so I can be well for Christmas - that would be lovely.

Wednesday 12th December - The Life of Pi

I had to nip to one of the local post offices yesterday after work and collect something which I'd been waiting for what seemed like months to arrive. Yes, folks, I am now in possession of a Raspberry Pi Model B board with 512MB of RAM! In fact I'd ordered a case and a power supply for it at the same time, and so it was good to see that all the parts were in one little padded envelope. It didn't take me long last night to put the case on and make everything look pretty good, and with the SD card loaded with the Raspbian OS I had a quick blast last night with more to do tonight.

But first after work I headed into the city centre to get a new hat and gloves for the winter plus some cards for forthcoming birthdays (three friends of mine all have birthdays this month!) - and of course in December all the card shops are full of Christmas cards, so finding a nice birthday card was somewhat difficult to achieve to be honest. I did manage in the end though and was able to get all three that I wanted, and pretty similar to what I'd have bought at any other time of year.

I went into H&M and my, they had a sale on! So I managed to get a pair of gloves for a mere £2 and a hat for £3, all nicely cosy and warmed by some Thinsulate insulation too, so definitely one to wear for a few nights out in the Christmas weather over the next few weeks to keep me all nice and warm. That along with my winter coat seems to work pretty well and with the temperatures plummeting, a good thing to do. I also got The Love In My Heart's Christmas card sorted out too, which I was pleased to get that done - I hate leaving anything till the last minute.

So back at home and back on the Pi, things seemed pretty well. It's not the fastest machine ever of course, but it's part of the fun in that you can learn some programming stuff and also be able to have it as a simple box to perform tasks with. One nice thing bundled with it is called Scratch, where you basically have a series of steps which you can program in, and when you hit the green flag button you can see how it'd work in reality with the animation steps and all that sort of thing. Pretty neat once you work out what you have to do with it...

I also discovered there's a web browser in kiosk mode as an OS for it, which supports all the major web plugins as well as being able to run on the Pi. Be interesting to see how that works and if it's a suitably good enough browsing experience to have connected to the telly with a cordless mouse and keyboard and all that. It might not be, but worth a reformat of the SD card to find out and install that image to and go from there. It's pretty well made too is the Pi, and I'm sure that it's smallness is going to find friends across the world for various tasks.

I was rather gutted though that the Tate clearly didn't have the infrastructure to deal with what would be a massive demand for tickets for Kraftwerk playing their catalogue of albums in full in eight special shows there. The moment the sale for tickets started at 0730 this morning, the web site crashed and you couldn't get through on the phones. I tried for ages to get through before heading to work and it wasn't having it, and the occasional check of the ticket website at lunch proved just as futile. In fact I'd heard that some fans had spent up to six hours constantly dialling the ticket office.

The word shambles seems seriously appropriate to me - I mean, the powers that be at the Tate must have known that the demand was going to be high and therefore make allowances so that everything would work properly. When the band played Manchester International Festival in 2009 with a now legendary gig at the Velodrome, the tickets went on sale and sold out same day, but the web site was resilient to cope and managed to serve everyone as needed. In the meantime, "Trans Europe Express" by the band is tune of the day - which I now won't get to hear live. Booo...

Tuesday 11th December - Trucking On and On

I felt like a weight was lifted off the shoulders around lunch time, as the final two PCs in the last major department were Windows 7 imaged, and on top of that, they'd had all the additional software added, and were all ready to use. What definitely felt positive was that people within the department had seen an improvement in their productivity and their workload and were also able to see just how much things were better because of the hard work. I was pretty pleased in the end.

I also had to work on a couple of other machines for one of our departments, and they were able to have their data backed up before I came and swapped the machines over. It was good timing really as it was close to last thing in the day and I was just about able to add their scanner back in (had to cheat and use the Windows Vista driver for it, but hey it worked so I'm not complaining!) and test that out for them. They seemed pretty pleased with the speed of response as well so all good there.

Later on I headed home and was stuck in traffic for a little bit, which didn't please me no end to be honest. I just wanted to get home and relax, and when I did I caught up with the third place playoff of Only Connect which I missed last night. I did pretty impressively well on the missing vowels final round, so must be getting some useful practice in. Even so I don't think that I'd be intelligent enough to appear on the programme though - there's some very high brow connections and you do have to know a lot of stuff!

The Love In My Heart came over, and I made us some spaghetti with meatballs for tea, and even did some very nice garlic bread that was from the Tesco finest range to go with it, two lovely ciabattas. They were probably a little bit too herby and garlicky overall but were crisp and a nice change, so something to note when I want to do posh I guess. Still, were they worth it that much over the normal range? The same sort of question was being posed by Martin Lewis on his money programme later that evening, quite apt really.

We ended up heading out to Sainsbury's as The Love wanted to get a possible Christmas present for a couple of people, and we actually saw some good things to buy, so we did. She also spotted the perfect card for one of my friends for Christmas, and we couldn't resist it, so that was purchased too. All good there then. We also snuggled up and watched the news, which seemed pretty depressing with all the uprising stuff going on around the world. Quite apt then as I listened to Nine Inch Nails later on and had "The Wretched" as tune of the day - just part of the epic "The Fragile" album with its line "it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to.." being a reference to anyone having a possible change of power...

Monday 10th December - Computer Says No

I had a busy day both in and out of work. Let's deal with the in-work situation first though. I was getting towards the end of completing my Windows 7 rollout plan for the final major department that we had to do, and I finally cracked a problem that had been bugging me for most of the back end of last week. It was to do with a database that is served by a program that a couple of staff in the department use. Previously the database was held on a server and the only way that the staff could see it is if they were on exactly the same subnet as the server was. Of course that wasn't ideal.

It transpires that the software installs a component called "Adaptive Server Anywhere" which you can use to configure how you have the database set up and how you can also give multiple record access and things like that. I knew that the example database was installed locally on the machine and so looked at the settings for that. I then thought "hmm.. what if I replicate those steps but just put the shared drive path in?". I gave it some consideration and it was soon being tested. I got a colleague to copy the data over to where I'd like the new data to go, and then set up a new instance of the ODBC database connectivity, basically copying the settings for the local one but changing the path.

And... it worked! I was able to see all the data and manipulate it as I needed. With that in mind it meant that I could swap over the machine that we needed to swap for the member of staff concerned, and also switch the vLAN back to the usual staff DHCP one at the same time. It worked really well in the end and the member of staff was pleased because everything ran a shed load faster in the process too. It also meant I could set off the other machine for imaging and one final one that I needed to have software running on, and so feel like I was getting to the end of a pretty long tunnel.

It was then on the bus to my friend's place after work and see if I could work any magic with his poorly PC. He mentioned that the hard drive was coming up with a disk read error when he booted up. What I did spot as soon as I switched it on was that the fan sat on top of the CPU heatsink wasn't working, and the BIOS was giving a suitable warning about the temperature being too hot. Needless to say at this point you'd normally shut it down, but looked like it had been continued onward for some time. Not good.

In fact I took out the hard drive and plugged it into his wife's PC, and did some tests with the very useful Hiren boot CD, which has all sorts of very useful utilities. One of them reported that my friend's hard drive had a temperature of some 123 degrees centigrade, which was massively critical - especially as normally the critical temperature is set at around less than half that (55 or so I think). So obviously massive overheating there has caused the drive to fail, and even though you could see the drive in the BIOS, one test I did had constant bad sector after bad sector. I counted 600 on the trot that were bad during an extended test before it gave up the ghost and said it was unrecoverable.

So in essence it's a new fan for the heatsink (if available) or new heatsink and fan, plus replacement hard drive. It does make me wonder if long term it might be better to save up for a replacement newer tower and start again, knowing then that it'd all be clean parts and nothing would go AWOL. I contemplated that as I had a coffee from their Tassimo machine (and very nice it was too let me tell you) and we chatted about football and other stuff. It was good to see them both at any rate and it's always worth a chat to them.

I headed home later and had a bit of a late night writing out some more Christmas cards and also sending a few of them off to places not locally, so had all the stamps and what have you at the ready. In the background I had The Sword on, and really still enjoy their second album in particular, so "Maiden Mother and Crone" got a massive bit of play, and kind of helped me rock on a bit as I got the cards written, so tune of the day was an easy choice there really.

Sunday 9th December - Derby Day Despair

After a well earned sleep at The Love's place, we woke up, had some breakfast and I got myself ready for the Manchester derby, which I'd be going to with my friend - being a season ticket holder does have its advantages in moments like this. I felt nervous as I'd had my coffee and toasted bacon sandwich and just hoped that the team would be able to win, but knew that it'd be a tough task knowing that Man U were three points clear and a win for them really would cement their title credentials massively.

My friend and I headed over to the Etihad Stadium in good time, and you could feel the atmosphere and nerves in the air. More so when I saw the starting eleven as Mario Balotelli was up front with Sergio Agüero. Not happy about that, I'd rather have Carlos Tévez up front with him and forging a lethal partnership. Still, we'd back the boys and I hoped that we'd be able to receieve a Christmas present of a derby win from the team. The teams came out, Blue Moon by Supra sounded out loud and proud (tune of the day obviously) and then the game kicked off at full pelt.

Things always pass you by so quickly in a Manchester derby as you get massively involved in the action yourself, but a few tasty challenges really did make for some tension before we had a few shots on goal. We didn't make the earlier pressure count though and as United went on the break, the ball went to Wayne Rooney who shot through two defenders with Joe Hart rooted to the spot and it was 1-0 to United. Worse was to come a few minutes later as captain Vincent Kompany went off injured and was replaced with Kolo Toure, which I didn't feel confident about.

I felt less confident as United scored a second with another (admittedly) good Wayne Rooney finish, and that meant it was an uphill struggle for the rest of the half, with one snatched shot from Gareth Barry being the highlight of the half really. The team needed to regroup and get their act together in the second half or else we'd be well and truly out of the game and the title race in the second half if it was to continue. I think half time might have come at the right time for us though..

And so it proved as City started much better, and a few minutes in off went Balotelli to be replaced by Carlos Tévez, and the whole game changed from then on with City looking more lively and wanting the ball more. We were a bit fortunate that Robin van Persie's shot cannoned off the post and the rebound went to the offside Patrice Evra, but down the other end we went and good work from Tévez produced a save from David de Gea, but Tévez saw Yaya Toure thundering in and his shot from outside the area nestled in for 2-1, and we were right back in it.

With a few minues left Yaya Toure went off for Edin Džeko as he was injured, and soon after that Džeko had helped earn City a corner. From it the ball came out to Pablo Zabaleta who whacked it home from just outside the box, low and hard, and it was 2-2 with around four minutes of normal time left. I said to my friend that I'd take 2-2 now (I'd predicted that before the weekend!) and he agreed. What we didn't however bargain for was a Man United free kick deep in the City half during stoppage time and Robin van Persie to score from the free kick to make it 3-2.

Unfortunately, some City fans didn't crown themselves in glory following the goal. One fan had thrown a coin which hit Rio Ferdinand and that was bad, and another fan ran on to the pitch to accost some of the United players but was stopped by City keeper Joe Hart before he got there (something Rio Ferdinand mentioned later to say thanks to Joe) - ugly stuff, and this sort of nonsense appalls me. In defeat or in victory you should act with graciousness and class, not like a thug in my view. I am gutted we lost of course, but think how we battled back from 2-0 down and showed some pride and passion. The season is a long one and we've come back to win the title from further back than this before now, so no need to be so angry in my view.

Saturday 8th December - The Sound of the Apollo Crowd

I had a busy day planned today but this morning was mainly spent getting some stamps to post some Christmas cards and other little gifts off, and also then digging out the decorations for the Christmas tree. The last few years I've had a real tree and it does make Christmas seem that little bit more festive - plus the local council here recycles all the trees used so I know it won't go to waste after I've used it for that period of time. I also found the lights as well and so knew that I would be good to go once we'd got the tree sorted.

The Love In My Heart came over early afternoon as she was buying a tree as well as me, and last year after much traipsing around garden centres we actually found a shop near me that sold excellent trees for around £30, and they lasted the course of Christmas as well which was good. The same shop had them again this year and so we didn't waste any time - we went straight there, picked a tree each that we liked, and the friendly staff got the trees netted and one of them kindly carried The Love's tree to her car, which was great of them. It also keeps the local economy near me going so shopping local is good.

I got back to mine and put the tree up and the lights on, and I'd be back tomorrow to put the baubles and other decorations on. We then headed off to The Love's place where we took her tree in, stood it up in the stand she had and then saw how it would look in her place - and the answer was very nice indeed. I was pretty pleased that we'd both got that one sorted out and soon enough we were getting ourselves ready and heading for the city centre to meet up with one of our friends and his partner.

We met in Kro Piccadilly and admittedly were pretty pleased that we booked a table in the restaurant area for tea for the evening, not least because we'd seen how busy the bar area was. The incessant drizzly rain might have had something to do with it of course, but I reckon also that it was the Christmas shoppers who headed in for a drink after their shopping. We ate some food and everything we had was lovely: The Love's pork loin looked fab, our friend and his partner's pork and leek sausages also looked smart, and my chicken and chorizo risotto really did fill the gap nicely (as did the treacle tart I had for afterwards!)

We then headed on the bus to the O2 Apollo as tonight we were seeing The Human League there. The Love and I went two years ago to Academy 1 and it was utterly ace, and we were hoping for more of the same tonight. It was an all seater gig though but we'd got some good seats in the front side circle row EE, which as it worked out meant that The Love would have no heads in the way so that she could see happily which was good. Nothing worse than having someone 6 foot 7 in front. The gig had sold out but I wondered why they didn't have standing downstairs to add some extra capacity..

Anyway, on came the support band The Penelopes, and to be honest, they weren't very good. The woman who played the bass guitar and sang did her best and she was very decent, as did the keyboard player, but the lead vocalist was trying too hard and seemingly attempting to impersonate several rock singers with his style. It also didn't help that their sound mixer was rubbish and it sounded more like a cacophany apart from their recent single which was reasonably okay. Mind you, I think the cavernous sound of the Apollo doesn't help at the best of times.

A quick walk to the bar later and after we sat down, a few people sat behind us including one of my many colleagues from work who works in another department! She looked ready to enjoy herself and had a quick chat with The Love and myself and then it was almost time for the main event to happen. The lights went out, the theme from Exodus came on and the excitement was building nicely for what we hoped (according to the running times) would be an hour and a half of ace music.

We were not to be disappointed. On came The Human League (they don't have an official website by the way!) and they were most excellent. They started off with "Sky" from their recent album "Credo" which had some people looking a bit puzzled (meh: don't they know how good that album is?) and then went full on into "The Sound of the Crowd" which had people getting up at the front and going for it. In fact that was the first of six songs from their iconic 1981 album "Dare" with "Open Your Heart" and "The Things That Dreams Are Made Of" not following long after.

The set was mainly white with some squares set in 3D, some above the band at the back with the keyboards and drums and then two sets of steps to the front of the stage with three white mics where Phil, Susan and Joanne would sing. Susan and Joanne had a variety of black outfits and Phil had his trademark hooded coat on first before looking all suited and booted and very smart later on. "Seconds" gave the girls time for a costume change before heading full pelt into "The Lebanon" and the slow and brilliant "Louise" which was a really nice surprise to hear.

We also got "Night People" and "Electric Shock" from "Credo" as well which was good but you could tell the not so diehard fans here because a lot of people weren't sure of the songs, despite the fact that both go along at a fair pace and are right up there with their back catalogue in my view. "Tell Me When" got a good reception as well with the audience singing along, and by the time "Mirror Man" came on, virtually everyone in the audience got up and were dancing away in the aisles which was good to see.

The band came on for the first of two encores and at first played "Being Boiled" which I really enjoyed - I do like their earlier experimental stuff too and for that reason it's tune of the day. This allowed Joanne and Susan for a costume change and a more revealing one at that, with Susan's very 1980s OTT outfits looking rather fashionista. The band played a verse of "Don't You Want Me" which the crowd sang along to before Phil did his first verse and kicked it off almost like an extended version. Good stuff. Another final encore ensued and that was "Together In Electric Dreams" which brought the house down and had everyone leaving, despite the rain, in a very good mood indeed.

After walking back to Piccadilly (it was quicker!) we then had a final drink in Kro, reflecting on what had been an excellent set and how good the sound engineer had been - the sound was spot on and really did allow you to hear the music properly as well. We all felt really positive on the whole and it was lovely to have all been to a gig where everyone left with a big grin on their face, and in contrast to the X Factor final happening in the city that same evening, I suspect that none of them would last 35 years like The Human League have. Fact.

Friday 7th December - Joy To The World (and Blackburn)

It was another busy day today in work, but one at which at the end of it I felt very productive indeed. I had managed to nail another few PCs to be upgraded for Windows 7 for one department as well as possibly finding a way to transfer a database that one section of that department uses from an old Novell server to a shared drive and get it to run correctly without any problems. That at least is the thinking, so it'll be interesting to see what will happen with it when I try and do some tests on Monday and go from there.

I also managed to shift a lot of the old kit out of the way and move that to be collected for our recycling which meant I could use the trolley to deliver and replace an old PC in another department, thus reducing the count of our number of upgrades left to much much less than we had previously. Despite initial scepticism we might even reach the target on the due date without issues, so that would be rather good if we could. No guarantee of course as anything could happen between now and then but I'd like to think that the hard work we've put in this week should stand us in good stead.

I met The Love In My Heart straight from work and then we headed out of the city via Salford Quays and Pendleton before hitting the M61 and the M65 and headed towards Blackburn to meet up with The Love's sister and father. It's become part of the Christmas tradition now that we head to the cathedral there for a special service where carols are sung, the Christmas tree is lit and everything feels rather festive, as it's an event for a children's hospice there too. It's something that The Love's family supports and so being the supportive partner I go along as well to do my bit.

There's a nice pub close by to the cathedral and so we had our tea in there - I had the carbonara pasta which was pretty nice, and even had a coffee afterwards which just seemed to warm me up nicely for the evening. The Love had the fish and chips which was just the thing on a Friday - even though I'm not religious in any way to be honest, I do normally like to have fish during the weekend and so looking at how nice that was, I may well have been tempted myself. It was soon time to head to the cathedral for the service and we took our seats close to the back but had a view of the people speaking up front.

It felt rather nice to sing along to the carols (the words were thankfully printed in the booklet that was on every seat) and feel a little bit more festive, with even the likes of Malcolm Hebden (that's Norris from Coronation Street for you soap fans out there) doing a reading which was quite witty and certainly made everyone smile. Out of all the carols, it was nice to belt out "Joy To The World" as it always reminded me of Christmas at Mum's with me and my brother sort of singing like "de de de deeeeeeee, de de deee deeeee..." along to it to get ourselves in the festive mood. For that reason alone, tune of the day it is.

We headed back via the M65, down the A56 and M66 through Ramsbottom and Bury and then down the M60 to drop The Love's father off home first before we headed back homewards. It was nice to see some of The Love's family and all in all it had been a night to get Christmas started whilst remembering those who couldn't be here to share it with us, and when you see lots of children with parents just demanding lots of presents, sometimes it's better to think that there's more to the festive season than that.

Thursday 6th December - Woooooo!

I found out something last night which is tempting me to head to London in February next year, and indeed maybe have a couple of days in the capital if I can. I found out that Kraftwerk are playing all eight of their studio albums in a special series of gigs in the turbine hall of the Tate Gallery in London, on the South Bank. Their shows in Düsseldorf early next year with the same concept had obviously sold out very quickly (the band are from that city, so a homecoming gig like that would always be special) and so when the tickets go on sale I need to be on it to try and get them. Bit steep at £60 a throw, but we know from the Manchester Velodrome show that it's a bit special.

My only quandry will be which of the eight albums I want to see in full. I guess it boils down to personal taste, but for some "Autobahn" and "Radioactivity" might be a bit too experimental, even live, and for me the two I really would like to see would be either of "Trans Europe Express" (the side 2 bit with "Metal on Metal" would be epic!) and "The Man-Machine" (for the likes of The Robots, Neon Lights, The Model and of course the title track, which opened the Velodrome gig above and was brilliant). Having the albums in full plus other tracks should work quite well, and it looks like it'll be in 3D too. Wooooo indeed.

I had Kraftwerk in my head most of the day whilst I was in work, humming to myself various tunes from the band as I was deploying Windows 7 to a bunch of workstations or indeed cleaning up with extra software to be added after the initial imaging had taken place. In essence it's working pretty well on the whole and I've been able to get lots done, and so the tune of the day simply has to be "Metal on Metal" as mentioned above, it just has that sheer drama and power of being on a long journey and sometimes this what this week has felt like to be honest.

I had a meeting this morning over coffee in our coffee bar with a couple of people I know well - our Helpline supervisor and our software licence and audit person, and it was about how we'd handle requests for software distribution. It was good to brainstorm some ideas and I know that it was good to have a nice coffee and chat as well about it all. There's definitely some positives to take out of it and I think that can only be a good thing for moving stuff forward. It seems daft but I'm thinking that it's better to work with people and try and offer your input where you can..

Wednesday 5th December - Catching Up

Another lengthy day at work ensued but I felt a bit more positive as I'd managed to get a few more machines nailed, and on top of that I also had one of our colleagues from another team over, who was going through a few things with my colleague. It was on the whole a positive experience really because it was good to just share some ideas, work on what we could do to move things forward and also let off some steam and get things out in the open - much better that way to be honest.

I headed home albeit a little delayed, but managed to at least not feel too cold on the way home as the bus came pretty much straight away. I had to re-set off some machines for imaging after I'd noticed that they'd failed just before I left, and on top of that I also had to stay back anyway as one of our machine repairers from an external company was there, and so wanted to sign off the repair as soon as possible once he'd done it so my colleague could put things back in place tomorrow.

Once I was home I decided that before tea I needed to sort some ironing and washing out but also re-format and re-install The Love's old PC. We'd found a friend of ours to take it off her hands for one of their relations, and so to make things neat and tidy I did a reinstall of everything from scratch which to me made more sense, so it was a reinstall of Windows, add all the web browsers, plugins and other software as well as AVG Antivirus Free, and check all the hardware was playing ball, and it was pretty much done in a couple of hours. This allowed me time to be able to get the ironing all done and indeed the next lot of washing as well.

I also spent some time contemplating what my favourite albums and songs were over the year, ready for the end of year review. In hindsight because of saving up shed loads to go to the Monaco Grand Prix this year and do it in proper style, I'd not bought as much music as I would have liked, but I did make up for that in the latter part of the year and caught up considerably with the previous releases that I'd been tempted to buy, so I was pretty much there. There's lots to commend of course, but I really enjoyed listening to some of the stuff again to re-evaluate it.

One thing though - The Floe is going to feature in there somewhere. The wonderfully emotive and piano-led "Sun Moon and Stars" is the highlight of their Simple Pleasures EP (über-limited edition which has sold out, and I have a copy!) and shows just what good song writing and a lovely voice that really does wee massively over all that turgid X Factor stuff can do. It's a crying shame that there's not enough people out there who will hear how great they are, but I live in hope. Tune of the day therefore was an easy decision I think.

I also caught up with Monday's episode of BBC Four's "Only Connect" and it was the second semi final. The wordsmiths were doing alright until the connecting walls round, where the scribes not only got all the wall right in double quick time but knew all the connections too, so with maximum points and a belting final round of missing vowels they won very easily in the end. I must admit Victoria Coren did look very nice in her dress for this episode too...

Tuesday 4th December - Grafting On and On

Another long day today and plenty more stuff to be started off in the final department that we had to take on. I had a colleague with me again, and we were spending time getting the final batch of old monitors swapped out for new ones, and on top of that, we were then imaging machines left right and centre. I had to do a bit of liaison with a couple of members of staff with regards to the software that they had and how we'd get things to run efficiently, but on the whole it's been pretty positive to be honest. I just need time to do other stuff but it's a classic case of too much to do and too little time.

I headed home and it seemed like the day had just gone massively by. I was pretty pleased that I was at least able to progress a bit and I know too that the folks I work with have been very supportive, so I know that we're aiming towards a common goal and hopefully getting things well and truly sorted out. My brain was pretty frazzled by the time I got home although I had recorded Pointless, and indeed I would have won the jackpot with today's final question (in fact I had two pointless answers, woo hoo!) and I maybe should apply in future?

We also had some news today of some changes that were happening in the not too distant future. In essence it means that there'll be a shift in some responsibilities but also it may well be a way forward to progress as well, and for a few of us in the team it's certainly going to make things pretty interesting. Change these days though is inevitable so I just take it as it comes, knuckle down and get on with it - sometimes it's the only way to look at things and try and be positive and take them in your stride.

Later on The Love In My Heart came over which of course is always lovely, and I made us some really posh chicken kievs with some lovely mash and peas for tea - nothing too strenuous but did the job, and we settled in for a while. I was finishing off one of the career goals on Rock Band 3, "The Hall of Fame Setlist" and I'd just got to the second to last song when The Love came over, so I managed to do that and Lynyrd Skynyrd's epic "Free Bird" which of course has that bloody epic guitar solo part. I nailed it on medium (I dread to think what hard would be like!) and so tune of the day it most definitely is - I felt rather positive afterwards.

We then settled in and had a relaxing evening, and after The Love had watched Emmerdale on ITV1 +1 we had a good natter and then settled in to watch Last Tango in Halifax, which I have to say I wish I'd watched the first two episodes of, as this episode was really heart warming, funny but also quite dark in places. The brilliant chemistry of Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi as the elderly couple in love is humourous and warm and really does feel like they're the central characters in this, with their families all around them having all sorts of emotional traumas, notably Sarah Lancashire who plays a headteacher (and is unsure about her feelings of another of her female teachers..) and great acting all round from her too.

Monday 3rd December - Nuuuuuuuman!

It was the start of another lengthy week at work and the final push to get all the staff on Windows 7. It seemed to be pretty positive all round though because I had a colleague from another site come to help us out, and between us we managed to do a reconissance of the room that we needed to do the most work on, as well as start in earnest with some of the PCs in the basement rooms in two of the buildings. We also spent some time delivering some new replacement monitors in some of these rooms too which meant that we were able to make a lot of people pretty happy.

It all seemed to go pretty well though in that the majority of the PCs that we've been imaging have worked first go and without issues, so it was good at least to be able to see what was going on with them and make sure any extra software that they needed was added straight off. It was also good to talk to several people and try and work with them to be able to ensure that we could get things done for them with minimal disruption, and so far so good, we've got at least nine or ten machines done, and a laptop too, so that's many more off the total I reckon.

After work I got home, and had something to eat for tea, and got myself changed into more black stuff to be ready for the evening out my friend and I had planned. You see, we were off to the Ritz (which by the way soon won't be the HMV Ritz as HMV effectively has sold its gig venue business to a private equity firm) to see Gary Numan do his thing - again. It's the second time we'll have seen him live this year after our Summer jaunt to Cardiff earlier in the year, and back on home territory where he filmed a live DVD last year (which we didn't know at the time either.)

We got ourselves in a good position close to the front and with a good view of the stage, and everyone seemed really up for it. The gig hadn't sold out and you could buy tickets on the door should you wish to (£28 though, ouch!) and after a short while, on came the support band Officers. They were just as good as the last time we saw them with the band being particularly tight, getting the crowd really enjoying their songs and having a real musicality about them too. I really enjoyed "Mosquito" with its real rocking chorus that had a fair few people bouncing up and down near the front of the stage, and they looked like they were having a whale of a time, just like it should be.

A short while later after that and with the DJ playing the likes of Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick", the classic Black Flag song "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and Nine Inch Nails' "Burn" getting the crowd warmed up nicely, just after 9pm on came Gary Numan, and for the next hour and three quarters it was quality entertainment all the way, with lots of rocking, plenty of synth lines and punchy drums, and Numan himself bounding around the stage like he was many years younger. The sheer energy shown by all the band as well really did translate wonderfully well and got everyone wanting to sing along or just go mental.

There were many highlights in a varied setlist including some new songs, but as I particularly like the dark Industrial tones of the "Jagged" and "Pure" albums both the title tracks were definite pluses for me, as was the wonderful "Haunted" which really does give it some mood (I'll make that tune of the day as it sounded epic.) Of course the old stuff got an airing too but in a modern slant, and "Metal" was notably brilliant, as was "Films" at the start of the set too, so that was just right to get the mood set. What was good too was the co-op single with Officers, "Petals" which had them all on stage performing it and it just really did sound tight and very well written.

I could go on more, but suffice to say that the old classics got an airing, with "Are Friends Electric" the last song before the encore, and then a three song encore which basically shows how good the set must have been to only play them right at the end - a rousing "Down In The Park" followed by "Cars" and an excellent and powerful "I Die You Die" which somehow ended the night on a massive high for everyone there. It really did feel a great atmosphere and Numan's wife Gemma was stood about three people away from me and my friend throughout almost all the set, taking it all in.

Needless to say the hour and a quarter set went by far too quickly and before long we were leaving the Ritz and heading back home, safe in the knowledge that in terms of value for money, Gary Numan delivers every single time - the effort, the commitment and the quality of the live performance really does stand out, and in the right atmosphere with some great fans, it feels an experience to be there. If you get chance to see him on this current tour, I highly suggest you make the effort and go.

Sunday 2nd December - A Cheshire Jaunt

It was nice just to be able to relax and have a good night's sleep overnight, and felt nicely refreshed in the morning as we both awoke. I made The Love In My Heart and I some breakfast and a well earned coffee to get us both up and about, and once we'd had that and I'd kept my eye on some of the UK Snooker Championship as The Love was getting herself ready, and with ITV1 HD being set to record the MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon match later on (which I wanted to see as a football fan first and foremost!) it was time to head out for the afternoon.

We decided to head to Knutsford as we knew some of the little shops would be open for Christmas shopping, and that it would be good to head around and see if we could pick up some nice items. Parking is also free on the Sunday, so The Love managed to get a space and we started to head around the shops. One sad thing we did notice though was that a fair few of the shops had closed since we were last here - Fibre and Clay for example had gone, with just the empty shell being there instead, and that was quite sad.

We headed along King Street, and most of the shops there were thankfully open and doing reasonably well, from the shabby chic and general loveliness of The Hidden Jem, the gorgeous smelling soaps in The Lemon Tree, and the card and picture shop close to the church that does a wonderful selection of cards - in fact The Love actually bought my Christmas card in there whilst I was perusing the wrapping paper for her, so she was pretty pleased to have it sorted. It'll also be a quality card too, I know it!

We then headed along up Church Hill and back along Princess Street, and stopped off in a rather lovely little café - Caffe Orange. They do a really nice coffee and tea (as we both found out) but also some lovely home made cakes as well - the carrot cake I had and the victoria sponge that The Love had were both spot on. The only minor quibble that I'd have is that the cake slices were £3.95 a throw - now granted they are home made and they are lovely, but other lovely coffee places I've been to tend to charge around £2.50 or so for their cakes (such as the wonderful carrot cake in the Alpine Tea Rooms in Fletcher Moss, Didsbury) so it might be something to consider. The atmosphere and ambience was also lovely though, and the coffee and tea were sensibly priced, so overall a positive from us both I think.

We then headed out of Knutsford via Mobberley and Wimslow, and after a fuel stop, we headed to Table Table in Cheadle Royal for a spot of late Sunday lunch. We'd not been there before but think we'll be going back again pretty soon. The atmosphere seemed right, the staff were really friendly and very customer focussed, service with a smile, and of course the food was good too. Two courses of Sunday lunch for just over £10 is good going, and the mushroom starter plus the roast beef main was tip top stuff. We'd been in the Table Table in the city centre of course, but not for ages, and here in Cheadle it was really nice and cosy, and definitely was the perfect way to relax and wind down.

Later on we got back to mine and we had a good game of Scrabble whilst listening to Fleetwood Mac's classic "Rumours" album, which we both like, and at the right volume was perfect background music whilst we were playing. I still adore "Go Your Own Way" from there, not least because I've sung it on Rock Band 2 so well, but also because the bass line that underpins the song is vastly under-rated. Definitely tune of the day from me - showing what a rock classic album can do.

Saturday 1st December - Shopping and Drawing

I knew that today was going to be a pretty busy day all told, as I needed to do my regular food shop, get some Christmas presents and then be ready for seeing Manchester City's home game with Everton. It was off to Tesco and at a relatively early time of 8am too, but that proved to be a good thing because the place was pretty empty. It allowed me to whizz around, get all of what I needed and also the Christmas cards as well. I had thought about it and as some of the money was going to Cancer Research I thought that was fair enough and so got a few packs, and they're all quite nice really.

That all done, it was heading back home, putting some of the washing in, and then heading into Stockport. I wanted to get some more wrapping paper for presents as I'd almost ran out of it, and the paper I had previously got I knew I could use all year round, not just for Christmas, so it made perfect sense to get some more of that, so I did. I even managed in a very short space of time blitz three more presents, which meant I could relax in Costa - and with a creme brulee latte to boot as well - with extra cream, because I can. That's how I roll sometimes!

It was then back home, wrap up a shed load more presents (including two which had arrived in the post that morning) and then do a little bit of rocking on Rock Band 3 before my friend arrived, nailing hard bass on Echo and the Bunnymen's classic "The Killing Moon" (make that tune of the day while we're at it I reckon, it's a pure classic). We headed out and to the Etihad Stadium in good time for kick off, and I must admit I was a little worried about today's game - Everton were the last team to win in the league at the Etihad and our record against them isn't exactly inspiring.

Those senses were pretty right during a tense first half as both teams struggled in a slightly edgy game - but the first real chance came to Marouane Felliani of Everton, whose header was well saved by Joe Hart but managed to get to the rebound for 1-0. Not good, and it took till almost half time for City to get going. A shot from Carlos Tévez forced a corner and from that Edin Džeko was pulled back by Felliani, and from it Tévez scored the resulting penalty for 1-1, just before half time.

Both teams had their chances during a better second half, but it was still a little tense, and Džeko had struggled a bit during the game, so was massively surprised when it was Tévez who came off for Sergio Agüero - for me it would have been the other striker. And indeed we brought on Mario Balotelli late on, but nothing came of it - a frustrating 1-1 draw it ended up being. And with Man U winning a thriller 4-3 at Reading later on, it meant that they were three points clear - so the onus on winning the derby next Sunday really does fall back on us now - we need to make sure we win that and head back to the top of the table.

Later on The Love In My Heart and I headed back to my place, and whilst we were keeping one eye on Strictly Come Dancing in the background as well as catching up with lots of chat, I was making the Marks and Spencer dine in for two deal for us both. We had the chicken with the cheese breadcrumbed top along with mushrooms and spinach and did that with the mash on the side, and I'd got some steam fresh veg too. That went down a treat as did the raspberry panna cotta for dessert which was simply heavenly to say the least, and as The Love said, the best panna cotta we'd ever had. Ever. I made a good move there then!