Dear Diary... December 2014

Wednesday 31st December - The End

So it's the final day of the year, and to be honest, a real year of change. For a number of reasons really. I think though that it shows that even when I reached the Hitchhikers' age of life, the universe and everything (42 of course in case you're not a fan of said books) there can still be things which can bring around a different meaning to the life you lead right now. I think carrying on from this the next year is going to bring about some different changes, I just have to work at them a bit more.

First of all, The Love In My Heart got herself a new job, going back to the profession which she loves and is so passionate about, and has thrived being back in something that she's really good at. I think too that she was getting really stressed and worn down by the way she'd been relocated within her previous workplace, and that it wasn't doing her any good. Plus we've now found out that the very place she had been moved to looks like it's going to be handled by someone else, and there's no job guarantee. So in many ways the move has been really well timed, even if it meant breaking a lot of years of service. I'm still really proud of her and even though it does bring its own stresses, I know it's a much better place.

As for me, having a raft of changes in my own workplace has been somewhat not so great either. Having my manager leave after working with him for fourteen years wasn't ideal, and it wouldn't have been so bad if it was that he was leaving and going to another position and progressing, but it was the way that his position ended up being redundant and then effectively having to leave was upsetting. It hit me emotionally quite a lot actually, and I think that in many ways I'm still feeling the effects of that, without the level of support, guidance and understanding I've been really fortunate to have. I still do have that, but it doesn't feel the same.

On the positive side though, well Manchester City did pretty well didn't they? A first League Cup win in thirty eight years, overcoming Sunderland 3-1 with two of the finest goals you'll see at Wembley, and then overcoming Liverpool in the last few weeks of the season in a way almost similar to 2012, but this time clinching the title by two clear points with a nice easy 2-0 win at home to West Ham United on the final day of the season. That was rather nice it has to be said.

In a move of some finality I also decided to take the Christmas tree down this morning, and have the decorations, lights etc all put away and ready for the next festive period. Thankfully the box that the tree came in from Tesco was sufficiently big enough to put it all back. As the branches are all lettered in terms of which order that they go in, I bagged each set of branches when I put them away, so it meant that I'd then be able to easily get them all sorted next time around. I also think as well that as nice as it was over the last few years having a real tree, somehow it's just now too expensive and messy, and one thing which I could save money on (cost per use and all that)

I'm heading to The Love's place to spend New Year with her and the two cats Jô and Brian, and I'm sure that it'll be a lovely time all round. We've got the food, ale and wine in, and there's always Jools Holland's Hootenanny to see the New Year in together. One thing that has thankfully remained constant over the year is the rather lovely fact that I have a beautiful and loving girlfriend who is still as wonderful as the day I met her, and for that, I'm forever thankful. Because we both love the song, "Crazy" by The Icicles is tune of the day - it's just sooo lovely.

Tuesday 30th December - Walking The Canal

I decided that a good walk in the Winter dry weather might be quite nice to do. It's all very well of course having the time to relax, but there's always the temptation there to eat too much as well, and not do enough exercise, or as much as you may wish to do. Therefore I thought a good couple of miles at least might be quite nice to do, and I'd take the camera with me so I was able to get some final pictures taken for the year as well. I had some ideas in my head but in the end decided that heading out to Marple might be good, and walk the whole of the Marple Locks and then some.

I took the bus out to Stockport and then from there the bus to Marple, and got off in the town centre and made my way past lots of nice little shops and independent cafés which did seem pretty busy as well, which was good to see. I walked up the hill towards the Ring O'Bells pub and decided to follow the towpath for a small time along the Macclesfield Canal, and see how many boats were moored close by as well as a few boats heading along the canal as well.

It was then back along the towpath, under the bridge and following the towpath to the end where it meets the Peak Forest Canal at the top of the Marple Locks. The top lock house here always looks a really lovely place, and the view looking down the locks on a dry day such as today was still rather nice. I followed the path down and at Lock 13 you head underneath the road to New Mills, and then alongside the Memorial Park heading downhill to Lock 9, which is Station Road (walking down the road takes you to the train station - and it's a steep downhill run too).

I kept alongside the canal path to Lock 6, and then headed over the lock bridge and followed the road on the other side of the towpath, which winds the same way down. You can see the railway head right under the road and canal in a tunnel at Lock 4, and then once beyond Lock 1 you can see the towpath heading to the Marple Viaduct (soon to be under repair). I then followed the towpath back up the canal all the way towards Lock 6, then took the path down over the railway and close to the station and down to Brabyns Park.

There were lots of grey squirrels in Brabyns Park, all in the trees climbing around and feeding themselves. They really did seem at home there, and I was soon heading down and out of the park and to Marple Bridge, where I had a quick walk around the village before deciding that a well earned pint and a warm welcoming fire in The Midland was just what I needed, and that was rather lovely all round really. I must admit that it was a good walk, and even the extended bus journey back due to the 375 route being possibly the most "visit the most little housing estates in one fell swoop" route ever didn't dampen the spirits.

Later on I watched the fourth heat of World's Strongest Man, always a Christmas tradition of mine to watch it. I must admit it's been good seeing the Brits do well, and tonight were both Laurence Shahlaei and Mark Felix competing against The Big Z, legend that is Žydrūnas Savickas. He won but it wasn't till the atlas stones that second place was decided, with Laurence winning out in the end, as he took out wins in the deadlift (Felix's first ever deadlift defeat in WSMs) and also the super yoke with a ridiculously quick time to say the least!

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good "Walk" by Pantera, which I am sure could have been used during World's Strongest Man to pump up the contestants and crowd, but also because it used to be a bit of an anthem to a late night rock and metal show on ITV. Anyone else remember Noisy Mothers? That was a great show. It also has the same title as what I was up to today as well, so does make some kind of tenuous sense really. Amazing how quick the year has gone.

Oh, and you know how I was mentioning Disney Movie Rewards? Well, I checked with which Blu-Ray discs I have to see if I added all the points, and it looked like I hadn't added the ones from Wall-E. Once I did that, I had enough points to redeem for the Nightmare Before Christmas 3D, so that simply had to be ordered on Blu-Ray. I looked at the collection gaps, and both Planes and Planes 2 are ones I'll have to seek out, but also I imagine that next Easter we'll see the new Toy Story short story out too..

Monday 29th December - R and R

Rest and relaxation for me today, no question. In fact so much so that I'm in my new loungewear (thanks to Mantaray at Debenhams) and just spending some time chilling out (not quite though as it's warm in the house but a bit on the cold side outside to say the least). I did already watch most of Flushed Away on BBC One, a classic bit of Aardman animation at that, and a really nice family film all round. That aside though the rest of the day's telly looked a bit bobbins, so thankfully plenty of other options for rest and relaxation.

Such as catching up with the BBC 6 Music Mary Anne Hobbs show from Saturday, where Frank Lampard was talking about his children's books. It's good to see that it's using football in a positive light and encouraging youngsters to read too, and it was insightful to hear his own favourite children's books along with some of his musical tastes, even with Blue Moon from the Marcels at the end. I must admit I do prefer the Supra version that is belted out at the Etihad, so tune of the day it most certainly is.

I also am digging out the 3D glasses later on today or tomrorow and so am going to spend time watching Frankenweenie in 3D, which some of my friends very kindly got me for Christmas. I do like the Tim Burton animations, especially The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is a classic of all time (and not just at Christmas either!) and is one of those which I intend to get on Blu-ray. In fact my Disney Movie Rewards points after getting Muppets Most Wanted means that if I got one more Disney movie on Blu-ray then the code from that would mean Nightmare Before Christmas 3D version for free. Hmm... worth noting.

In fact I've done well out of that beforehand, with me gradually getting the Pixar releases on Blu-ray and either selling off my DVDs or giving them to my nephews and nieces so that they can have them in their collection. I had earned enough over time to get Monsters Inc, Toy Story 2 and Wall-E on Blu-ray, so not too bad I think. It's also nice to know that it's a scheme that does work, and if you've got children big or small who love animation, it helps a little against the cost of purchasing.

Looking back over the year as a whole, and working on the possibilities of my own review of the year, it's been one where there's been change but also one that has shown that you have to be ready for what life throws at you. For me, it could end up being a big decision next year depending on if I want to maybe leave my existing job behind and be based elsewhere, which would change quite a few dynamics around. We shall see what that holds I think.

In the meantime, back to listening to Dream Theater before donning the 3D glasses later for a nice audiovisual bit of Tim Burton, and then much later on heading out with some friends for a nice meal, which will be good to enjoy. I suppose I've tried where possible to take things a bit slower on the whole but it's nice too that I've had plenty of days filled with seeing people and really not feeling so confined in my own surroundings too, I do think that's also important. Onwards and upwards!

Sunday 28th December - Overconfident

It was a relaxing sort of morning today, with The Love In My Heart and I having a lie in and some nice sausages on toast for breakfast, which was really nice and got us up and about. I was heading to see Manchester City against Burnley later with my friend, and The Love was going to be at home and then see me later as we were off to my Mum's. It was pretty cold but at least dry outside, so with the temperature above zero and melting anything away in the Winter sunshine, at least it meant it should be a playable surface for the game.

My friend came over later and we headed off to the Etihad, and after we knew that Chelsea's game against Southampton was heading for a draw, and that Manchester United had drawn at Tottenham, we knew that realistically a win would put us a point behind Chelsea and in good position to challenge for the title. Burnley were at the other end of the table and fighting for survivial so we knew it wasn't going to be an easy win, and that we had to be professional despite the lack of strikers.

The game started and City were looking to head forward, attacking to the North Stand for a change around. It was good to see some pressing as James Milner did the lone striker role well, putting the Burnley defence under pressure and Jesús Navas breaking down the right. And it was one such move, with Pablo Zabaleta and Navas involved that culminated in the opener, with the ball back from Navas finding David Silva, and he turned on a sixpence and slotted it low and hard home for 1-0.

Later on in the half the Burnley defence were packed behind the ball, and it seemed no way through, but Samir Nasri pulled it back to Fernandinho who struck a curling shot with aplomb in off the bar from twenty five yards, and a great strike at that. So 2-0 and as half time arrived, we both felt good that we could go on from here and hopefully win the game. I was still a bit wary and wanted to make sure we got things done, and as the pie seller gave me at first a cheese and onion pie instead of a chicken balti one, maybe that was an omen.

And maybe it was. In the first minute of the half a Danny Ings shot was turned in by George Boyd, who despite being yards offside wasn't flagged by the linesman and even though I could see him chatting to the referee over the radio mic, the goal stood. The defence didn't cover itself in glory though, and should have cut the ball out even before the shot went in. The half went on, we brought on Stefan Jovetic and Frank Lampard, but we couldn't score a third and were almost settling for a 2-1 win. Bad move in my view, and the equaliser following a free kick with Ashley Barnes rifling a cracker home showed that we were maybe too overconfident and complacent, thinking we'd won it already.

We headed back homeward and The Love In My Heart headed over to mine before we then went over to Mum's for a while, and she had made a little buffet tea with some sandwiches, cold meats, salads and so on. It was good as there was still some decent real ale I'd brought over, so the Atlantic IPA was mine to have. It was good to see everyone and Mum at least had seen The Love too, so they had a good chat. No one had told us it was casual though, so The Love looked gorgeous in her dress and I had one of my nice shirts on, but maybe we were a little overdressed!

Back at mine later we saw the next heat of World's Strongest Man, with the "Mountain" Hafþór Björnsson showing the others how it was done with a dominant performance to say the least. Then as it was available on iPlayer and The Love adores the series, we put in the first episode of the new series of "Last Tango in Halifax" which was pretty decent - mind you Sarah Lancashire and Nicola Walker are both really good in it. I do quite like the fact a chunk of it is filmed in Hebden Bridge and I've been there. Tune of the day in the meantime is the excellent "Disappointed" by Morrissey, somehow sums up today's game..

Saturday 27th December - Muppets Most Wanted For A Fiver

Well, any little bit of snow that we did have here in Manchester didn't stick, but looking at pictures up and down the country, it seems that we got off very lightly indeed, with many regions having a good fair bit of the white stuff. Of course this means the usual travel chaos as it seems to me that any slight falling of snow has everyone either driving not so well or resorting to taking trains, despite the clear warnings that engineering work was going on over this period. The queues at Finsbury Park station in London due to the closure of Kings Cross were just a tad on the mental side.

I did have a pretty relaxed day today: I headed into the city centre and scoped out what was on offer in HMV, as I had some gift cards from my relatives for Christmas. As it turned out, I knew that the 2014 F1 season review was out on Blu-Ray, as it had only come out earlier this week, and so they had it, I put the remaining £2 to it myself, and that was all sorted, so I'll definitely be making some time this week to watch some of that I think. I didn't spend too long in the city centre as it was full of January sale shoppers trying to get a bargain and I knew it'd be rammed later on.

I did stop by at my little Tesco later on and they had three baskets full of DVD and Blu-Ray discs for a mere fiver, a bargain in anyone's book, notably more so for the Blu-ray discs, and still new and sealed too. I headed through one of the racks and spotted Muppets Most Wanted for a fiver, so as I was getting some food for the starters tonight and such like, I thought "why not?" and promptly bought it as well. I figured too that I could watch it this afternoon before The Love In My Heart came over (amazingly, she doesn't like The Muppets - aaaargh!) and so a bit of quality time to myself ensued later.

I have to say I really enjoyed the film hugely - not least because it has the usual brand of humour, songs to sing along to, and a decent cast (Ricky Gervais cast as a villain seemed to work rather well it has to be said). I must admit though Animal was ace as ever, being the only one to spot the evil frog Constantine had replaced Kermit (cue shouty line of "BAD FROG!" from him) and then the moment he saw the real Kermit: "Goooood frog!" in a much softer tone. Not maybe as good as my favourite Muppets film (Muppet Christmas Carol, as Michael Caine is superb also) but still good fun.

The Love In My Heart came over later on, and we had some very nice tomato and basil soup to start with some ribeye steak for main, which was very nice actually. We settled in to watch the lottery show (and sadly we didn't win, but never mind) and then spent a bit of time chatting before I decided to put on another of the Blu-ray discs I'd got for Christmas and a film I'd wanted to watch again for some time - Noah. Some people maybe didn't take to Darren Aranofsky's take on the story, especially with a bit more violence in it, but as someone not that religious, it actually worked pretty well.

Of course, the acting was really good, Ray Winstone was superb as was Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (I remember her from Labyrinth no less) but maybe better than all of those was Emma Watson, who really did play her part superbly, and showed all the gamut of emotions within. The Clint Mansell soundtrack helped considerably, and the song at the end with the Kronos Quartet and the great Patti Smith ("Mercy Is") really is fantastic - so tune of the day an easy decision.

Friday 26th December - Snow in Manchester

It was nice to have a well earned lie in with The Love In My Heart, and in fact, the two cats had decided to snuggle at the end of the bed, and then come up to see us as we woke. That was actually really nice although I suspect if The Love was on her own, they'd have been right on the pillows crashing out there. They were looking all cutesy too, it has to be said, and once we headed up and got ourselves dressed and ready, they assumed their position on the sofa and just curled up all lovely.

We had a brunch of some bacon, eggs and some toast, and that set us up nicely for the rest of the day. The Love was going to spend some time resting at home (to be fair she had made the Christmas dinner at her father's yesterday) and I'd be heading home to keep an eye on the Boxing Day football but also spend some time enjoying my new presents as well, so all good there. The Love very kindly headed to mine with me and she could see the new rug - maybe not exactly what she might have liked, but I like it and that's what matters.

I settled in for the afternoon and spent some time keeping an eye on the football scores with Final Score and also watching the horse racing from Kempton, with the King George VI Chase the big race of the day. When I was younger it seemed that the great Desert Orchid would win it every year (well, he did win it four times to be fair!) but it's almost become a sporting fixture that everyone now knows about. It seemed that Manchester City had scored every time I flicked back to Final Score, and so by half time we were 3-0 up at West Bromwich Albion, but it looked like the snow was coming down at The Hawthorns - already.

Thankfully the game was completed, and even with West Brom pulling one back late on, 3-1 away is another great result. In fact we've earned the most away points of anyone in the league at the moment, so that says a heck of a lot. We're still second, three points behind Chelsea after they had beaten West Ham 2-0 at home earlier in the day, but still seven points clear of Manchester United in third, who easily won 3-1 at home against Newcastle United.

Just after 6pm I looked outside the window, and I couldn't believe it - the rain that had been falling since around 4pm had now turned into snow, and I could see it falling down. The only thing was though that the rain that had been coming down before meant that the surface was too wet for any snow to stick to and make enough to set. Other parts of the country though seem to have been deluged in the snow and so as such might prove a bit more difficult to get around in the next few days.

I spent some time this evening listening to my new CDs, and I have to say that I really enjoyed the 3CDs worth of the David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed" compilation, with often single edits and occasional mixes of tracks so not a straight forward "pluck them from the albums" selection. I was most pleased to see "I'm Afraid of Americans (V1)" on there, as it's a great collaboration between David Bowie and Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, both of which at their creative peak and on top form. Cracking tune, tune of the day easily.

In the meantime the snow had turned back to rain and now appears to have stopped, but the amount of rain that we've had does seem to have caused a few large puddles in some of the roads close to me, so if I do decide to head out into the city centre tomorrow I might need to make sure I don't get splashed too much. But I'm sure that it's not as cold here as I thought it might be, so at least that will be something. I was expecting icy conditions, but who knows?

Thursday 25th December - It's Christmas!

So it was a pretty relaxed and nice Christmas Day all around for me. I woke up later than I normally would do, and got myself showered and changed, and made sure that everything was all set for the journeys I had to make today (all walkable too, so that's good). With the presents already arranged into bags for each of the journeys I needed to make, first stop was my uncle's place, not that far from me. I was having breakfast with him, my auntie and their two sons, and that was very nice of them to invite me along. And it was a very nice breakfast too, bacon, egg, sausage, black pudding and so on, which would keep me going nicely until Christmas dinner later.

Once I'd stayed at theirs for a while I headed home and opened some lovely presents from my retro gaming and beer friends, which were massively appreciated, before then checking that Mum was around and heading off for my Mum's. Seven of us would be having Christmas dinner, both my brothers, my brother's girlfriend, my youngest sister and her son, Mum and me. My nephew had his Xbox 360 on and so during the morning the two of us played as a team on FIFA 15 as Manchester City, thrashing QPR 11-1 before realising that the difficulty level was set too low, and after upping that beating Liverpool 3-1 in a much harder fought contest. He did put on Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 but I think he got frustrated by that.

I also spent time with my brother and his girlfriend too, and it was good to chat to them, and had also some time for Mum in between her getting the dinner sorted. She was really pleased with her present, not least as she had no idea I'd be getting her some Anais Anais perfume as well. In fact everyone really liked their presents, so felt rather pleased that it all worked out very nicely. I was just about to suggest putting on a racing game on the Xbox 360 so my nephew and I could race head to head but before that happened, it was time for the Christmas dinner, and I have to say that despite being poorly, Mum excelled herself again - it was delicious and really worth waiting for. Having a bottle of the Jennings Red Breast festive ale with it also definitely was a good idea too.

I spent the afternoon mainly either playing the little table football game with my nephew (the games we played were close contests in first to 10!) and then some Forza Motorsport 4, with split screen two player action. He was trying to get used to the steering wheel and pedals, and I think a more delicate touch was needed (or the sensitivity changed) as he was a little wild with it. However he started to get used to it and was soon heading around the track pretty well, with room for improvement.

It was around 5pm by the time I headed off home and just in time as it happened for the Christmas edition of Strictly Come Dancing. I must admit that the right couple won (Louis Smith with Aliona Vilani) as they really nailed the quickstep, but was really good to see Sophie Ellis-Bextor looking elegant and classy with her American Smooth too. I think too that a lot of people were happy also to see Brucie back, albeit mainly for these sorts of shows of Strictly, as he still shows everyone how to host these sort of things.

With a taxi booked it was then off to The Love In My Heart's place, as we hadn't seen each other all day. She had spent the Christmas Day at her father's place with most of her family, and so we'd put all that first before then seeing each other. I must admit I was really pleased to see her and was able to bring presents from others in the family with me and not just myself, and so that was nice for her to open all those as well. In fact her family had done the same, and so had the pleasure of opening some lovely presents from them too - and that just shows a lot about what people think of us both.

I opened my present from The Love, and was massively chuffed, so thank you darling. It was a Tesco Hudl 2 tablet, and she'd even gone to the trouble of getting a nice case for it as well to keep it all lovely. I'd liked the original Hudl but knew the new one was going to be more powerful and well suited, and for me when I travel it'll be a good companion, plus I can use it when in the front room for browsing and stuff. Obviously it's more of a consuming device not necessarily using, but makes more sense when showing The Love stuff on there instead of a small smartphone, so all good there.

The Love was really pleased with her presents and didn't expect me to get her both of two presents which she really liked the look of, but I knew she was worth it and just to see her face when she opened the final present and saw it was the Biba bag that she had seen and adored was wonderfully worth it. I think too that it was good to just have some quality time together, and the two cats Jô and Brian were just snuggled up on the sofa, all lookng very cute indeed as the two of us snuggled and watched Downton Abbey, which surprisingly was much better than I thought it would be.

It was fairly late by the time we'd watched some more telly and headed off to bed, but it was a really lovely evening spent together, and certainly for me it was just really pleasing to have had such a lovely time today, with some great presents from everyone. Tune of the day for today is something I heard earlier in the day and somehow it just felt right somehow - namely "Who'll Stop The Rain" by Heaven 17. It was still raining on and off for most of the day today and it's been like that for the last few days at least.

So, apart from the Hudl2, what did I receive for Christmas? Lots, actually. Eleven CDs including the new David Bowie 3CD compilation, two Heaven 17 albums, Clint Mansell's "Filth" score, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' "Gone Girl" score, and albums by Dream Theater, The Bad Shepherds, Ryan Adams, Metallica, New Order and Midge Ure, so a pretty varied selection there. On DVD I got the McLaren Tooned 50, CSI (the Vegas original one) season 13, and the series of Cilla on ITV recently that I really liked.

On Blu-ray it was pretty impressive, the 3D/2D versions of Frankenweenie (Tim Burton classic), Frank, Matrix Trilogy, Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and World's End), Noah, The Fountain - the latter two having great Clint Mansell scores. I also got a fair number of packs of Tassimo pods, as well as two new Costa mugs and saucers (same set I got my sister for her new Tassimo), a nice Jasper Conran shirt, a new rug for the front room (already down, did that earlier today), gift cards for HMV and Pizza Express, and more little bits. I just want to thank everyone for all their lovely presents, it really means a lot that people want to make the effort for me and I really do appreciate it lots.

Wednesday 24th December - Cemeteries and Rainbows

I left The Love In My Heart's place early in the morning, as she was heading off to work (thankfully not finishing too late) and me off into the city centre and then from there to the first of two cemeteries that I visit on Christmas Eve, as I pay my respects and see my relatives who are no longer here. For me at least it's important to remember those who aren't here and have that moment of rememberance, and it does get a little upsetting for me, so I tend to go alone and have that moment to myself.

Thankfully at least the bad weather had relented, and so it wasn't horrible and muddy in either of the two cemeteries that I visited, and so was able to do what I needed to do. I plan it carefully so once I've visited the second one, I can walk to the nearest set of shops and have a bit of relaxing time, and that's normally provided by the lovely folks at Costa Coffee. I didn't have enough points to pay outright this time, but racked up some points by what I got: a gingerbread and cream latte (even with a little gingerbread man on top) plus a raspberry and almond bake slice. Heavenly, and so nice to just people watch from the window and compose myself.

Once I'd got home, I then had a bag of presents ready and took the walk to my auntie's place to see her and her partner. It turned out that her son (my cousin) and girlfriend plus their son were going to be there Christmas Day, so dropping all their presents off there made a lot of sense to be honest. It was nice to catch up and chat for a while and just take it relatively easy whilst Wallace and Gromit's Curse of the Were Rabbit was on in the backrground on BBC One.

On the way back I walked along the road and spotted as I looked down at a road junction that the occasional rain had set a beautiful rainbow arching, and the bottom of that arch in a myriad of colour was very visible. It was actually lovely to see, my only regret was not having my camera with me so I was able to take a picture of it, but isn't that always the way that you don't have it? Still though it meant that it set the final festive stuff off nicely and so means that I feel ready now to celebrate and think happy thoughts.

I also looked at the telly plans for tonight and I think it's to curl up with a latte later, watch Toy Story 3 (yes I have it on Blu-Ray but watching it on telly is always doable!) - and it's also on BBC1 so no commercial breaks either, and then the best of Gogglebox 2014 on Channel 4 later on. That should then set me nicely to have a good night's sleep later and wake up energised for the big day tomorrow. And feeling energised, I even got this far into the festive period before hearing the Chris Rea Christmas single (you know the one) earlier this morning.

So to yourself, your families and loved ones, all of you have a wonderful Christmas and may it bring much happiness, love and laughter together whilst still remembering those who aren't with us, but know that their love will always be present around you on this occasion, with the festive tones of the likes of Wham, Shakin' Stevens, Slade, Wizzard, Mud etc. I do think though that especially with all terrorism going on right now, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" by John Lennon and Yoko Ono seems more poignant than ever with the chorus line of "War is over, if you want it" so tune of the day it most certainly is. Have a great one, folks.

Tuesday 23rd December - Currying Favour

Nothing but a pretty relaxing day for me today to be honest. I knew that I didn't have that much to sort out in terms of any shopping, but I did need a few bits from the local Tesco just to tide me over nicely (and it also should mean I won't need to do any food shopping till the New Year). It was quite peaceful and serene and so I was able to just take my time, get what I needed and get home, and spend the rest of the morning ironing any bits I needed to and preparing an overnight bag for Christmas Day night which I was going to take with me to The Love In My Heart's later on.

This afternoon I headed up to see my friend and his wife, and spent a couple of hours at theirs having a good natter. They've just moved into a bungalow which is much more suitable, and it's mainly now getting it feeling more like a home rather than just a house. I told them of my parcel woes with Yodel but also about what had been happening too, so was good to catch up in a nice relaxed atmosphere. We also did do the present swap as well so we could then have the presents to open on Christmas Day, so that will be nice to see what we've got each other.

I headed home with hints of incessant rain coming down, and then got myself showered and changed and left mine and headed to The Love's place, with a few bags of presents for her (from family and friends, I'll be handing mine over on the day) and such like. As I'd just got changed and also had a nice shirt at hers already for tonight, I knew what I was wearing now I could wear tomorrow, so didn't need overnight stuff for that either. We soon were ready to go and headed out to meet up with The Love's family, as we were having a meal at a really nice restaurant.

And so it proved: we went to Indish in Chadderton, just off Broadway and close to of all places Lidl and McDonalds! However, it seemed a really nice Indian restaurant with nice decor, really friendly staff, and all very clean and spotless inside too (that went for the toilets too: even a Dyson airblade hand dryer in there.) The main reason for us all getting together was that The Love's father wanted to give all the grandchildren a present, and it just made more sense for them all to be there and have a nice meal.

And nice meal it very much was. They do a nice deal where you get the poppadoms and dips, any starter, plus any main and sundry (ie: rice, naan bread, or chips) for £18 all in, each. That made more sense as you still had freedom to order from the menu but you know what the costs as per head. In the end I went for the chicken pakora to start - really nicely battered as well, and The Love went for a little beef kebab, which actually looked pretty good too.

With freedom of choice of the mains I went for something different: chicken and prawn balti, which was stunningly good - a bit stronger than I'd normally have but lots of tender chicken and well cooked prawns, plus some pilau rice too. The Love went for a lamb and garlic balti, and the lamb was cooked beautifully tender (I did try some as well at her insistence) and that too had a nice kick afterwards. Everyone seemed to enjoy their mains even if you got a fair amount for your money and were finding it a little difficult to finish off!

At around 11pm we all headed off homeward, and it was a really nice evening all told. I do get on with The Love's family anyway but it's nice that they invite me along to such occasions, and I also get on with her father as well, so all good there. Before long we were back and having the two cats wanting lots of fuss and attention before they gained their snuggle up spots on the bed as we headed to sleep. A long day in the end but one which was really nice, so tune of the day was a song I played earlier in the day: "Polly" by Little Sparrow - gorgeous and with a lovely voice to boot.

Monday 22nd December - Cut and Restoration

I had a quietish sort of day today, heading into the city centre and having my hair cut by the lovely people at The Northern Cutter, who were battling on despite a cold (hence the woolly hat on). As usual it all came out lovely and I had got both of the ladies a little present each too, only seems fair as they always are spot on and it's good to show some form of appreciation. I must admit that it felt better once it was done, I feel more ready for the festive season now.

What I didn't realise till this morning when I looked in my wallet was that I had a £10 gift card for Debenhams, so I decided to treat myself and get some Mantaray loungewear, a pack of two of the trousers and they looked pretty comfortable, and they'd been reduced to half price, so only had to add a few pounds myself, so a little Christmas treat to myself along the way. And why not, I thought to myself. I also didn't stop too long in the city centre as I could see that it was getting busy.

I headed home and for a fair chunk of the afternoon I spent time watching some catch up telly but also The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I'd always seen the one before so it was good to finally spend some time with the sequel. I must admit that Eddie Izzard as a sword wielding mouse might have seen odd, but actually his voice over was rather brilliant - when one of the opposing soldiers exclaimed "You're a mouse!" Eddie in deadpan mode went "That's what they all say, gets boring now!" and then one rapier thrust later...

I braved some of the elements to head over to my sister's place and see her and the family, and also drop their presents off with them. It was nice to catch up and have a brew and have their little son fuss over me a little bit too, no bad thing in that. He was pretty excitable up to Christmas which I can completely get of course (let's face it we've all been children once haven't we?) and whilst there my brother in law asked if I could try and sort out their Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 - it was stuck at the Samsung logo each time it was booting.

I decided that as they were heading off to drop lots of presents off later, I would work on it at mine and they could pick it up later on. I soon worked out how to put it into Odin mode ready to receive firmware via USB, and then used the Odin program together with a download of the stock Samsung firmware for the tablet, and once charged enough, I did the firmware update that way. It was reasonably quick, the tablet rebooted and within around five minutes it was all back up and running again. Happy me, happy brother in law too. Excellent!

I have also spent some time today listening to music I've enjoyed over the past year in an attempt to finalise my favourites for the end of year review. I must admit there's some songs I've been going back to, primarily because they resemble what should be a great single or track. Right up there for its mix of country and pop is Vix and her MsChiefs' "All The Way From Birmingham" which is a lovely song, especially the ending, makes you have a big smile on your face, so tune of the day it is then.

Sunday 21st December - Delivery Correct? You May As Well Yodel

I was a bit concerned last night as one of the Christmas presents that I had ordered for someone hadn't arrived as it was meant to yesterday. I had had emails from Yodel who had stated the delivery day as yesterday, and when I checked online it stated that the parcel had been signed for at 19:55 yesterday. Impossible, I thought, I was at home with The Love at this time watching the final of Strictly Come Dancing. I was hoping that it hadn't got lost as other people on Twitter had mentioned similar things happening to them.

I decided to see if Yodel's customer service line was operating, and it was. I eventually got through to their representative and explained what had happened. He stated it was delivered (and signed for by me) which was rubbish. It turned out that they satellite track the delivery and when they investigated further, it had been delivered to a different street some 400 yards away. That was bad enough, but then they insisted that it would have to be their local driver to retrieve it but they'd also contact the distribution centre and arrange for them to interview the driver.

They did give me the contact number of the courier, so I rang him, and left a message. I got a call back. He explained that he had realised his error in delivering my parcel to the wrong address, but only after it had already been signed for - and then the resident of the wrong address thankfully realised that it was incorrect. So he had the parcel at his house. I know, what the hell? So I insisted that he deliver it to my house as soon as possible, and thankfully after some to-ing and fro-ing (including me leaving the house to locate where the courier actually had got to as he couldn't find my address!), it did arrive. There's more to this though which I'm going to write a very carefully worded email to Yodel direct with the facts.

It's also frustrating because a lot of time when you order stuff online you are not told which delivery service is being used. It's also now why I tend to do click and collect more of the time: for example any Tesco Direct orders I get delivered to my local one, so I can collect it on the way home from work and saves having to re-arrange a delivery. Also of course anyone who uses Royal Mail - the local delivery folks here are ace, and if they have to hold it at the sorting office, the staff there are really friendly and always locate my stuff without issues. If more online companies used them to deliver stuff, I'd be happier let me tell you.

The Love wasn't feeling too well with a cold and so headed home to recuperate, and in the meantime I headed to pick up a package from one of the stores in the city centre (I'd again gone for "collect in store") - and that made sense. It's cheaper online than in store, but I have the bonus of collecting in store, so win all round really. I then headed home and spent the afternoon in the company of the film classic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. It's put me in that mood for Christmas I can tell you. Tune of the day in the meantime is "Born Of Frustration" by James, seriously apt considering all the goings on with the lack of parcel deliveries this morning..

Saturday 20th December - No Strikers? No Problem

After sorting a few things around the house it was the now relatively short walk over to my friend's place, as the two of us were heading off to the Etihad Stadium to see Manchester City up against Crystal Palace. As Chelski weren't playing till Monday night (and a tricky away game at Stoke City at that) we knew that a 4-0 win would put us top on goals scored, and anything more than that goal difference would kick in too. Of course, we didn't have any fit strikers though with Edin Džeko, Stefan Jovetic and Sergio Agüero all injured, so it turned out that we may be playing James Milner up front as an emergency striker.

We got to the ground and had a brew, and my friend covered both bases with his bets: he normally bets on a 4-2 scoreline to City, but this time he also added a 0-0 to proceedings just in case it was going to be frustrating. And his bet seemed pretty right during the first half too - we tried as we could but couldn't break them down, and Palace went close on a couple of occasions with the offside trap beaten and a spectacular overhead kick just wide as well. Meanwhile Pablo Zabaleta got on the end of a Yaya Touré pass, dinked it past the Palace keeper Julian Speroni but it agonisingly went just wide.

Second half and we seemed to wake up, spurred on by Zabaleta (as if you couldn't guess). He latched on to a ball down the right but this time pulled it back for David Silva, and via a deflection the shot went in and the opening goal was ours for 1-0. It was relief all round really but we knew we could kick on a bit now, and sure enough a few minutes later a good move involving several players meant that Aleksandar Kolarov could head down the left and put a killer cross in for David Silva to finish for 2-0. His 200th City appearance, two goals and indeed he'd recently broken Colin Bell's record for the most caps for his country whilst a City player.

Palace had a goal disallowed, and on looking at it later, shouldn't have been. The ball was crossed in and Fernandinho was actually playing the striker onside. The only thing I can think is that the linesman must have thought that he wasn't active as well (but then I thought it was only the attacking side where this counts?) but still, not good refereeing there, to be fair. City did press on and a break saw James Milner take the ball forward, spotted the run of Yaya Touré and fed the Ivorian to smash it past the goalkeeper for 3-0. Nine minutes left and a lot of us thought "could we get a fourth?"

We didn't, which would have put us top, but you have to say that 3-0 was very much job done. No strikers, but our midfielders stepped up to the plate wonderfully well and took up the challenge nicely. The win puts some pressure on Chelski though: any defeat would see us top at Christmas, and we're still breathing down their necks, and with third placed Man U drawing 1-1 at Aston Villa to end their winning run, we're now seven points ahead of them so a gap is opening up nicely.

Later on The Love In My Heart came over and we settled in to watch the final of Strictly Come Dancing. I must admit that it was going to be a tough call to decide the winner, but my head said Caroline Flack based on her performances, my heart said Frankie Bridge as she comes across as a really nice person (and shows that women with short hair can look lovely too.) The four remaining contestants with their partners did two dances each and based on the judges' scores, Mark Wright and Karen Hauer looked favourites to get eliminated: and they did.

So that left Frankie Bridge with Kevin Clifton, Caroline Flack with Pasha Kovalev and Simon Webbe with Kristina Rihanoff as the three couples left. They each did their favourite dance of the series, and I have to say Simon Webbe pulled it out of the bag: his Argentine Tango was excellent and fully deserving of the 40. Caroline and Pasha did the Charleston to "Instanbul (Not Constantinople)" - and although an old swing number, it reminded me of the cover by They Might Be Giants, so their version is tune of the day - still like their "Flood" album that it's from even now.

It was tense but I do feel after the vote closed they dragged it on a bit too much with a medley from Take That, and then the contestants who had been eliminated doing a group number, then talking more with them and the finalists before Tess and Claudia (much preferred her second half outfit, she looked gorgeous!) then announcing Caroline and Pasha as the winners. I have to say although not my favourite personality based on ability alone she did deserve to edge it, being the first to get three 40s in the final too.

Friday 19th December - Christmas Boogie Woogie

It was nice to wake up in my comfortable room in Ibis Birmingham, with a nice shower and a coffee whilst watching some of BBC Breakfast as I got myself ready. I soon was heading off to somewhere local round the corner for breakfast, where if you have it before 9am it's also cheaper. So I had a nice bacon roll, and some porridge, and a Lavazza filter coffee for not that much money, so all was good there. I had some time left over so I headed back to the hotel room and watched Meet The Street on BBC1, with Helen Skelton revisiting the village she grew up in and discovering people needed to meet others, and it was a really nice thing to see.

I headed then to Birmingham New Street and took the 1031 train back to Manchester Piccadilly. It was reasonably busy but when the train got to Stoke, lots of people got on but didn't realise for some reason that their Virgin Trains only ticket and reservation wasn't valid on the CrossCountry train I was on. I think one family were thankful that the conductor very kindly let them off or else it might have been a fair few pounds to pay by not waiting for the correct train.

I got home and spent the afternoon waiting in for my food shopping which duly arrived, and so I could get that all away whilst I was then sorting out the house in preparation for The Love In My Heart staying over tomorrow night. I knew as I was out tonight with The Love that time would be of the essence, and so did all I needed to do. It meant also that I could have a quick change later on after I made some chicken korma for tea and then pop out on the bus to meet The Love at Piccadilly tram station.

From there we headed back towards mine but got off at the O2 Apollo Theatre, as tonight we were seeing Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. Due to the sizeable queue outside and the slowness in the masses dealing with it, it meant that by the time we got in and to our seats (front row of circle, nice) it meant that we had already missed half of the support set from RK Thompson. Shame that, as what we did see and hear seemed pretty good and him and his band were certainly playing properly, and with a decent sound engineer to boot as well.

A break ensued and at around 8.20pm on came Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. As per usual it was a rather good set, with Jools playing the piano, boogie woogie style, and with the orchestra of saxophones, trombones, trumpets in full swing, Gilson Lavis belting it out on the drums along with Mark Flanagan on guitar, Dave Swift on bass and Christopher Holland on organ. It's always good that each of the orchestra get parts to shine themselves and Jools introduces them too, which is a really nice touch.

As his new album "Sirens of Song" has female lead vocalists on each track, thankfully some of the orchestra were those vocalists, so the excellent Louise Marshall would sing "A Vow" and really well delivered, plus new member Mabel Ray would then sing "Sweet Bitter Love" with some gorgeous piercing vocals too. In fact on one track Jools went to play the same style he does, but on a guitar instead, which just had me in awe thinking "darn I wish I could do that!"

As ever with these sort of tours, he had guest vocalists too, and for the last few dates, two special guests at that. First off was Rumer, whom I quite like but The Love hadn't heard much of. She did the track from the album "Lost Mind" but also did a gorgeous rendition of the Billie Holliday classic "God Bless The Child" as well, and her vocal on that was simply beautiful. I know that the crowd appreciated that a lot because of the way they all fell silent to hear her sing it in such a manner.

Shortly afterwards a lengthy intro with the crowd singing along, as Jools built it up for the other special guest, and it was Marc Almond. Of course I suspected that he might play a couple of Soft Cell songs bigger band style, and he did with a gorgeous rendition of "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" and getting everyone to wave along at the same time. But not just that, he did "Tainted Love" as well, which really did sound nice in that band style actually. I really enjoyed it and the crowd sang along a lot, so tune of the day it most definitely was.

Finally, Ruby Turner came on and belted out some cracking songs, really showcasing her soul diva voice and filling the Apollo with those vocals wonderfully well. There was also just time for a mass sing along with everyone involved to "Enjoy Yourself" and before we knew it, the two hours or so had gone really quickly. It was once again another really nice gig and I was worried that it wouldn't live up to previous occasions at York Barbican. I was wrong - it was just as good to see. Yaay.

Thursday 18th December - Red Berry Christmas Joy Town

So it was nice not to have to get up for work, that has to be said. I spent a bit of time sorting out my little case and packing all I needed for an overnight stay as I was heading off to Birmingham to see The Wonder Stuff acoustic, with Mark Morriss (former lead singer of The Bluetones, a band I like too) playing as support. I had booked the Ibis in Birmingham again as I found it to be a good place to stay - and cheap too (£37 for the night this time around) so can't argue either really. So once again it was off to Piccadilly to get the 1207 departure to Birmingham New Street, and before I knew it, I'd arrived in the Midlands, headed out the back way from the station to Hill Street and soon had arrived at the Ibis.

Once again I also had a room with a front view overlooking China Town and the Bull Ring shopping centre, and with everything unpacked, I headed out via The Mailbox and the canal side walk towards Broad Street, and had a walk around there, observing the stars on the pavement as the Walk of Stars, and then heading to the Library of Birmingham and enjoying the view from the 9th floor observation deck. The outdoor 7th floor roof garden had been closed to high winds, but the 3rd floor terrace was open and that had a nice view - the bar also had mulled wine if you wanted to enjoy that too!

I exited the library and headed along the Christmas Markets and came across the craft square section close to the Paradise Forum. It's always nice around there especially as one stall sells nice real ale but also does mulled wine for a very fair price, so got it there and had a very enjoyable drink of the stuff, which made me feel very Christmassy indeed. I then decided to walk along the remaining market stalls in New Street before then doing a little bit of shopping in one of the centres, and headed back via the Bull Ring and back to the hotel.

I showered and changed and saw some Pointless (a repeat, meh!) before I switched over to Ninja Warrior on Challenge. The second of the two episodes saw one of them complete all four stages, and indeed he was the first person ever to do the whole thing twice in competition (Yuuji Urushihara, take a bow!) as well as be amongst the first to have taken on and defeated the Ultimate Cliff Hanger in stage three. That was a rarity to see someone complete it so all good timing there I reckon.

I headed to one of the pubs close to the hotel for a well earned chicken korma curry and a pint before then taking the short walk to Birmingham O2 Academy 2. The main Academy 1 had Machine Head playing, so plenty of metal fans in black were making the same walk towards Bristol Street and to the venue, and obviously ready to mosh quite a bit as you could imagine. None of that for me as I made me way up the stairs, and although not a huge venue, I could see it being pretty full with fans enjoying the acoustic songs (and hopefully heeding Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff's request to please be quiet when the acts are on).

So on came Mark Morriss, and I really did enjoy his set. Whilst there was an obvious nod to some former Bluetones songs, such as him playing "Bluetonic", "Keep The Home Fires Burning" and the rather wonderful "Marblehead Johnson" (to this day possibly still my favourite song of theirs, so me happy!) he did also play lots of his solo stuff. I liked that too, notably "It's Hard To Be Good All The Time" with its wonderful introspective feeling, and "Space Cadet" was good also. I admired "Consuela" too about a former au pair as well.

His piece de resistance was towards the end. His guitar was tuned in a certain key, and I thought "Hmm.. would be do Slight Return?" but no. He did better than that. He did a version of "Stay Another Day" by East 17, but changed all the words to resemble the lead singer Brian Harvey's relationship with former Eastenders actress Daniella Westbrook, which were funny lyrics, but then had the whole audience singing the chorus with him. A rather nice and classic gig moment right there and definitely worth the admission for that alone!

A short break followed and on came The Wonder Stuff for their acoustic set - Miles Hunt, Erica Nockalls and new recruit Dan Donnelly. It was good to see that the crowd listened between songs (unlike the London crowd whom Miles had issues with - and rightly so) but also sang along to the songs, giving it a really nice warm atmosphere in there. And we weren't to be disappointed either as early on they burst into "Red Berry Joy Town", an early song I really like, and had everyone yelling out the "Mr Dog!" line as well.

The new stuff got a good look in, so from their recent album we had "Friendly Company" (lovely violins by Erica here) and "Be Thy Name" which was rocking, even acoustic. Dan had the banjo with him and Miles had explained that throughout the career of the band some of them had wanted a banjo on for one particular song, and so "Golden Green" had a country twist to it, and sounded lovely actually. It was good that album tracks not just singles got an outing too, so "Piece of Sky" was massively well received by everyone, and the non-album single "Circlesquare" was also one to sing along to - it just had to be done.

He explained at length about one song he wanted to play, but that when Erica auditioned to join the band that she disliked the song, and so wasn't bothering to learn it. Eventually this relented and Miles did say "that's why I like her, she stands up to me and doesn't let me get my own way!" and the three of them did a great version of "Cartoon Boyfriend" and that went down hugely well - tune of the day for me as it's also my favourite track from the "Hup" album too, so great to hear that done with such lovely playing. Hurrah!

One other great moment was that Miles explained appearing on the Letterman show and how he wasn't allowed to have all the band present for "Welcome To The Cheap Seats". However he noted too that he couldn't have the late Kirsty MacColl on with them either, and he looked up to the ceiling, blew a kiss and said how much he misses Kirsty - and tonight was the anniversary of her death and so that was rather nice of him actually - and we all sang along as best we could.

Refreshingly as well, none of this go off stage, come back for the encore. Miles just said "We'd normally go off here and wait for you guys, but we'll just keep playing and do the encore!" which meant more songs for the same amount of time. With that we also had the likes of the excellent "Ruby Horse" and naturally the set closer of "Ten Trenches Deep" which really did sound frenetic as Erica's violin sped up and played brilliantly towards the end instrumental section. We could all feel the love in the room - it was a bloody great gig and I suspect that Miles might want to consider acoustic sets more often.

Wednesday 17th December - Rotherham Rain-Free

It was a pleasure not to have to see more rain once I left Manchester this morning, as I was heading over to Rotherham. I know what you're thinking: maybe not the most exciting place in the world, right? Maybe not, but there was a method to my madness in that I had a job interview to go to with a company with various offices around the UK, but it so happened the Rotherham one (a couple of miles out of the city centre) was actually the closest that made sense for me to go and chat to some people about.

So it was leaving my house, and then from Manchester taking the train to Sheffield, changing there and then heading on one to Rotherham Central. Thankfully the taxi firm's number I spotted was a good one: I rang them, they were quick, and they weren't mega-expensive either, so all in all a really good experience there. I arrived at my location in good time and in fact one of the interviewers were stuck in traffic, so I spent some time with the other person first before then going headlong into the full hour and a bit or so of questions and answers.

I must admit I did feel and maybe act confident: primarily because it's a subject matter I do know a bit about, and also have a more logical and practical approach than maybe some people would have, and so I think that came across well. It was all done in good time for me to get a taxi back to Rotherham and then once again change trains at Sheffield. However this time it was Transpennine Express instead of East Midlands Trains handling the longer part of the journey, and they were ten minutes late. About right for them sadly - the sooner their Manchester - Glasgow/Edinburgh routes go back in the hands of Virgin Trains, the better..

Anyway, I got into Manchester and the rain was lightly falling, although I headed home and didn't get too wet. I'd got changed into my normal wear and headed out later, but the rain was hammering it down. It was a massive comparison to relatively dry conditions I'd experienced when being in Rotherham earlier in the day. In fact the rain didn't stop till around 10pm by which time I'd headed to Tesco Home Plus to see if they had some shoes I liked and they didn't, but managed to get two pairs anyway (one in Sports Direct, another in another Tesco and managed to use my boost points to get them for free!)

It was with some interest that I saw the interview process for the candidates on The Apprentice tonight. I suspected that Solomon would be in trouble, and he was, especially when being told to leave the room because of his business plan (lots of images, not much content I think!). It was a close call whom to decide for the final two but Roisin's business plans were flawed (unique product that proved not to be the case when questioned) and between Daniel and Mark it was very close indeed: I think Lord Sugar likes Daniel's work ethic even if he may not be the best sales person, and it was good to see that Daniel has taken away some learning for himself from this process.

With the rain only just about stopping as I'm writing this around 10pm tonight, tune of the day has to be something night related, and when looking through my collection I couldn't help but notice the wonderful "Make You Mine" by Donna Marie. My, it is gorgeous. One acoustic guitar, one gorgeous yet understated female vocal, and with the sort of vibe that really does need a darkened room and a glass of your favourite tipple to get the atmos right, it's simply lovely. Isn't it nice when you replay something and find it's as good as it always was?

Tuesday 16th December - Finality

It was my final day at work for this year. I know what you're thinking: well that's a bit early isn't it? Actually it is, primarily because of two gigs Thursday and Friday, but also because I would have normally tried to take the 22nd-24th off (as it was this year) so normally the Friday before Christmas would have been a good finish. I'm also in the lucky position that I work at a place that has a Christmas close down of sorts, so really there isn't anything happening until 5th January after Christmas Eve.

I spent a fair amount of time today sorting plenty of things out and getting as much as I could into a position where I didn't need to do anything till the new year, or where I could pass some of the work on to a colleague. And on top of all that, I made sure my desk was über-clean and tidy, primarily because one of the sites closes earlier than planned, and so some of the staff will need to be temporarily based elsewhere (including our office) to carry out their duties. As far as I can see, that made perfect sense so I really did get that all sorted too, and along the way had to report a printer's power supply that was taking out fuses along a bank of iMacs. Ooh. Nice.

I do think though when I look back at the calendar year instead of an academic year, it definitely has been a year of change and I can see some more of that happening next year, depending on if necessarily I am going to be there to see it happen. I also know I've been affected emotionally and motivationally by some of what's gone on, and I'm not sure how best to possibly recover that situation as yet, so maybe the break will not only do me some good but give me a sense of direction too.

The Love In My Heart came over later and I made some nice pork belly with an apple and cider sauce with some mash, which went down very well indeed. In fact I have to say I really liked that too, so everyone was a winner. She had enjoyed Emmerdale whilst I was making the tea, but then later it was time for the Christmas Bake Off special with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry making some rather nice recipes for cakes at the festive period. All it made me want to do was effectively go round to their houses at Christmas and eat lots of their cake, they all looked rather lovely.

The Love and I then did watch a Christmas themed Don't Tell The Bride, in which the groom eventually took a risk by having a ceremony on a temporary ice rink near Brighton Pavilion, and also on top of that having an immature bride who just wanted to throw a strop every single time something didn't quite go her way all the time. Would some people have just walked away from her and not married her? Possibly. It amazed me just how everyone else around her kept it together and were constantly giving her a pep talk to make her see sense, with Mud's "Lonely This Christmas" being strangely apt at certain times, so tune of the day it most defintiely is.

Monday 15th December - Market Monday

After work I decided that having a walk around the Christmas markets might be quite nice, especially as I've pretty much done all the present shopping that I needed to do. This way too I could take my time going round all the stalls, perusing their wares, listening to lots of German oompah music from some of the bars, and then soak it all in. As it transpired, soak was an operative word: it started to rain around 2pm and the rain was pretty much set fair for most of the rest of the day.

Thankfully I did have my waterproof coat on, which has been a real life saver over the last year or two, and possibly one of the best investments I've made over time (just hope I can eventually get another one of the same type if I need to.) I did also have the digital SLR with me, so wanted to see if I could get a nice shot of Zippy Santa from the Town Hall (so called because the face is orange and reminds many of us of the Zippy character from Rainbow, you see) and so all was good there.

In fact the markets on Albert Square were busy, but not as heaving mad as they could have been. Lots of people were of course at the bars and especially the sausage stalls, having a real feel of consuming all the German-related items that they could. And of course, the glühwein too, but you would have expected that really. I did manage to get a few nice shots of some of the market stalls and indeed Manchester in the night, notably how the Wheel of Manchester seems to have a real effect on Piccadilly Gardens in how it's perceived with a view from up there.

I eventually headed on the bus home and then had some nice tea: namely some chicken and mushrooms done in a stir fry with some black bean sauce and Singapore noodles. It actually works really well and certainly since I've discovered making the stuff is quite enjoyable and also good to eat, I think having that as part of the food that I have has proved positive: I'm still at a better place now weight wise than I was last year. And of course it's not that long to make either, so all win there I think.

I spent some time as well tonight listening to some stuff by The Wonder Stuff in preparation for going to see their acoustic gig later this week. I still love their debut album The Eight Legged Groove Machine, and from it there's lots of tracks I can remember bounding around to on indie nights, such as A Wish Away, It's Yer Money I'm After Baby, and still one of my favourites Give Give Give Me More More More, so that one is going to be tune of the day. That played acoustic would be rather fab to hear actually!

Sunday 14th December - Trees and Champions

I had had a good lie in after a good night in, and The Love In My Heart by all accounts had enjoyed her Christmas work do, not getting in till late. As we had both been paid for this month we were able now to head out this afternoon and get a Christmas tree, and put it up in our respective places. Over the last few years we've bought a real tree, and there's a place not far from me that sells them, so we thought to head there, get them sorted, and then get them up. Easy, you'd think.

Well actually, not. We saw the real trees and they did look pretty good, even in the early afternoon rain that was coming down. However, the price was a bit too much for us both - £40 each. I had a quick chat with The Love and we both thought that straight away the price was way too dear - not least for the fact that we'd only have it a few weeks and then recycle it. In previous years it was no more than £25, so the jump was fairly big. Checking other local places seemed to be a similar story or with poor quality trees for a slightly lesser price, so we both agreed to forget about a real one this year.

So instead it was a quick plan B - and I had remembered yesterday seeing that there were 6ft artificial trees in Tesco at a reduced price, and followed the hunch. Shortly afterwards we were both heading out of there with one of them each - and they'd been reduced to £10 as well. Can't argue with that and of course I can use it again next year and the year after most likely, so cost per use is to be much less. In fact when we saw one on display it looked decent enough and I knew with the existing silver baubles and lights I had, I could make it look lovely.

Once all was done we headed to the Elizabethan in Heaton Moor for some well earned lunch, and in fact they had the Christmas ale on, the Plum Pudding, which was lovely. So much so that when The Love tried a bit, she even said that she'd be tempted to have a half of that herself one day, which was a nice surprise to know. I had the steak and ale pie which was on top form, and The Love had the pulled barbecue pork brisket, which was gorgeously nice as ever. In fact I would have had that myself and will do again in future.

Back at mine after a pit stop at my local little Tesco for The Love, it was time to assemble the tree, and to be fair, it was pretty easy - all the branches to place on were colour coded with a letter, and the assembly worked well. I had to nip out and get a set of tree lights though as I had a set of failures, but once the lights were all then on it started to take shape, and The Love then headed home to get hers sorted with the hindrance of the two cats, and I put on the baubles etc and made it all look very pretty.

I settled in then first to watch the Race of Champions on Motors TV - this time the individual event. David Coulthard was brilliant - he won all the races in his group stage, and then got past Jamie Whincup in a great semi final before then taking on Pascal Wehrlein in the final, winning 2-0 in the best of three. He really did show how it was done and his experience on racing such tracks told, with car control really at the forefront with some of the vehicles especially. Was really chuffed for him.

Then on to BBC Sports Personality of the Year, a proper show and meant I could watch that and avoid anything to do with The X Factor. Good! And I have to say a really good production this year - Glasgow did itself proud too with it as well. It was a tough call from the ten contenders - each of them had merits but I was pleased to see paralympic sport getting a worthy nod, as well as less fancied sports such as dressage, skeleton etc. I suspected it was a three way battle for the top spot though and that's pretty much how it panned out.

I was pleased too for the England women's rugby union team who were World Cup champions and landed Team of the Year: Paul McGinley's expert leadership won the Ryder Cup superbly and was a deserved Coach of the Year, and Claudia Frangapane's electrifying gymnastics at the Commonwealth Games with four golds made her a shoe in for Young Sports Personality of the Year - when you consider Andy Murray and Wayne Rooney have won it, she's in very good company.

But it was the main award that was a close call to make: Jo Pavey in third, but an excellent year in whch she turned 40 and won a Commonwealth Games bronze and European gold medal, proving an inspiration to all the other athletes around her. Rory McIlroy won two golfing majors and also was a part of the winning Ryder Cup team too, and some may have thought he deserved to win. However it was Lewis Hamilton who got the nod, after landing a second F1 world title and breaking a few records: the most number of wins by a British driver in one season, the most number of Grand Prix wins by a British driver (all-time) and indeed maturing massively this year as a driver and person too.

The theme tune of said programme is stirring stuff and whenever you hear it you know it's that time of year: and for many of us it's also when you feel that the festive season really begins, so tune of the day is that, it's just really evocative as a lot of the BBC sports themes are over the many years. No doubt you could have picked any of the ten nominees: such is the variety and strength in depth of British sport across them all. Next year might also be a very tough call if we do well in certain large occasions coming up...

Saturday 13th December - Sorting Out Saturday

With The Love In My Heart on her office works do tonight (and not a bad choice of location either - Gorton Monastery - a fabulous building!) I had decided to spend today sorting lots of stuff out. The Love was dropping a few things off early doors so she dropped me off at home along the way, and then once I'd got a few things in the house sorted it was off into the city centre early (I was there around 9am) to effectively finish off the Christmas shopping.

In fact Boots came up with the goods for one set of purchases before heading over to USC for a gift card that one of my relations asked for. I even ventured into Fopp and found something that I had to get for myself (checking it wasn't on the Christmas list first of course!) and so that was all sorted. I knew I needed to get a couple of gift cards elsewhere but I also knew my local Tesco had them, which meant I'd get Clubcard points as well (not daft me you know!) so it was then into there, get all that sorted, and I was home by 10.30am. All done before the madness of Saturday in the city centre starts.

In fact I spent the next hour or so wrapping up the remaining presents and had cards to write too for family members, and a special one for The Love In My Heart as well. With that done, I had then decided to make sure I totted up what I'd got, and realised that apart from my friend (who hasn't provided any inclination of what he'd like as yet, mainly due to him moving house to be fair) that all my shopping was done and dusted. So I can sit back and relax and not have to faff around anymore, it is all done.

I did keep an eye on the football scores for some of the afternoon whilst also keeping one eye on Motors TV as they had the Race of Champions Team event from Barbados. David Coulthard was partnered with Susie Wolff for the British team and they ended up narrowly losing to Team Nordic in the final, but a great effort from both of them all round. Manchester City won 1-0 at Leicester City thanks to Super Frankie Lampard scoring, and to be fair we didn't play at our best but we got the result.

Straight after the football and with me recording some of the ROC event to watch later on (which I did), I also switched to ITV4 for the latest round of Formula E from Uruguay. The track looked like a long street circuit with a dual carriageway being used with some extra bits of tarmac, but Jean-Eric Vergne had got pole position. In fact he and a number of former F1 drivers were doing pretty well, with him being involved in a titanic scrap with Sebastien Buemi and Nelson Piquet Jr. Jean-Eric hadn't got the hang of the energy management of the cars as yet and so had to pit earlier, before s suspension failure late on with him challenging Buemi for the win put him out.

Later on once I'd had some tea courtesy of a very nice Tesco delivery (chicken tikka massala with mushrooms and pilau rice, with chicken I'd diced and mushrooms I'd chopped myself) it was then time to kick back and watch The Chase Celebrity Christmas Special. It was an amazingly close finish, with the three celebrities just getting enough to beat the chaser, especially with some good push backs. It was Ben Miller, one of the teachers from Educating Yorkshire, and Steve Pemberton, who had set the tone by beating The Beast for a mere £50k! The team won £62k in all and the third from Steve went to Derian House, which was very good of him.

Some rocking later then, so on went Rock Band 3 for the Wii and out came the drum kit for a good session of drumming. In fact I did pretty well on my normal level of medium drums, pretty much getting most of Avenged Sevenfold's "The Beast and the Harlot" (the chorus can be hard unless you work out the rhythm) and then Slayer's "South of Heaven" followed by "Seasons in the Abyss" (make that tune of the day) followed by some Pixies, and then Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" which I had downloaded from the store the other day, mainly because I wanted to do vocals on it!

It was a good night all round completed with Match of the Day and seeing the disgraceful diving of the Chelski lot, notably Gary Cahill who a) should really know better and b) have been sent off at the same time for a bad tackle in the first half, never mind his appalling dive. It was a case of City winning to keep up the pressure, and if Liverpool do beat Man U tomorrow, we'll be eight places clear of everyone else, as Southampton seem to be disintegrating currently..

Friday 12th December - Festive Friday

It was a busy day at work but already I am thinking about winding down for the festive period, primarily because I finish earlier than some for it. I actually due to gigs being planned finish next Tuesday, as off to Birmingham on Thursday to see The Wonder Stuff acoustic, and then back to Manchester on Friday to see Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. That time last year I was down in London on Friday 20th December to see the Sleigh the UK tour, with The Wonder Stuff headlining (and PWEI and Jesus Jones too, properly ace that was)

So with that in mind I've been trying to make sure I finish everything long term that I need to do or be able to pass stuff on accordingly. It's been pretty good to try and get to the bottom of it all and also keep on top of all the outstanding stuff coming in as well, and I didn't mind not going to the work Christmas do to be honest. I wasn't in the right frame of mind considering all the other stuff going on this year, and also I was heading with The Love In My Heart to our friends' for a meal tonight, so that was also something good to look forward to. What I do know though it that at the awards for our department later on, I did win one for Exceptional Team Member, so that was pretty nice.

Anyway, I headed off to the city centre and off to The Love In My Heart's place, where the two cats were all being playful and lovely. There's one little toy that one of them is now obsessed with and seemingly wants to play with all the time, even dunking it in the water bowl! It was nice to fuss over them whilst The Love got changed into a nice top and some new jeans, and I put on one of my nice shirts for the evening. With all the presents ready to take with us, our friend came to collect us around 7pm and off we headed.

It was a really nice night all round, our friend and his partner were in fine fettle, and we had plenty of Christmas related chat about the usual music and films that always seem to be playing at this time of year, and how often that you also get the cheaper shops playing "supermarket versions" of Christmas songs so that there's a distinct lack of royalties to be paid. I can only imagine now if you were called in to do one of them for, say, Poundland, over the Summer. I can imagine that would be a ton of joy!

The food was really nice: I surprised myself by having a goats cheese tart for starter, it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be and ate the lot. I think The Love was quite shocked at that to too. The main was some really nice turkey, pork stuffing balls, roasties, carrots, broccoli and green beans with a nice gravy too. The meat had some spices with it and they were good, and it was top notch all round. I had brought some ale round and so had the Sharps Wolf Rock, which was very red and very very nice indeed - so much so I might have to get some more of that sometime!

There was a nice cheesecake for dessert, and that was gorgeous - in fact our friend and I had two slices in the end! We carried on chatting with some nice chilled out tunes including The Beloved's 1990 classic "The Sun Rising" which reminded me of happy times being a late teenager, so tune of the day there for definite. It was fairly late when we left in a taxi and headed back to The Love's place, where the 4Seven repeat of Gogglebox was on so we watched that to its finish before having the cats snuggling up to us as we headed to sleep. Awwwww.

Thursday 11th December - It's Beginning To Post A Lot Like Christmas

I had already written out a shed load of Christmas cards after the City game last night, and indeed prepared a fair few packages to send to people - including one to my friend up in Ulverston and one to my cousin in Bournemouth, and those needed to go recorded delivery too, so I knew a trip to the post office was needed. Then with the rain keeping me up with the wind hammering it against the windows I had a brainwave - one of the post offices in the city centre opens at 8am, so go there first, post all the stuff off, and job done.

And that's pretty much how it turned out really. I got there with some of the rain from overnight still lashing it down, and then got it all sorted. I had two smaller packages to send to a couple of friends in Scandinavia too, so got them all sorted at the same time. What I didn't realise is how expensive air mail now seems to be - and that anything other than a standard size letter goes at a packet rate - and a small packet in terms of cost. Hmm.. might have a to find some ways around that next time eh?

Anyway, got to work and I had all my Christmas cards written out too for people in the office et al, so that was all sorted as well. I guess I just wanted to be sure that I had done what I needed to do there. I do still need to buy some for the likes of The Love In My Heart, a couple of friends and so on, but for the majority case it's pretty much done and dusted, so much easier from my point of view. I had a productive day of sorts and managed to sort out a licencing dongle issue whilst simultaneously sorting out some issues with a few of the PCs in the third floor of one building remotely. Who says men can't multitask?

We were chatting about music in the office and a couple of colleagues and I remembered Senser's classic 1994 album "Stacked Up". Almost every indie night I went to would play at least one of the singles if not more than that, especially the likes of "Eject", "The Key" or "Age of Panic" which had a few of us going mental to it back then. What's more notable is that the band have a 20th anniversary remastered edition out, which I must admit was pretty tempting to get! Needless to say I played that the original album later when I got home, and still prefer the single version of "Eject" because of its better intro - make that tune of the day for being a proper classic tune of its era.

In fact when I look back, 1994 was a pretty cracking year for music. I did write an article some time ago which I may need to revisit and add more to. As well as Senser and four other albums mentioned in there, I could have added "The Downward Spiral" by Nine Inch Nails, "John Austin Routledge" by Done Lying Down (if you've never heard it, you need to), "Teenager of the Year" by Frank Black, "Howyoudoin?" by Renegade Soundwave and "Dos Dedos Mis Amigos" by Pop Will Eat Itself. My, added to the original five, that's ten albums in all everyone should really own overall isn't it?

Wednesday 10th December - Roman Conquest

It was a very very important night for Manchester City tonight as they travelled to Italy to face Roma in the final game of the group stage of the Champions League. All three remaining teams apart form Bayern Munich could qualify: in effect if CSKA Moscow didn't win in Munich, City could win in Rome and be through: if Moscow lost, even a 1-1 or higher score draw would also mean going through on goal difference too. However, one thing was for sure: City had to score to have any chance of remaining in the competition.

With the strains of the iconic Champions League theme in its three languages belting out before the start of the game (make that tune of the day) it was time to then settle in and see how the boys would do. I knew that without Yaya Touré, Sergio Agüero and Vincent Kompany it might be difficult, but putting Fernando and Fernandinho together might mean a better protected defence allowing the midfield flair players to get on with it. And of course the team were on a good run of victories, so confidence was pretty good because of that as well.

For the first fifteen minutes we were being turned inside out defensively and Roma had a couple of chances on goal, but it seemed that we were taking time to get into it, and keeping it at 0-0 here was the key. James Milner's effort was well saved, but from the break straight away, Gervinho shot well and Joe Hart had to be on top form to pull off a super save. The half was very cat and mouse with both sides not giving too much away, and with the news that Bayern had gone 1-0 up against CSKA Moscow, it was clear that a 0-0 draw would as it stood suit Roma. So at half time they were second in the group, we were now third instead of last.

The second half started and City pressed: the odd chance was still being presented at the other end but Fernando and Fernandinho's work ethic to tackle and keep it tight meant the likes of Milner, Samir Nasri and Jesús Navas could get forward. And that was what we needed. As it looked like we might be bringing on David Silva after a long term injury, City pressed down the left with Nasri. Milner ran across and drew two defenders with him, allowing Nasri to shoot hard with the right foot, and off the post and in for 1-0. YES!

As you can imagine, that was a big goal. It meant as it stood that Roma needed to score two as long as the Moscow score stayed the same (a 1-1 draw would mean that City would be above Roma on goal difference, as both results between the teams would have been 1-1.) Bayern then went 2-0 up against CSKA, putting them out of the equation nicely. City kept it tight, brought on Stefan Jovetic late on, and his ball found Nasri, who saw out of the corner of his eye Pablo Zabaleta sprinting forward - and the ball laid into him. Zaba made no mistake and found the bottom corner with a finish Agüero would have been proud of.

Zabaleta went to the corner where the City fans were, kissing the badge as he did so and going mental with it. The Pablo Zabaleta song from the City fans was belted out full blast in return (and by me at home too) and the pride and passion he showed was just why the City fans love him so much. In fact the love might have just gone up another notch with that. And with that, second place secured - by three points in the end. So all good and now for the draw on Monday for the next stage. Wouldn't mind Monaco away!

Tuesday 9th December - Through the Wind and Rain

Well, although the "weather bomb" had hit a fair part of the Northern part of the UK, notably the very far North of Scotland especially, thankfully in Manchester we had, to be fair, got off pretty lightly. It was mainly some blustery wind and some rain, notably once I had set off on the way home from work tonight and it didn't seem that pretty. It's at times like this I am really thankful that I don't have too far to travel from the bus stop to home, which avoided me getting suitably drenched!

Back at home I got a few things sorted before The Love In My Heart came over for tea. I had already decided to make the mini roast chicken and all the trimmings, together with some mini roast potatoes that were cooking nicely in the oven to go all crispy and nice (which The Love prefers anyway). I'd timed it well so that we could have a catch up after the weekend we'd had together plus also it meant that she could indulge herself slightly with some Emmerdale before tucking into some lovely food.

We decided to venture out to the large Tesco later on, as we both needed to get stuff in there for different reasons. I had ran out of blank CDs which I needed, and also wanted to get a decent selection of real ales for Friday evening, as we were heading to our friend's for a nice evening meal at their place. Thankfully on both counts it was all pretty plain sailing: in fact there were two beers by the Sharps brewery in Rock in Cornwall I'd not tried, so them together with some Betty Stogs from Skinners of Truro and lastly a nice classic in Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker (won awards this has apparently!) so all good there.

The Love wanted to see if she could get a few bits for her work, but nothing jumped out at her. However we had looked online prior and there were some possible ideas which if needed I could order. But we came up with another brainwave idea which she may be able to pull off later on in the week too, so food for thought there. We'd managed to head back to The Love's car just before the next downpour of rain started to fall, and then back to mine for some telly to chill out to.

We decided to see the recording of Great Continental Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo at the helm, winding down North Western Spain from La Coruña and then towards the border with Portugal, before taking one of the most gorgeously scenic lines around those parts and through the vineyards where the grapes for the port drink grow, before then finally heading to Lisbon. Lots of places to admire, and I think the way he engages with the places really makes you feel more than welcome there too. The theme tune is just warming when you hear it to get you in the right mood, so tune of the day it is then.

Monday 8th December - Homeward to New Openings

We woke up this morning in the hotel room, and BBC Breakfast news were at the new City Football Academy, Manchester City's new state of the art training facility. It was good to see that they were reporting it as a positive thing not just for the club but for the community, with a new sixth form college, swimming pool, and jobs created for local workers as some key benefits as part of the investment - a lot nicer than when it was a former chemical works I suspect. And indeed the bridge between there and the Etihad Stadium is already in good use too. As from next season the women's team will play their games at the Academy Stadium which holds 7,000. Neato.

The Love and I packed everything up and were soon heading out of the hotel - it had been a good little stay in London and so we were rather happy how it had all turned out as we headed back to Earl's Court tube station and on to the District line to Victoria, before then heading down deeper underground to get the line there. The guard on the platform said to go to the end where the front of the train would stop as more room there, and he was right - got on no problem and we could see everyone packed into the middle. They should have listened then!

We soon were back at Euston, and once we'd worked out which platform the train was going to leave from (it's often flashed up on the departure boards before it's announced) and then it was a pretty relaxing journey back to Manchester. The Love watched the world go by with her window seat and had a good rest at the same time, and it was just nice to not have to be in work as well, as you can imagine. Before we knew it, the train arrived back in Manchester Piccadilly, and it was on time (in fact four minutes early too). We both headed off home with a hug and a kiss before we left.

I got home and sorted out the pictures from yesterday, which are now online. Some of them worked out better than others, primarily because night shots aren't always that easy to do and because of the fact it's mostly in the dark, you had to use the lights as a suitable source of lighting and to time it right. Still the hand held exposure of the carousel did work, so going to put that up a bit later too. I think it's different to try and adapt to situations and really push what I can do ability wise - and maybe one day improve too!

It was good too that I had managed to have a good time with The Love - I think with both of us having busy work schedules, just to be able to have that bit of quality time together was really important. In fact it did me the world of good. Tune of the day in the meantime is the "Theme from Wrangler" by Wrangler, a perfect example of how to do electronica with old school analogue instruments, and I had this in my head as the train sped off from London earlier. The things you do...

Sunday 7th December - Christmas At Kew

It was up, make sure my overnight case was packed, make sure I had the Oyster card and my camera, and then I left the house around 10.15am. I was meeting The Love In My Heart at Piccadilly Station and from there we'd be taking the train down to London to see Christmas At Kew, a nice festive attraction at Kew Gardens which has a one mile lit trail with lots of trees, light shows and also food stalls to get you into the mood for the festive season. Last time we headed there of course it rained for a fair part of the day, so we were both hoping that a night time visit in the dry might be rather lovely. We'd booked the tickets in advance as I could only imagine that it'd get quite popular.

As per usual, the train down to London was its usual efficient self thanks to the folks at Virgin Trains - we'd got a seat with a window view, which The Love prefers, and we were just able to have a quiet chat to each other, have some lunch with the Boots Meal Deal, and then I enjoyed my Costa coffee with the Paradise Street blend as well (admittedly, rather nice that) as the train sped towards London. We left Manchester Piccadilly a little late but made up the time and so we'd arrived into Euston on time.

After checking our respective Oyster card balances, we realised that we only needed to top up with £5 so we did that at the machine at Euston tube station, and then headed first on the Victoria Line down to Victoria and changed there for the District Line westbound to head to Gloucester Road, which was near to the Mercure Kensington hotel that we were staying at. Amazingly we switched lines and pretty much got straight onto the second tube service, which was impressive. Once we got off, we walked to the hotel, got ourselves checked in and went to the room.

The room was advertised as a small double, and it pretty much was. It did pack in a full bath in the bathroom with shower over, sink and toilet, with just enough room to move around the bed, and a wardrobe where the tea and coffee stuff was, as well as bath robes too. We both maybe would have liked it to be a bit larger, but I also have stayed in smaller rooms in central London, so I'm aware of this. Still, big comfy bed and decent telly, so we caught up a bit, then got ourselves changed and headed off out again.

The hotel was the same distance to Earl's Court tube as it was to Gloucester Road, and this worked out well. Because Earl's Court is a border Zone 1/2 station, and Kew Gardens is a border Zone 3/4, effectively if travelling between the two it's classed as a Zone 2 to Zone 3 journey, meaning a mere £1.50 off peak with Oyster (in fact Zone 2 to Zone 6 is the same fare). If we'd have set off from Gloucester Road (Zone 1), that would have been a Zone 1-3 cost of £2.70, so a nifty saving all round. In fact The Love thought the walk was shorter, so epic win all round.

We got off the tube at Kew Gardens station and had a nice walk around the nice little shops close to the station - they were really posh and lovely to be honest. I was tempted by an Audrey Hepburn themed diary in one, and lots of the shops really did seem festive, notably the rather nice deli we spotted. We went to the Tap on the Line pub next to the station and had a rather nice ale from the Fullers Brewery, their seasonal Jack Frost one, which was warming with a hint of blackberry in it. The Love had some wine, and with some nice comfy chairs, plenty of time to relax before we headed off to Kew Gardens itself.

We left the warm surroundings of the pub, noticed the temperature had dropped a bit, and so on went the gloves (and in my case, a hat as well). When we got to the Victoria Gate entrance, there was a queue, unsurprisingly, but thankfully it was moving nicely and so much so that by the time we had our tickets scanned, it was only just after 5pm and so we'd got in on the time on the ticket. We had a quick walk around the main shop here and also perused a few of the food stalls before starting off on the trail.

The trail took you past the Palm House and the pond opposite was all lit up (as was the house over the pond) with lighting in time to music, it looked rather nice (and it was dark too, no wonder you needed a torch). Once past there, you headed along the paths towards the Princess of Wales Conservatory, and the path was lit by lights which projected snowflakes on to the floor. It looked really good, and pretty. Close to the conservatory you could get marshmallows and have them toasted over an open fire. Needless to say this was pretty popular with the little ones.

At the end of this path you could turn right to Santa's Grotto, inside the conservatory itself. They did have a stall here though so we got some mulled wine and I got myself a mince pie with crumble topping, which I freely admit was rather gorgeous to say the least. The Love enjoyed the mulled wine and where we were sat there were projections of flowers on the floor, which looked rather fabulous. Once we'd had the mulled wine, it was off along the trail again stopping at Mistletoe Moments for a kiss (well, be rude not to!) and as we headed towards the White Peaks area, lots of lit green trees and a rather impressive orange lit tree which you walked underneath - and a definite stop and admire factor for all concerned.

Once at the White Peaks there were food and drink stalls as well as the gift shop, but also for the little ones there was a large helter skelter slide, some ride on cars which took you around a small track, and a gorgeous vintage carousel. Going around on that must have felt lovely, and I experimented with a shot here to get light trails. I was quite pleased considering I'd taken it hand-held rather than with a tripod! It did feel rather lovely with the music of the carousel playing too.

We then walked along the trail, past lots of lit little trees which felt festive, and saw the gorgeous Tunnel of Lights ahead of us. It really is impressive, around thirty metres long and an arch with lights all on it as you walked underneath. It did feel magical and I'm sure that lots of little ones walking through felt the same, and just after this some candelabra hanging from a tree, and the lighting making it all look very gothic and Tim Burton Nightmare Before Christmas styled. That obviously met with my approval as you would imagine.

We then got to the back of the Palm House, and the light display here also had some fire and flames, and all in time to some of the music from the ballet The Nutcracker as well. It did feel special, and seeing the Palm House have lighting and projections was rather good. Naturally this included "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" as part of this, so tune of the day was an easy choice. That with the lights and the gentle flames in time (not least from a fire ball of metal too) was rather lovely. We then headed back to Victoria Gate, and there we got something each from the food stalls: The Love went for a pork bap with stuffing etc, and I went for a venison casserole with some sourdough bread. Mine was very nice, big chunks of Cornish venison, and potatoes and carrots in a nice gravy, which you had some left of to dip with the bread - good move that.

We walked back to the tube station later and at Earl's Court stopped off at a nearby pub for a well earned pint of Sambrooks' Wandle ale, which is a good session ale down those parts. It was warm in the pub too which was good, and so we were able to just reflect on a nice day all round before heading back along to the hotel, where we caught the deciding two frames of the UK Snooker Championship. Ronnie O'Sullivan won 10-9 but was 9-4 up against Judd Trump before he blitzed five on the bounce in quick time before a tense final frame. Ace stuff.

Saturday 6th December - Battling

I had a really relaxed day today, didn't do that much to be honest. I did nip to the local Asda to pick up some Christmas cards, and also then kept one eye on the UK Snooker Championship as it was Ronnie O'Sullivan v Stuart Bingham in the semi final. In fact at 3-1 at mid session interval to Bingham, he then whacked in a rather impressive total clearance of 137 to take it to 4-1 before Ronnie fought back to 4-4, and indeed it was then 5-5 later on when I had to leave home and head to my friend's place.

I had also worked on what I normally do this time of year - work out what my favourite songs and albums of the year are going to be. For me it was going to be a difficult decision: primarily because I'd bought a fair few albums released this year, but was also discovering plenty of new stuff, and included in that was the support act Ronika from last week's Human League gig. After checking out and indeed purchasing a few tracks, I have to say the single "Shell Shocked" might have to feature - infectiously nice. I still do have a soft spot for one of her earlier tracks which she played live "Do Or Die" though, as that's got a great hook - so tune of the day.

I headed to my friend's new place, which is now walking distance from mine. It is a new bungalow which seems to suit much better for him and his wife, and I had the chance to have a look around now they're virtually moved in. It seems pretty good: with two bedrooms, a large bathroom wet room which also has a door into the bedroom, so that might work out as almost an en-suite, and a decent sized kitchen space too - and I managed to locate the waste and cold feed pipe locations for the washing machine, so all good there.

So off to the Etihad Stadium then, and it was going to be a good test against Everton we both thought. And we were both correct. City headed forward early on but Sergio Agüero landed awkwardly, and later on we found out it was knee ligament damage, which might not be good for a fair few games in the future, definitely we're going to miss him I think. City did get a penalty when James Milner was bundled off the ball by Phil Jagielka, but I'll be the first to admit it was too soft a penalty and shouldn't have been given. Yaya Touré tucked it away for 1-0.

And that was how it stayed. Jose Pozo forced a good save from Tim Howard early in the second half, Everton went really close when Romelu Lukaku volleyed at close range and was denied by a superlative stop from Joe Hart, and when Frank Lampard came on his nifty pass and move with Edin Džeko created a chance for the impressive James Milner, who shot high and wide in the end. And I was also pleased to see that Samir Nasri also played pretty well, really getting some moves together to get City attacking on their way, with Gael Clichy having a masterful performance at left back.

However it was a first half incident which did really frustrate me. Eliaquim Mangala went for the ball from a corner and challenged with Samuel Eto'o. But it wasn't a fair challenge. He clearly kicked Eto'o in the back. I don't like to see that from a City player, and at the time I thought it was a kick and definitely a red card. Later on seeing it on Match of the Day only confirmed my view. I don't mind players challenging for the ball fairly (one of many reasons why City fans love James Milner) but when they do it so blatantly, they need to be punished. To me he's not the finished article as yet, not by a long way, and such incidents do not help...

Friday 5th December - Civilised Bury Met Debauchery

So the week at work was over, and it had proved to be a pretty productive day in that I managed to get a fair few things sorted out, and was also able to be the calm one in a tricky situation as well. I was quite pleased that I'd actually managed to be the one to try and bring some common sense to proceedings. However, I was also rather gutted on the whole that it looked like there may be a number of possible changes happening in the next few months or so: we shall see what happens but I was left rather unconivnced.

Anyway, it was good to be home, and then have something to eat for tea and sort out some stuff around the house before getting changed into something comfortable and yet warm, as I was heading off to the North and to Bury Met, where I'd be seeing 3 Daft Monkeys for the second time inside a month. I was still really happy from when I saw them at the University of Falmouth a few weeks back, and that meant my little ambition of seeing the band in Cornwall was met. Now of course they were on more local turf, so had to be done.

I took the bus to Manchester city centre and from there the Metrolink tram to Bury. Of course I'd not travelled on this line for some time, and so admired the stops at Abraham Moss and Queens Road (that should give you an indication I hadn't been that way for ages) and of course when I got to Bury, the station was still the same and you came out at the interchange, walking across the bus station and pass the shopping centres before arriving at the Met itself. Not that much changes in the venue, still a nice bar and all that - and indeed, they sell real ale too. So a pint of that just had to be got!

At around 8.15ish, the announcer said that 3 Daft Monkeys would be on stage in three minutes, so I headed in. The standing (where I was) was at front, with seats at the back. There were no support, so on came the band and straight into "Civilised Debauchery" which I adore, followed by "Agnes The Giant Killer", delivered mightily with some aplomb to say the least, and that was good to see. Early on in the set we also had a beautiful rendition of "The Lovers of Porthgwarra Cove" and when Tim asked if anyone had been, I admitted I had, and that I'd done the coastal path walk too. Nice version of it too, tonight, it has to be said.

The imaginary tug of war came out for "The Tale of the Lazy Pirate" which was good fun, and there were a fair few of us who pretended to tug the rope. In fact there were two fans who had dressed up in monkey onesies for the evening and had a soft toy monkey with them, so they were taking the band's name literally - quite good that and they were really up for a good time, bounding around and dancing (they must have been hot in those costumes though!)

It was great to hear "Astral Eyes" and the rather superb "One Fine Day" with everyone really up for dancing around, before the interval (the set was two halves!) - I went to get another drink and when I got back to stage I noticed that Athene had her son Arlo playing the drums with the drum stick, and looked like he just wanted to have some fun playing. He looked all cool and cute at the same time and when I spoke to Athene later, she said that he's wanting to play the drums every single chance that he gets!

Back came the band for the second half, and another great set of songs, and "Days of the Dance" got a play of course. Plenty of people waltzing at the start and then doing the fast dance later on too. "Social Vertigo" was particularly good as everyone was swaying along at the right points and then bounding around, and the atmosphere was really good for that, so tune of the day was an easy one. I also really liked "World on its Head" which really did play at a fast pace and had everyone not quite upside down (although someone near me was going to try!) and in a great mood for a Friday evening.

Naturally some of the old classics came on, and it wouldn't be a great gig without a bit of "Hubbadillia" which had lots of people dancing around at pace, happily singing along to the "everybody shagging" line. It was also lovely that we had "Love Life" for the first time in a while and that had everyone gently swaying along. The band pretended then it wasn't 10pm and ten minutes before, which allowed them to play "The Antiquated and the Arcane" at the end, and a blistering version at that too.

The band had a new CD out, which was a live gig at Falmouth last year, so picked that up for a fiver, and had all of the band sign the front for me too, which was very nice of them. A few of us spotted Arlo back on the drums and happily drumming away too, which was nice too. In fact it was just a really nice gig - good atmosphere with plenty of people really into the band, and nice ale, and the band on top form. What more could I wish for? Well a twenty minute wait for a bus once I'd got into the city centre Manchester would have been nice...

Thursday 4th December - What Next?

I must admit that I'm having some sort of mixed feelings looking back on the year, and had a good think about this tonight. On the one hand, it's been good in that The Love In My Heart started her new job and is really loving it, going back to the stuff that she's really good at but also feeling valued in different ways and really showing new employers how good she is (which I know). On the other though, I do feel at a bit of a crossroads career wise. I know I am good at what I do, but it's where I next go to - do I stay with the position I'm in and keep working hard, or do I decide instead to up sticks and get a job elsewhere?

It's difficult really because for different reasons both have the advantages and disadvantages - however, there's one underlying factor to all this. My manager at the start of the year isn't even at the same place anymore, and that did throw me a bit. Normally people do come and go in the work place of course, but I think that I'd have probably felt a bit better about it had it been going straight into a next job. I just haven't felt the same since to be honest. Plus when it's been the same manager for the last fourteen years or so, and someone who's actually inspired me to grow in the position I'm in, that does really also throw you a bit.

So I guess in the remainder of this year and the start of the next there's going to be some searching, and seeing what I really want to do in future. I know that ideally if I was able to land something else close to home and if the money was similar, that'd of course be really tempting to take on. However at the same time I'm not either ruling out a move out of Manchester if that's what it takes. I could have for example ended up with a job in the capital or one in the Midlands, and that would have been a life changing experience to have of course, but there are still opportunities arising all the time and I know that there's plenty I can do - it's just proving yourself to others that you can do the task in hand.

On a positive note I decided that a good thing would be to do would be to nominate a couple of colleagues for the staff awards for our service, which are next Friday. I thought carefully about how their development and how they fit in to the criteria, and what they've managed to do as well to bring a better experience, and wrote some good quantified reasons why they should be selected, and sent them off. For me it actually is better to give than to receive, so I hope one of them does land something.

But there's a feeling inside that for me I do need to have a good think and maybe refresh myself over the Christmas period, and then go full pelt into keeping an eye on both internal and external vacancies in the New Year. I think a new challenge either way might just be the thing. One such position I've seen recently is up in the Scottish Highlands, which would be a massive move, but at the same time with wonderful countryside on the doorstep (and being based in a place I've visited and grown to like too.) So with every thought of caution, there is also a thought of optimism too.

For me it's been pretty important to have a focus on what I can do well, and today was an example of that in abundance. For some reason all users of a laptop couldn't access their home network drive, and after a bit of investigation I found out why: it turned out that the synced cache from Sync Center had corrupted and so was never able to try and offline sync, making the drive inaccessible. One registry key added and a restart to fix the cache and rebuild it, and all was very well with the world indeed.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather good "Last Ninja 2 Central Park Loader" theme by Matt Gray, and no I'm not talking the Commodore 64 original, as brilliant as it is. I'm talking his own remake of it, which helped massively to launch the Kickstarter campaign to fund his album of remakes. It's now a huge thing, spiralling numerous CDs including one with all the songs from the Last Ninja 2 soundtrack remade. It's going to take some time, but wow am I looking forward to it!

Wednesday 3rd December - Power Serg-io!

It was another productive day in the office, and I was able to at least crack on with a few things. I also hosted a bit of a training / refresher session for one of our staff, and so was able to go through a few things such as Active Directory, but also some of the utilities we use for email and network configuration as well, which have proved to be useful. I think too that not having any distractions was definitely a good thing, and so was able to get on with things and concentrate nicely.

In the afternoon I sorted out an issue why Office 2013 couldn't be upgraded for a member of staff's laptop (mainly lack of disk space which I managed to resolve pretty well), and then once that was done took some time to work on a couple of pieces of documentation later on. In fact, it was worth hanging back a bit as I had no distractions and was able to get on with things nicely, before then heading over to my Mum's for tea and so walked from the office to the bus stop to get the bus to Mum's.

Sadly, I was delayed. The bus I take to Mum's is supposed to be every 7-8 minutes or so at peak time, and so even if one was a little delayed I'd be looking at 15 minutes or so. But no. Twenty eight minutes to be precise. And when it came, understandably it was really packed. Thankfully I got a seat upstairs near the back and so was able to head off to Mum's, and it soon got full so it sped through most of the traffic at that time. I got to Mum's and my brother and his girlfriend were around ten minutes behind me, so it all worked out well in the end.

We had the shepherd's pie for tea which was really nice, just a chunk of meat in there and a nice potato top as well, just the thing really for a cold Winter evening outside. I had a good chat to Mum and she was all good, and she had bought one of her Christmas presents from me (as she knew what she was after) and so I took that back home with me to wrap up ready for the festive period, as well as had a good chat to my brother and girlfriend too. All good stuff there.

I got home later and kept one eye on the snooker and another on the BBC Final Score midweek show (ah, the BBC Sport app on my telly, got to love it for things like this) - and sure enough, after Manchester City had gone a goal down at Sunderland, Sergio Agüero got in on the act, scoring a great equaliser, knocking a lovely ball into the path of Stevan Jovetic for the second, and scoring the fourth with a superb pass from James Milner into him. In between all that Pablo Zabaleta scored a fab little chip and dedicated the goal to his pregnant wife, putting the ball under his shirt in celebration! Nice one Zabman!

I saw the highlights on Match of the Day later, and it was great to see the City side really kicking into another gear, and first on the show too. Considering the Stadium of Light's been a bit of a bogey ground for us in the past, to be able to put four past them and win comfortably was rather good. I'm going to make the Match of the Day theme tune tune of the day as it's still a classic staple of sport even now, and one when you hear it to be in position on the sofa ready to see the day's games unfolding...

Tuesday 2nd December - Chilly and Cuddles

It was a rather cold start to the day as I left for work, and I've definitely been noticing the temperature drop considerably over the last few days. I think that it's mainly been when the light has given way to darkness and it's really shown the clear skies but with a cold air. It's not actually that breezy as such, which at least has meant less of a wind chill factor anyway, but it's noticably more colder than it has been. I must admit this is where you really do want to just curl up in a warm office (apart from the fact it's not that warm and so I've been layering up anyway)

With the day at work done, it was good to head home albeit with a bit of a chill in the air. I've now got my gloves with me for heading home as it gets rather nippy, and having those on does make a difference - always good to be prepared. I must admit that having my jacket which is pretty wind and rain proof helps too - the body is nicely rather snug all round. Also the nice black wool coat I have also gets the outing for heading out and so that does really help as well.

The Love In My Heart came over later, and the two of us had some really nice chicken mini roasts, with little sausages, stuffing, some roast potatoes, peas and gravy, so that felt rather good. I even had got her some little bars of Lindt chocolate, one for now, one for her being at work tomorrow, and had also got some mulled wine, so I decided later on that a cup of the stuff each snuggled up with some cuddles would be rather nice. And why not?

We watched Masterchef: The Professionals and seeing all twelve finalists crammed into the kitchen and having to invent something that would please the judges was a very tough challenge. A lot of them really did crack under the pressure and produced food below their standard, although two or three of them were spot on and I said to The Love: "They're through, I tell you!" and so they were. The bottom four had to then do one meal in an hour and a quarter in a cook-off, where two of them would then progress. Amazingly under that pressure their food was better, and it was a tough decision who to pick from that point onwards.

It was so nice though being cuddled up and I kept one eye on the UK Snooker Championship too, with newcomer James Cahill up against Ding Junhui. It was a tense match and at 5-1 up Cahill could have won it but didn't, and at 5-4 up he thought he had enough to win the match, tried to hammer in a rest shot for a red, but missed, with Ding getting a free ball and a snooker and snatching the frame. Credit to Cahill for a post-midnight final frame win, which BBC Two showed live, so I stayed up to watch it. Cue strains of the original "Drag Racer" snooker theme by the Doug Wood band, definitely tune of the day there.

Monday 1st December - Snooker Loopy

Of course at this time of year is the UK Snooker Championship, held as it has been for the last few years, at the Barbican Centre in York. Now I've been to that venue for a few gigs in my time, including Gary Numan and also Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, but last year I did venture over there for the day to see some quality matches being played. Due to the way things were falling this year, I wasn't able to go, but nonetheless the fact I now have the BBC Sport app on my telly means I can watch the evening session's televised tables without having to power up the PC, hurrah to that I think.

The only decision I had to make now was to which game to watch, and so I chose Ken Doherty up against Ricky Walden. Walden's been in decent form and Doherty brushed aside Michael White in a 6-4 thriller, so I was hoping for some good snooker. It did come, but all pretty much from Walden to be honest, with the first three frames being taken without too much hassle, with Doherty sneaking one eventually to take the interval 3-1 down.

Walden wasn't taking any prisoners though and in the last two frames of the match rattled off a century break in each, which doesn't happen that often, and a 6-1 win did sound about right. He joked in the post match interview that as he had beaten Steve Davis and now Doherty (both usually BBC presenters / pundits most of the time) that maybe he would be drawn against Hazel Irvine in the next round! That was a classic comment, that, and fair play all round.

On the other table Shaun Murphy had got to 5-2 up against promising Jack Lisowski, and the latter did then battle well to pull it back to 5-4. In the tenth frame he did have a chance but the balls didn't run quite as planned, and once a safety play battle resulted in some good potting from Murphy to get the pink back on its spot, he pretty much went red-pink all the way through the break and nailed a match winning break to take it 6-4 - a good match on the whole and closer than most people would think. That just then left the two outside non-TV tables for people to watch.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the original and proper BBC snooker theme "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band, which thankfully on interactive coverage plays in between sessions such as the intervals, and so gives the viewer that more evocative proper theme tune feel when watching it all. It reminds me of the David Vine presented era when the game was really at its peak, getting lots of people tuning in to the epic action at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Why that can't be used properly as the main theme once again is beyond me.