Dear Diary... February 2008

Friday 29th February - Leap Year Games

Well today's a rarity in that it's a leap year, and it was definitely a day of two halves. First things first was the morning was spent in work, and it was one of our technical group meetings. That went by pretty well, although there seems to be a lot of things up in the air at the moment which we could do with having some decisions made before progressing. Always difficult I guess and it's one of those things which will happen or it won't happen: see what the future holds and go from there I guess.

But I had the afternoon off, and with good reason: I had some friends staying over for the weekend, and as I expected some of them to arrive in the afternoon I wanted to make sure that I was around to look after them ane make sure everything ran smoothly, as you do. With all the spare beds sorted out, all the food in et al, I nipped into Asda to make sure I had enough plastic beer glasses and the like so that the real ale bottles could be poured out and made into a nice decent pint, always the way forward I reckon. I also ensured that I had plenty enough of cakes and choc as well, helped considerably by some choc biscuits that someone had given me at work, hurrah!

As the afternoon progressed, two of my friends arrived and it was coffee and chill out sessions all round for the early evening, as well as a bit of the telly and humour to keep us all going. One of my friends needed a lie down as they'd had a hard week, so I let them get on with that and before too long not only had the Commodore 64 been dug out and switched on, but my other friend had also arrived (he had had to see to the kids first before setting off, which is understandable of course) so it was full on gaming sessions for us, as it should be.

Over the next few hours and into the morning it was a bit of a games fest, all helped with some nosh from the local takeaway Topkapi, and washed down with various beers (Black Sheep, Tribute, Landlord, Deuchars IPA and Hobgoblin for the real ale fans, and Stella for the lager fan) and it was the likes of International Karate Plus, Kikstart II (even did a quick course with the course designer and shockingly still remembered how to use it after all these years), Uridium Plus, Grand Prix Simulator, Way of the Exploding Fist (which I got panned at) and Emlyn Hughes International Soccer, still brilliant as ever, and I even changed all the team names and player names to be realistic and indeed have the four teams of which we support. Indeed.

Oh, and of course, what's become the de facto standard for any multiplayer get together, World Games! After locating my original disk it was time to have a good play of that and go through the eight events in competition mode. It was really good to battle it out with the likes of the weightlifting, barrel jumping (no jumping three this time - bit of an in joke there), cliff diving, slalom skiing, log rolling, bull riding, caber toss and ending up with the sumo wrestling at the end. It was a close contest in most of the events which showed that either the beer had taken effect or that we'd all been practicing a bit, and indeed my friend and I tied for the win in the barrel jumping with an impressive enough 14 cleared (I was going to do 15 for the final attempt but needed to clear 14 to tie, which is what I did). Of course, a fantastic game even to this day.

We also played some tunes on the rig, and one of them which stood out straight away was John Keding's "The Unknown Planet" that I'd paid for the download and then whacked on to CD. This was of particular interest to us as Commodore fans because this was the original tune as covered by C64 music legend Rob Hubbard for the soundtrack to the game "Warhawk" - and once the music track had kicked in we were all like" yes, it's the same!" and so for obvious reasons that simply has to be tune of the day without any question. Went to bed tired but happy and that the weekend had started off wonderfully well. Hurrah!

Thursday 28th February - Plug Myself In

Well for all those that get paid the end of the month, they must be cursing this year as of course it's an extra day tomorrow with it being leap year and all that, so there you go. However, today was a time to get things sorted out at work, including a PC that seemed to have contracted some viruses from somewhere, which was a doddle to get rid of with the right software (AVG is the office's weapon of choice of backup AV software use if our corporate one Sophos fails for some reason) and then on to a laptop that one of our academics had brought in where the CD drive was supposedly knackered. I checked the assembly of the CD drive for the laptop and once I'd got the surround assembly off, it was just a normal laptop CD drive, so I tried attaching a spare one to that assembly, plugged it in, and it worked. Hurrah to that I say!

I spent time on getting the house all shipshape and ready for the weekend and all seems well - the beds are all made, the duvets sheets and pillows are all done, the shopping's been bought and put away (plenty of beer of course and lots of real ale - well I have to treat my guests don't I? and everything's been given a good tidy up as well. I just have to set up and test the Commodore 64 with the new telly at some point and all should be well. It'll be interesting for sure to see how Way of the Exploding Fist works on a massive telly screen - reminds of me being at the second Back in Time Live event back in the day and being able to play it on a 40 inch plasma beastie (ooer missus and all that.)

But back to plugging in, and for some reason that made me think of DOSE featuring Mark E Smith's seminal "Plug Myself In", tune of the day if ever there was one. Mark E drawling all over a big Chemical Brothers-esque big beats with the sounds of pounding techno whilst going "Call Nitzer Ebb" (well that's what it sounds like) and "Proposed lilac coloured droplets-uh" later in the song. Makes no sense at all, but that's the while point if you ask me - just seems to be nonsensical and fun. And Mark E is genius, even Henry Rollins knows. So there.

Wednesday 27th February - Aren't Mums Great?

Had a lovely evening over at Mum's tonight. Her plans for going to Cornwall with her friend are taking shape even more so now, as delivery had taken place of the South West Coast Path guide, which basically told you about all of the walks along the coast path, and importantly how long they were and their level of difficulty in terms of climbs. This came in handy because one of the walks that Mum was going to attempt was classed as "severe" and in truth I said to her it might be a bit too much to attempt and that it might be better instead doing a walk with a bit less severity which would still mean that she would appreciate the views just as much.

I also showed her my pics of the holiday via the Flickr! slideshow option, which seemed to work very well for Mum - she could see the images clearly and had a little laugh occasionally at my captioning, which certainly made it all the more informal for Mum. I've really felt over the last few months that I've gotten back to be really close to Mum and it does for me make a difference that I'm able to feel that way. It was also good of her to make me some food for tea as well and before I knew it, it was time for some chicken with accompaniments which went down pretty well, and filled me up nicely. As did the little cake afterwards which had a nice almond flavour and some cherries in the middle, and I think Mum was pleased with the way it turned out. My empty plate pretty much told its own story on that score I reckon.

Been pretty busy as well listening to the back catalogue tonight and one of the things I did spot was Roxy Music's first album was in the CD drive of the PC, which made it an obvious candidate to listen to. For me it's still their best work because it was all weird and arty, and in essence unlike anything else around at the time. A lot of that's down to Brian Eno admittedly but also Bryan Ferry doesn't often get enough credit for actually being the frontman that stuck with that feel and who could carry the vocal performance off. A perfect example of this is in "2HB" to end side one (it's also on the Control film soundtrack, you know) which just has the right amount of weird noodling and vocals to work - so tune of the day right there.

Tuesday 26th February - Back To The Grind

And yes, it was back to work for me today, and that was a real bind especially after the weekend I'd just had. I think what hit me the most was when I was uploading the pics to my Flickr! gallery last night it just made me realise that in fact it was just what I needed at the right time and that I could feel recharged and ready to go. Well, more so if I still didn't feel a bit coughy and spluttery but there you have it. But no stop and rest for me as I've got three of my good friends coming down for the weekend and I need to make sure that everything's all sorted, as well as hopefully cram a visit over to Mum's in the week if I can.

I was checking the spare room for the spare duvets, sheets, pillow cases etc and realised that for the life of me I couldn't find the spare fitted sheets that I'd purposely bought from IKEA for the last stay around (the Bomull undyed ones). A quick check of the underbed boxes and I was able to find them and put them in the wash ready for the weekend, which also meant that I didn't have to venture out to IKEA later in the week to get some replacements which to be honest was an absolute relief and a half! It also freed up some time so once that they were done, I also spent some time putting the rest of the duvet covers and sheets to be washed as well so it was one less thing to do - and indeed then start to blow up the air beds. I don't have an electric pump, only a foot one, so as you can imagine I spent a fair bit of time working on those and getting them up and shipshape before standing them both in the office room, so at least when I got to put all the bedding on Thursday night it'd be a simple job, hopefully.

In any case, I also wanted to check that the surround rig was doing its stuff because there'd be moments during the weekend that I'd want to play the surround stuff, not least the Super Audio CD of Tubular Bells I now have. I did settle however for the DVD-Audio of REM's "New Adventures in Hi-Fi", and from there the rather excellent closing track "Electrolite". In surround you can hear the banjos and instrumentation that much better and it feels a much better experience all round - so tune of the day that most certainly is. I've always liked "New Adventures..." for some reason and rate it second only to "Green" in my choice of REM albums. I think it's also because I had the big black and white poster on my old bedroom wall which kind of fitted in with the surroundings (wish I had it now in a big frame but there you go..)

Monday 25th February - First Class Homeward Bound

I woke up this morning and knew that it was a long journey ahead of me, but at least I was safe in the knowledge that it was a direct train and that I had booked First Class in advance. Hang on I hear you cry, isn't that expensive? Well, yes, if you turn up on the day definitely. When I booked the train tickets online, going back was either going to be £31.50 advance standard class (the el cheapo £22 option had gone) or £38.50 advance first class. Now for £7 difference for all that distance, bigger seats and free refreshements, I thought to myself "I'm having some of that!" and so did the deed.

I walked up the hills to St Austell station with case in tow and had to of course carry it over the footbridge to the platform on the other side (no lifts here you know!) and be ready for the 1022. As the First Class carriage was at the front, I positioned myself on the platform and headed on to my seat, nice and big and comfy and by the window. Hurrah to that. So with iPod on, I was ready to go. When the train manager checked my ticket, she explained to me that the "at seat" service didn't commence until Bristol, but if I took my ticket to the onboard shop, I could collect what I was entitled to along the way. Fair enough, so I took a stroll down there and ordered a coffee and asked if I wanted the breakfast box. Well, not saying no to that! So I soon had a little bacon roll, a yoghurt and some apple pieces in a bag, all very nice and that set me going well.

In fact I survived well with all that and as the train headed out of Exeter I went and had another coffee so it would keep me going until we hit Bristol around 1.30pm where at seat would start and so the boxes would be lunch. Hurrah! And so it proved: plenty of "suits" type business people on there and the carriage was fairly busy, but I was smug in the fact I'd probably paid shedloads less and travelled a longer distance. The lunch box was a ham and cheese sandwich roll, some pretzels, a small Kit Kat and some more apple pieces, so that was pretty fine. Oh, and yes, more tea and coffee. We'll have some of that!

After a scheduled 20 minute pause at Hell on Earth (aka Birmingham New Street - so MJ Hibbett's song "Hell on Earth" about the same station therefore tune of the day) to let more people on (and if they wanted to escape I can't blame them) it was on the final leg to Manchester, and it was on time, so much so that the local train home was in so I quickly got a ticket, dived on that and was home in pretty quick time, so that was all good. In terms of the first class experience, it was actually really good and excellent to see that if you were prepared to book in advance, you too could occasionally lord it and be able to enjoy the journey a bit more. I certainly didn't feel too tired out when I got home and so managed to upload the pictures I took and indeed get all these diary entries written out! Just don't want to go back to work tomorrow.

Sunday 24th February - Lanhydrock and Padstein

I headed up to St Austell train station this morning to get the first train I could over to Bodmin Parkway. Like all Parkway stations it's in the middle of nowhere, but at least this one has a connecting bus to Bodmin and Padstow, and as luck would have it, it's also conveniently placed if you fancy a nice walk over to Lanhydrock House, owned now by the National Trust and its house and gardens wonderfully preserved. And as an added bonus, plenty of fresh air and exercise thrown in. Hurrah to that I thought to myself and soon enough the train arrived and off I went.

I got to Bodmin Parkway, crossed over the bridge and followed the signs for the path. In fact the path was part of an old private drive to the house itself, so you go under the railway and alongside the River Fowey until you reach a house, and then across a road and uphill to another house, which would have been used as a guard house back in the day to guard the estate, but none of that now, and then up The Avenue (as it's called) to the house itself. What the National Trust fail to tell you is that once you reach The Avenue, it's pretty steep and so you really have to put the energy in to get up there. However it's well worth it, reaching the top and looking ahead to the house and indeed the path downward, it felt awe-inspiring.

As I reached the Gatehouse, I noticed no one was on duty to take any admission fees or anything like that - quite odd considering it's National Trust property. As I was to find out later, this was because the house was closed during the winter but the gardens, shop etc were still open for looking around, and until the end of February entry was free but you could donate if you wanted to, which was fair enough I thought to myself. And it was well worth the walk too. The house from the outside looked every bit as austere as it should be with grandiose looking exteriors and crawling plants everywhere round the outside. The gardens were immaculate and I loved the trees in the front, and indeed the Higher Gardens were well worth a climb up paths to see the views from up there.

In fact, the thatched cottage was so well preserved that I sat in there for around ten minutes just looking at how well looked after the roof was from the inside, and how it kept the wind off as well, really impressive stuff. I also paused at the Summer House, simply because the view from there was absolutely stunning and I wanted to be able to take it all in. Once I'd been round the house and gardens, it was time to head back and walk (downhill this time!) to Bodmin Parkway and see what the next move I could do would be. I have to say words can't do Lanhydrock justice - it's a wonderful place and I really will need to go one summer and check the house out as well (even though the National Trust are very strict and don't allow anyone to take pics inside, which they do at least tell you beforehand).

Anyway, saw what the bus and train times were doing and realised I could get a trip out to Padstow in as well, so that was done and soon enough the 555 bus came along to take me there. Good job I did that decision, as ten minutes in, approaching Bodmin, a shower hit and it was absolutely chucking it down. Ironically the driver had Radio 1 on and it was playing Utah Saints' "Something Good" (tune of the day for me). Now of course that song samples the lyrics from a Kate Bush song, namely.. "Cloudbusting". Now you can see the irony of it all. Thankfully once the bus approached the outskirts of Padstow the rain relented enough and it was time to head into the village, past the many people who had stopped off at Rick Stein's chippy and to have a general walk around.

In fact, I headed up to the war memorial on the hill so I could get some views of both the Camel estuary and over to Rock on the other side, before heading the other side of Padstow to where the Camel Trail starts to see how it looked from there, and indeed a big abandoned ship was also there which made for quite a striking greeting for any cyclist heading along from Wadebridge, it had to be said. Time went quickly, I stopped in Rick Stein's Deli for a pasty (well what else eh?) and generally had a quick couple of hours stroll before heading on the bus back to Bodmin Parkway and then wait there for the train. The sun set whilst it was there, and through the trees the sunset looked absolutely beautiful, I'm so glad I captured that for posterity as it's the image that will last with me for a long time I reckon.

I was feeling a bit headachey so played safe and watched some of that Bruce Forsyth 80th birthday bash on BBC1 which seemed a bit too self-congratulatory in parts and too much focus on the B-list celebs who aren't basically fit to polish Bruce's shoes. However Ronnie Corbett's recollections and tributes to the man were spot on - you could tell both of them had mutual respect for each other and that emnated rather well. And to play even safer, went over the road to Pizza Hut, did their meal deal for one, all sorted and it was me happily tucked into bed later knowing I'd had a really busy day but took in as much as I could and reflected on a holiday well worth the effort.

Saturday 23rd February - Lost and Fowey

Cunning plan today: head to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in the morning and then Fowey in the afternoon, killing two places with one stone. And a peruse of the bus times told me that it was highly possible, so I had a lesiurely wake up, shower and ready and by the same bus stop as last night to head to Heligan. The bus was actually the same as yesterday, so down the scary hill into Mevagissey again, out the other side and then along a few country lanes before you reached the Lost Gardens of Heligan. And it looked pretty quiet, not because of it being Winter either, but because it was due to open at 10am and I'd got there just a few seconds beforehand. Of course this meant no queues and in I went.

The Lost Gardens are basically split into three distinct parts: there's the Northern Garden, where most of the gardens are working gardens even with fruit and vegetable plots in special places (a stunning bit of landscaping with the trees too in the fruit and vegetable garden I should add) and then there's the Summer House. It's been beautifully preserved and the flooring is the original (which stupidly I forgot to take a picture of so you will have to take my word for it) and the view from the house? Stunning, you overlook fields and then the sea and bays at the end and it's well worth a look just to see how quaint it would have been even back in the day.

Once out of the Northern Garden and then over to the Horsemoor Hide for any birdwatchers out there, it's pretty much steep paths down hills and into woodland, which is quite a contrast. Indeed if you walk along what's called the Georgian Ride, you'll end up almost doubling back on yourself at the end up a hill and then there's a hidden jungle which awaits you. This was also rather lovely: lots of plants well preserved and the likes of ponds and so on making it all the more a preserve which is a good thing. Some of the walkways are very very steep though, if you have small kids you might want to think twice about walking to this section.

Then once you reach the first pond and leave the jungle, you can head down one path back towards the Northern Garden, or, facing the private Heligan House, you can avoid its grounds by walking Westward along the Woodland walk, which is what I did in the end. And a good job too, because this way you get to see the three sculptures along the walk which were all done by local artists: two of them, the Mud Maid and the Giant's Head, were sculpted from mud, and the recent addition, The Grey Lady, made of grey and what looked like wire! Nonetheless, all striking and all well worth a look.

That done, and suitably refreshed with ginger cake and cup of tea, time to head back on the bus via St Austell to Par, where I would catch another bus to Fowey (pronouced "foy" if you want to speak it like a local). Now, the bus drops you off outside the Safe Harbour pub, and you have to walk downhill past the church to reach the main street and harbour. Not a bad walk down either, and soon the harbour was in view. As it turned out there was a ship there, the Sir Bedivere, which you could tour by taking a boat from the harbour. The sign for the boat also said that it was £1 for the ferry each way, but if you wanted to swim across it was free. Well, if you felt brave enough of course.

After mooching round the narrow streets and the harbour, I headed slightly out of town the other way walking along the tops of the houses almost, and over to the far corner where Readymoney beach was. Part of my reasoning was that I could see a castle in the distance and I do quite like seeing them, so thought it worth the effort. Got to Readymoney beach and despite it being not that warm, families were still happily playing and making sandcastles, which was rather lovely to see. On the other side of the beach you have to walk up a couple of pretty steep paths, before turning left at a handy sign post, and before you knew it, St Catherine's Castle was there before you.

The castle itself wasn't that big, but what was there was well preserved ruins and you could climb up to one of the castle turrets, and the view over the Fowey river estuary with Polruan on the other side, and the English Channel out to sea was pretty idyllic. I'd have stayed here longer if not for some couple getting a bit lovey dovey and I didn't want to infect the river with any attempts at throwing up. So instead I retraced the steps and this time went via the esplanade back to the harbour, but this time walked the other way to the other side of the harbour where the Bodinnick Ferry took cars and passengers over. The reason? Well Bodinnick is a little village on the other side of the river, a mile or so upsteam from Polruan, but crucially it has a house on the riverside which used to be the home of author Daphne du Maurier, which explained why quite a few pedestrians were getting on!

Got back to St Austell on the bus and walked back to Travelodge base, where I spent a bit of time having a relaxing lie down and listening to some music before heading off again, and out of what I had on, it seemed that "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?" by Morrissey summed it all up for me - tune of the day right there - because no one could know how happy I felt at this moment in time being at my spiritual second favourite place in the UK, and also because I was not letting the cold win and that I was doing what I could to make the most of the time anyway. And to celebrate, back into Mevagissey (knew getting an all day bus ticket was a smart move) and over to The Ship Inn (where the bus stops in fact) where I had a rather lovely steak and ale pie - no less than Tribute Ale used in the pie as well so obviously I had to have a pint of the proper stuff to accompany that, and with that done and before some karaoke cover singer got to work and pierced my eardrums, time to head back to base, watch Match of the Day and some horrible tackle on Eduardo (I'm sure that'll be the main headline tomorrow) and then grab some shut eye. The time was going too quickly!

Friday 22nd February - Mega Mevagissey

Well, I woke up when the alarm on the phone went off, I felt a bit weak on the right side and in a little pain, and I don't know whether that was because I'd slept funny or whatever virus I'd seem to have picked up was causing that pain for some reason. But I'd showered, got myself together and said to myself "If you don't go now, you'll lose the cost of travel and Travelodge stay, plus you may not get another chance to go back for a while, so sod it - do what you can and get going!". I think that little pep talk to myself actually worked for the right reasons - it got me out of the "oh I'm ill" mode and feeling sorry for myself but it also told me to actually not worry about it.

So it was with a little trepidation but lots of excitement as me, the case, and the iPod hopped aboard the 0824 from Piccadilly, bound for Plymouth. Thankfully the journey down that far went without a hitch, with plenty of hot drinks being consumed by me (even if it was £1.60 a time for coffee, two of them did the job) and even had a seat facing a window so I was able to look outside and watch the world go by - helped by the iPod randomly picking Orbital's "Last Thing" which seems to accompany train journeys perfectly and so tune of the day an easy choice there. The train did its usual stop at Hell on Earth (that's Birmingham New Street in case you wondered) on the way down before getting to Bristol, then Taunton, Tiverton Parkway (really in the middle of nowhere, I think Tiverton's 10 miles away, they should call it M5 Parkway instead because it's close to that!) and Exeter before hitting Plymouth bang on time.

I had some time to kill at Plymouth before the connecting train to St Austell, where the Travelodge I was staying at was located, so it was time to hit the Spar in the station as they have a bit in there that does hot food, and usually knockdown prices after 1pm (found this out last time I headed down there) and sure enough, one nice steak pasty later and that was lunch sorted. I then headed back across the station to platform 8 to wait the train. What I didn't expect was that it'd be a local stopping one and not those monolithic High Speed trains that First Great Western normally put on. And with lots of people waiting for it, let's just say it was rammed, even though quite a few got off at Bodmin Parkway.

Still, got into St Austell on time, and from the station it was downhill to the town centre, via the church and then on to South Street and via a roundabout, where it was a virtual building site. You see, the town centre is being made over and there's plans for a shopping centre and apartments which do look nice - so all the roads around had a "Caution - mud on road" sign. Went straight on at the next roundabout and walked down to see the Travelodge in the distance. It's actually in a convenient place: right by a roundabout that the main A390 road runs along by, it had a Costa Coffee in the same building and close by were Pizza Hut and McDonald's, if they were your thing. The petrol station on the other side of the roundabout was also a 24 hour shop and garage, always handy to know. Checked in, all seemed well and the room was the usual comfortable fare - no issues here.

I had a copy of the bus times with me and so knew that I could get to Mevagissey whilst it was still light - and as luck would have it the bus stop to go there was virtually outside the Travelodge on Pentewan Road! Hurrah! So needless to say that I soon headed on the bus and it headed via London Apprentice, Pentewan and then down a really steep hill on a narrow road and into Mevagissey itself. It was an amazing ride really, no wonder it was a small single decker bus - no way would you imagine anything else!

As for Mevagissey itself, I must admit I did fall in love with it. It's still a proper fishing village and as such many people were working on the harbour and getting their boats ready for the next morning. Plenty of the takeaways were doing the fish fresh (I myself had some gorgeous fish and chips from one of them) and people were sat outside by the harbour, most of them realising that feeding the seagulls was a bad idea (understatement). There were also walks to be taken up each side of the harbour, and the views over the rocks or to neighbouring beaches were well worth the walk up. It was pretty steep to walk up but that did the fitness the world of good it had to be said. And what could be better than having a nice freshly cooked cod as the sun sets down? Oh, and not to mention of course later on in one of the pubs I just couldn't resist and had to have a pint of Tribute, looking out of the window at the Harbour as night fell. It was pretty idllyic.

Must admit though I was feeling pretty tired so it was time to head back on the bus to Travelodge and collect the thoughts for the day. I was glad I'd decided to go and the fresh air was doing me some good. Although it wasn't necessarily warm as such, it was keeping dry, which considering the rain elsewhere was all I could wish for. And if it rained over night, so be it, I'd be asleep. Well, attempting to anyway.

Thursday 21st February - Uh Oh!

I've been coughing and spluttering through work today, which to be honest is not a good sign. If I'm coming down with a bad flu then this could really put the mockers on the whole weekend and that would be pretty bad. And as I managed to close off quite a few jobs and get everything pretty much up and ready so that I don't have a shed load of work to come back to next week, I felt a sense of achievement as I left the office today and headed home via Asda to get some essentials in for my brother's stay over here. I needed some essentials for me as well, mainly toiletries to take along, but nothing too problematic and I was soon home to finish the packing and cleaning. My brother came to pick the keys up, all seemed well.

However, throughout the evening I was coughing and spluttering more and I sneezed a fair bit too. I was really worried that becuase of the last cold I had (which was really horrid) that this could strike me down and so I did what I could within reason to try and ward it off: hot drinks were the order of the day as well as ensuring a healthy amount of bio yoghurt to try and arm myself a little beforehand. Even with all that, I was coughing a fair bit and I also found out some news earlier in the day (personal stuff) which didn't exactly make me feel that happy either. Everything happens for a reason I know, but even so it's sent to try you isn't it?

So with the clock approaching an earlier bedtime than normal, I decided to try and see what I could do in terms of sleeping it off and for that I needed something mellow to send me to sleep, so it was Donna Marie's lovely "Make You Mine" which was tune of the day - and needed too. I was gutted too that Donna had a gig in Altrincham tonight and if I hadn't have been going anywhere tomorrow then it could well have been on the agenda, but with the flu as well not a cat in hell's chance - wouldn't want to give it to her either, not with the album coming up soon!

I laid down, hoped for the best and kept my fingers crossed. I really wanted to go tomorrow but didn't want to risk the health at the same time even though often the best course of action with a cold is to ride it through naturally if you can.

Wednesday 20th February - Preparation Is Everything

Well I'm off to Cornwall this weekend (hurrah) and so I've been making sure everything is pretty much ready so I can pack the case tonight or tomorrow and get going first thing Friday morning. This unfortunately does mean lots of domestic chores and the like, so realistically I've had to get my backside in gear and really make a start to try and get as much done as I can tonight. The main thing that's taking time is that the jeans I want to take are airing themslves dry and so I want to be sure they're fine before giving them a press and then packing them ready away. Also, I've got to make sure the house is nice and tidy as my brother is very kindly looking after the place. So much to do really and not that much time.

However, I did find some time to at least get the iPod charged and also loaded with plenty of songs ready for the trip there and back. With it being some six and a half hours direct on the train back, and five and half hours, hour stop, plus another hour going there, I wanted to be sure at least I could distract myself along the way. As luck would have it, I'd just recently mp3d all the new stuff and some old stuff and so I gave a few of them a blast as I was doing the domestic chores for the evening, and one that struck out straight away was Bennet's "Wanker". Just for the title alone I should give it tune of the day but it's the last lines of the song that explain just why the title came about, and it's also quite a quirky tune as well - ah, the days of seeing them live. How I wish they were still around!

Tuesday 19th February - Swap Shop

Had another nice surprise when I got home tonight - the tickets I ordered for the Manchester City v Wigan game arrived! Now, rather sensibly, the powers that be in the ticket office allow you (if you're an Accesscard holder like me) to buy more than one ticket on the same membership card number online (it's a maximum of six I think), which then means that the tickets get printed out with the security chip inside so it allows you in the ground. What it does mean that if you have people visiting for one-off games (like three of my friends are for that weekend.) I had to email the ticket office last week to find out about this feature though, it's not exactly well publicised anywhere which strikes me as a bit daft to be honest. Still, I'm pleased though as it's front row seats in the South Stand so we'll be right with the singing lot - proper atmosphere and everything I hope.

Decided to whack on an older CD from my younger days, namely Done Lying Down's 1994 album "John Austin Rutledge". It's actually very under-rated in my view and there's plenty of great tracks on there which are well worthy of another listen. One of the singles "Just A Misdemeanour" even got occasionally played in indie clubs at the time, and overall they were short, sharp and punky tunes with plenty of guitars that hit the right chords with me. Sometimes one song would segue nicely into another and make it epic (the sequence near the end of the album, "Heroes Let Themselves Be Killed", "That Makes 1 Of Us" and "Trenchmouth" being a case in point - the last one of which is tune of the day because of its killer chorus) and so everything is well with the world.

I had a good day on the whole as well: spent a fair bit of the day sorting out a laptop, which I'm going to reinstall Windows XP on first thing tomorrow now I've managed to successfully snag all the drivers that I needed to make it all work as it should, and got quite clever during the day. You may remember reading my rant about the HP Laserjet 1600 colour printer not being Mac compatible in any shape or form? Well, one of our colleagues has the 2600 (which does work with Macs) and so I arranged a swap. It meant that they were getting a new printer, so no complaints there, and so I was able to install the 1600 on the colleague's printer, then take the 2600 over to the Mac user and install that, and everyone goes home happy. Including me.

All of which makes me wonder why more people don't run Linux if they have the chance. Is it because that they think it's too geeky, or that everything runs from the command line? The truth is much further from that. In fact, if you have time, Ubuntu is one flavour of Linux that's dead easy to use and install. Especially as as part of the install you get Firefox and OpenOffice. Which is rather nice and means you can start productive stuff straight away. Okay, it takes a litle getting used to, but I'd happily use Ubuntu more often in my rig without any issues - certainly for everyday stuff. Mind you, I still love the Novell adverts that they produced for last year's Brainshare conference: this one particularly made me giggle. I bet you can tell what it's a spoof of:

Monday 18th February - And Introducing Acoustic Guitar

I got a nice surprise when I got home from work tonight - a package had arrived from Amazon! Now while this is a fairly irregular occurrence (as I do order stuff from there occasionally) I was looking forward to this package as it was something that I'd considered ordering for some time, and now I have the hardware capabilities in my rig to play it - it just had to be mine. Especially as I have the original vinyl release and understandably I wanted to keep that in good condition. In case you are all wondering "just what is he wittering on about?" then it's the Super Audio CD of Mike Oldfield's seminal classic "Tubular Bells".

I had been toying with the idea of getting the DVD-Audio 2003 remaster, "Tubular Bells 2003", but one thing immediately turned me off it. All very well being mixed in surround, but what you don't do is replace Viv Stanshall introducing the instruments and put John Cleese in his place. As good as I'm sure John is, it just isn't the same as the original and as such was immediately disqualified. Although the Super Audio CD version is from 2001 and in some ways is based on the quadrophonic stereo mix, it was still worthy of consideration basically because it's the original, as is, just mixed nicely for the surround rigs of our time.

And so it proved. I've got to make "Tubular Bells Part One" tune of the day because the separation of the voices and instrument in surround is so well done. There's the odd anomaly, as the end acoustic part only coming out of the front right speaker, but on the whole it's very well done, and as the opening bit builds (the bit that's used in The Exorcist, in case you wondered) and gradually develops before the classic closing part comes in. And having Viv introduce the instruments with some perfect placement is just heavenly, I have to tell you. That's how it should be done.

I also spent some time tonight updating the images on my Flickr! Gallery (there's a latest set to check out too). Basically I wanted to get away from numbering them in order and inserting witty captions where possible for each picture instead, makes it all a bit more personal too. I've got a couple of sets left but I think on the whole I've succeeded in making things a bit more personal and a bit more, well.. me really. It's always nicer if you can make the effort to do that. And maybe who knows? Someone will like the captioning!

Sunday 17th February - Shredded Wheat

Had a wonderful time this afternoon and evening with a friend, as we decided that the best course of action would be to have something to munch first and then head over to the Lowry later to see Andy Parsons there. But first during the day, I had some stuff to take care of. I nipped into the city centre to firstly get some new rechargable batteries (I think the old ones have died a death in terms of being charged too many times) and then to get a birthday card and present for a friend's birthday coming up. That all done I settled down at lunchtime with a latte in Fopp, still great value at a mere quid! That's the sort of things that make the world just a happier place.

Met up with my friend later, and we headed into Varsity because they do a nice big latte, the football would be on in the background so we could keep an eye on the Preston versus Portsmouth FA Cup game, but also that we could have a good natter in the warm as well as getting some food to munch. I had the gammon and egg, which wasn't too bad - almost as good as the one in the pub near work but still pretty tasty. It filled the hole in a nice way without feeling too heavy, and conversation flowed happily as we both excitedly looked forward to tonight's show. Not been to the Lowry in ages and the Quays theatre (the smaller one) I'd not been to for a fair while as well, so a perfect excuse really.

As the trams were only running from GMex outwards, because of engineering work, we headed down past the Bridgewater Hall and to GMex Metrolink station so we could catch an Eccles line tram on to Harbour City, where it's a short walk over to The Lowry itself. That walk was done in no time, not least because it was quite nippy outside with it going dark and we wanted to keep warm. We headed to the bar by the Quays theatre, got ourselves a drink as well as pre-ordered an interval drink (absolutely essential unless you want to spend the entire interval queueing for a drink that you'll only have 30 seconds to have before going back in) and picked up the tickets from the box office.

And wow, good tickets or what? We were in the stalls tier so we were above the stalls level, and as we were in the front row, we had a great view with no bobbing heads in the way or tall people, and comfy chairs to boot. Apparently the seats were normally held for corporate customers but had been released a week ago to normal people like our good selves. Let's just say that we were pretty chuffed. Even better was a mix CD of music playing with several ace tunes, including stuff from The Clash and even better, The Cure's classic "Inbetween Days" which my friend and I both love. So no contest - tune of the day nailed there and then. Yaay!!

As for Andy Parsons, well he was very good indeed. He did 45 minutes, then it was interval time, and then another 45 minutes or so after that, which worked out very well. He spotted someone in the front row who had come along to see him back in November, and instantly was taking the mickey but in a fun way, and had good banter with most of the front row. In fact half of the 7th row were missing, only for some of them to turn up post-interval with Andy commenting that maybe they'd gone in to see Dionne Warwick by mistake (she was on at the main Lyric theatre in case you wondered) and thought "this isn't funny, and where's the guy with the bald head?" - hehe.

Also, the best sketch he did (and I'm not going to spoil it too much for you) is all about Shredded Wheat, and what he says is very true. Well, if you've ever seen the ads and how it proclaims "no added sugar or salt" you'll get the idea of what he's going to rant on about, but in a very clever way as well. I suggest in that case you get a ticket and find out for yourself, but suffice to say you'll be entertained. I came out of the venue giggling and thinking back to sketches so that's a good thing. And before I knew it, I was back on the bus home and my friend was taking the tram, and the weekend was over.

Saturday 16th February - Shipwrecks And Sand

Spent a rather nice day out with a friend today and headed out to the Fylde Coast. Now if you wondered just why anyone would want to be anywhere near the likes of Lytham St Annes, Blackpool and the like on an admittedly sunny winter's day, well a few weeks back there was a ferry, the Riverdance, which ran aground on the beach at Cleveleys just after a freak wave had washed it there, whilst it was on its way to Heysham from Northern Ireland. BBC News has more on the story if you wish to read it. In any case, it would be a case to see how close we could get to the ferry itself to actually see how much it had ran aground and indeed the continuing rescue operation.

Heading up past the windmill at Lytham, then throught the Golden Mile onwards, once the North Shore been deserted and Bispham had been passed and heading towards Cleveleys, there was the most amazing sight of the Riverdance well and truly beached, and as you'd expect, several people out there with cameras attempting to get some more images of the sight. However, in recent days security has been stepped up and we were able to walk so far down the beach before being stopped. "Can't go beyond here" said a burly man in a Polish accent. And indeed the word "stop" had been written in sand just to the right, in case anyone was in any doubt. Over the other side of where the ferry was, there was actually orange polythene marking out how far you could go, and the road had been barricaded off as well for some reason.

Still, got plenty of views of that and it was intriguing to see that the sand was either really firm or sludgey with no in between. It felt like the opening line of Morrissey's "Every Day Is Like Sunday" (ie: "trudging slowly over wet sand") but it was worth it to see just how aground the ferry was. In fact it was worth venturing out towards the sea to be able to see some of the rescue operation still taking place in order to get it back seaworthy, and also how little kids were able to happily have a bit of a play by the sea during their half-term break, which was pretty nice all round.

Headed into Blackpool a bit later and had a bit of a stroll down the front. It still seemed fairly busy but with the winter sunshine and with most of the tacky places closed, it didn't seem half as bad as it normally can be. It also looks like there's some form of barrier being built between the Central and North Piers, I think this is possibly because of some high tides and there could well be the makings of a flood barrier there. But nonetheless some things don't change: the millions of amusement arcades, the Doctor Who exhibition blaring out the theme and enticing everyone to have a look inside, along with the Coronation Street one next door, oh, and on top of that millions of things where you can win a prize by scoring so many with darts, except it's nigh on impossible to do if your brain works logically to be able to see that!

Nonetheless, fun all round really and it's always interesting to be in places out of season - which is what'll be happening when I go to Cornwall soon so I can see things as they normally are without the denizens of the touristy masses necessarily being there. That in itself is going to be an experience, I think, and it'll be good. And overall it was really nice to get out and spend some quality time with a friend as well which is always a good thing. I think what I've discovered over the last eighteen months is that time with friends should really be appreciated, and I'm looking forward to going to see Andy Parsons with a friend tomorrow. Yaay. Aren't these things great?

I now though have the theme tune to Kick Start in my head after today as it was being hummed a couple of times. I remembered the TV show of course but even more so the Commodore 64 game, which was rather good to say the least (the sequel with the inbuilt course designer was even better - a true gaming classic!). But of course Peter Purves was your host on the telly for some bike riding, so the show's theme tune, "Be My Boogie Woogie Baby" by Mr Walkie Talkie is tune of the day and as for some classic clips of the show, well these two parts below show it off at its best: the end of the second part is particularly dramatic, and you have to love the title sequence in part one. So here goes:

Friday 15th February - The Mixed Bag Of Friday

Well, it's been a mixed bag of a day today to be honest. First off, I managed to get quite a bit of cleaning up of the hard disk at work done. Over time I've accumulated so much in terms of software and drivers as well as ISO images of CDs that we actually use from time to time and thought it best to backup the ISO images to one of our servers for safety, as well as clean out the rubbish as well that simply isn't needed anymore. Along the way I was running a diagnostic test on a laptop hard drive for one of our Heads, and had to break the bad news that the hard drive had failed the basic test so it was a back to the manufacturer job.

I also came across an interesting laptop problem on another laptop whereby Photoshop CS3 wouldn't install. Got rid of any possible spyware and possibly interfering programs, still no joy. Then I read the posts on the Adobe forums and the answer was pretty clear - other people were having the same annoying problems, because the Adobe installer uses a mix of both MSI and Javascript to do the install, which is messy. If you find you're having the same problem, go to a command prompt and type regsvr32 jscript.dll - once the message appears, run the install and see what happens! You'll be amazed, honestly. I was at least as it meant I could finish the job off and get everything neat and shipshape.

Did the food shopping at Tesco on the way home and picked up something at the same time - Ratatouille on DVD. Well it was £8 for this week only and at that price seemed a bargain. Other stores were doing the "buy this and get another Pixar DVD for a fiver" but with me being such a Pixar film diehard I already have all the others on DVD (in fact I bought Finding Nemo on Region 1 so I could own it months before the UK DVD release and got it the week after I saw it at the cinema here, woo!) What I did also see was that now Valentine's Day was out of the way, it was full on with the eggs, so that means, amongst other things, Rolo eggs are now a bit easier to get hold of as well as anything else apart from Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Also, competition for egg prices are meaning that they're getting pretty much cheaper this year. Might have to treat myself to a Cadbury's Buttons one nearer the time..

Spent a bit of time tonight clearing up the house and then later on clearing up the iPod and starting afresh transferring tracks to it. EphPod came up with an annoying "list index error" message which I fixed by rolling back the version from 2.77 to 2.75, which seems a lot more stable and works really well. It does mean that I can transfer tracks without needing an iTunes library on my PC to synch from all the time, giving me much greater flexibility as to how I use it. And with the lovely people at play.com now offering music downloads DRM-free for cheap, that might work out in favour too.

But going back to music and going back to transferring stuff, I spent a bit of time transferring some of the new purchases over to it, including the Klaxons' "Myths of the Near Future". I then remembered what my favourite track off it was and just had to play it pretty loudly with the sound turned down, as you do. So whack on "Atlantis To Interzone" at full blast and just see wht you have to play it at night with the lights off. Tune of the day - without a shadow of any doubt!

Thursday 14th February - Where's That Sick Bag?

It seems that a fair number of people out there today seemed to want to indulge in the love-fest that is Valentine's Day and make me feel bloody inferior to be single. For example this morning when I was getting the bus into work there was a couple clearly infatuated who insisted on kissing a bit too much together, and by that I mean tongues and virtually undressing each other. Surely it'd have been better to wake up feeling like that, get frisky and then get it on before you go to work? I dunno. Made me giggle at work though as one of my colleagues was hoping to get a card off their partner, and they sounded like the life depended on getting a card. To be honest, it's no big deal, and as I've said many times before, love is all year round, not just today. I only hope everyone out on a romantic meal tonight realises that and actually takes their partners out for the odd romantic meal a bit more often. Call me an old romantic at heart despite the slightly grumpy exterior.

As part of extending that sort of belief, I got home from work and decided to just have a relatively relaxed night in. So I started off first by watching Control on DVD, which has lost none of its impact from when I saw it at the cinema. It truly was a really good film (my favourite of last year in fact) and watching it with the surround cranked up and in the full 2:35 to 1 widescreen ratio, it really does come alive somewhat. I really like the evocative use of the soundtrack throughout, the way that the epilepsy is dealt with sensitively but as an important part of it all (which it was of course) and indeed just how the affair with Annik developed. Of course, the fact that Sam Riley (who plays Ian Curtis) and Alexandra Maria Lara (Annik) actually are now an item in real life probably helps define the on-screen chemistry somewhat. Mind you, Samantha Morton is also very very good as Debbie too - and it's lost none of anything for me. A thoroughly enjoyable watch and I'll have to watch the making of at some point over the weekend.

I timed it just right so I could switch over to BBC1 and watch the second episode of Ashes to Ashes. It was quite well done in terms of gut reaction and instinct, although of course Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt was the master of the masterstroke: "You need to learn from the Gene Genie!" - classic. Great moment early on when the Quattro is fired up and he deliberately brakes so that he doesn't damage the car, but also a really well thought out moment near the end when DI Drake's words of "don't give up the fight" almost come back to haunt her. I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that it works well enough so far. I still think that Life on Mars has the edge to a fair degree, but I also think that it would be easy for Gene Hunt to have his own cop series set any time - just call it "The Gene Genie" or something, hehe.

And there is the link to today's tune of the day - "The Jean Genie" by David Bowie. You see, in Life on Mars that's partly how Gene Hunt got his nickname, because of the song, and early on in Control when Ian Curtis is in his bedroom he sings along and prances about like Bowie to the same tune, before whisking off Deborah to a Bowie gig. I was one year old when this song came out, but as I grew up and my father had plenty of Bowie on vinyl, I'd listen to them and actually quite like them. I guess as well that often what your folks listened to could influence your music collection to some degree.

Wednesday 13th February - Not In My Name

Went over to Mum's after work as my Mum wanted me and her to have a look at some more Cornwall stuff and get some more ideas for her break away later in the year. We did find a great place that dealt with the South West Coast Path and also had links to guides and maps that you could purchase, so we ended up seeing what was out there and ordering a couple of things to see as a taster if they were any good and suitable for what they wanted to do when they got there. Realistically, I think that knowing how fussy Mum might be over where she'd want to stay and in terms of the food etc, winging it for parts of the week might prove to be more expensive than her and her friend realise! But we'll see.

The good thing was that Mum also made me one of my favourite meals ever for my tea, and that set me up nicely. When you're a little cold with the weather turning sour and you want to be able to keep warmed up, potat rash is just the thing and it tasted spot on, as it usually does. As a kid is was the only way that Mum could get me to eat carrots as they'd be disguised within the rash and so I couldn't instantly tell what they were. Now it doesn't bother me one bit, I eat the lot without any problems and especially as Mum knows not to put any onions whatsoever near it. Isn't it great when you get looked after?

Headed home a bit later and started to think more about the No To Game 39 petition (or Gam£ 39, get it?), which as you may have seen is now linked from the front page of the site. I was one of the first 150 signatories and now it's reached over 10,000 signatures, and the cause is an absolutely just one. For me, the prospect of my beloved Man City playing in Asia or America for a Premier League game against any team, and therefore either gaining an advantage or deficit, doesn't seem right to me. Plus it makes a mockery of tradition of playing each other home and away as well as countless other reasons. Richard Scudamore, the chairman of the Premier League, is an evil person and his plans and those of some of the greedy Premier League chairman must be stopped before it's too late. Please join in and sign the petition, because it's for the good of the game.

And as for protest songs to go along with that, well sometimes you can't get much better than a real song of passion and anger. Some of you might remember Chumbawumba and Credit to the Nation getting together and producing the absolutely classic "Enough is Enough", a true anthem of anti-racism, a feel echoed by Pop Will Eat Itself's "Ich Bin Ein Auslander", but in terms of looking at protests from a different angle, The Levellers win hands down: their song "Not In My Name", co-written with Nick Harper, pretty much nails it hands down in terms of an anti-war protest and for that reason, it's tune of the day.

Tuesday 12th February - Bring Back Frank Black!

Went along to the Academy 2 tonight to see Black Francis perform. I guess when you consider that his real name is Charles Michael Kitridge Thompson IV, well wouldn't you want to shorten it? Of course, when he was in the Pixies, it was Black Francis, and then once he went solo, for years it was Frank Black. He decided to revert back to Black Francis a while ago, and indeed the new album Bluefinger out last year was released under that moniker, and it was a good solid album as well, with many of the music magazines finding him back in favour. Could a name change have really done all that?

Got to the Academy 2 and was fairly excited as the last couple of times he played as Frank Black, it was a two hour set each time and even in one of them playing on through a curfew as long as he could get away with, which as you can imagine made for a classic gig. And as the running order showed that he was on at 9 and the curfew was at 11, that could mean a potential two hour set, which would be good. I like it when I see potential, as that means you get an idea of what's going to happen when.

The support band, XX Teens, were truly, how can I put it, awful. To say that they're poor would be the masters of understatement. Imagine, if you will, a five piece where there's not that much cohesion in what they're playing, where the drummer is the best bit of the band and where one of the two singers tries to drawl like Mark E Smith of The Fall and fails miserably to even get close to the Godlike genius of Mark E, and you're pretty much there. Not even any banter or any suggestion of what the songs were called in the event of being able to try and gain some new fans, and to be honest, if I didn't hear them again then that would be fine. Sorry, but I can't see how the music press can hype up these lot.

All of which let me feeling a bit let down, and I was just glad when Black Francis took to the stage after 9pm. Now what was the set was good, and he certainly was playing the guitar really well and showcasing not only Bluefinger but the forthcoming new mini album next month, as well as some blues classics along the way, and even playing some brand new tracks as well, always a risk but well worth doing. And for that I was appreciative of him doing, and it certainly sounded nice and raw, just how I like it. I'm sure though that someone heckled him at the front to play old Pixies stuff, which probably peed him off to some degree - after all, it's up to him if he includes those kind of things isn't it?

Before I knew it, it was all over. He and his bassist and drummer said goodbye and left the stage, the lights came on and everyone filed out. I then looked at the watch - 10.15pm. An hour and a quarter. Sure, it went by quick, and that was due to the tightness of the set and the quality of the playing, nothing wrong there, but for me the set just seemed way too short and in truth, I was expecting longer. As it turned out, part of the reason was that before the gig he'd also done an impromptu set at Big Hands bar down the road which was just him acoustic and a few tracks, but why wasn't this more publicised so I could have gone along? Well if that's the future, bring back Frank Black, that's what I reckon. And this I should remind you is coming from someone who bought the Pixies records at they came out back in the day and was old enough to remember them first time round and indeed has "Doolittle" as one of his favourite albums of all time.

Proof of the pudding was when I got home and the first thing I could actually think of was playing was Frank Black's "Whatever Happened To Pong?" still a classic to this day and reminds me of the old days of early video gaming when it was the new thing to do down the local bar to whup everyone at instead of the usual pursuits like card games and pool And for that nostalgic reason, that's tune of the day. That's better already..

Monday 11th February - Cloud Nine, Here I Come

I went into work this morning with a massive grin on my face. I couldn't help myself. The feeling of when you win on Derby Day is always a special one because you know that there's good banter to be had amongst the fellow fans of either team, but also because you know that you now have bragging rights for the next few months, and my, haven't City earned them this time around. My colleague freely admitted that when he saw the scoreline he thought "oh no, what's Warren going to be like tomorrow?" and of course I was happily basking in the glory, for at least today anyway.

I heard a few jokes before I went in this morning, such as the fact that the United fans thought it was 90 minutes' of silence and not 1, and that apparently the United players went for a curry on Sunday night but all that was on the menu was Chicken Benjani. Haha. Nonetheless it was good to be able to have a smile on my face and get on with the day - and plenty to do as well. The new printer arrived for one of the staff, and it was a networked one that they'd be sharing, so it was a case of getting everything set up including the network address, and then making sure that it would respond okay so I could deploy that tomorrow.

I also spent some time with a laptop where for some reason Windows refused to load due to a missing file. I'd seen that error before and it's to do with the Windows registry, which isn't good whatsoever. I remembered there's a whole big knowledge base article about how to get yourself back up and running, which isn't for the faint hearted, let me tell you. I typed in all the commands and did everything as prescribed, which takes time, but before I know it, I had a workable desktop. The only other issue was then removing the beta of IE7 someone had installed so I could put the proper release on there. As it turned out, if that user didn't install it, you had to hack the registry to make Windows pretend you had, so you could remove it. Oh yes, and it only seemed to remove the betas in Safe Mode. Ouch.

Got home and on the way home nipped into the local Asda to see if they had any copies of Control on DVD, as it was out today. Not only did they have but the price was right as well so one purchase later and I was on my way home a very happy person, knowing that I could watch that later in the week. What I might do as a completely anti-Valentine's Day thing is watch it then, simply because it would mean that I'd think about something else and treat the day as a normal day, and have the music of Joy Division playing to really immerse myself in something different. I did have a quick peek at the full versions of the four actors who played the band doing the live songs, and it sounded excellent. And if you didn't see the film? Buy it. On DVD. Sort of now.

Had a bit of a prog rock fest tonight in terms of the music I was listening to, starting off with some Edgar Broughton Band (if you don't know who they are, ask your dad and he should know) and then moving on very nicely to some classic Deep Purple in the days when their albums were on Harvest, and indeed "Deep Purple in Rock" being the classic album that it is. I finished off with Roy Harper's "HQ" and there's a good reason for this, which will be revealed in the next couple of weeks. I always liked the fact that it sounded a bit more rockier than his more folky rock stuff, and in the excellent "The Spirit Lives" is a whole indictment of religion and what it stands for, which is fine by me and therefore tune of the day.

Sunday 10th February - What A Beautiful Day!

Right now I'm inclined to whack on "Beautiful Day" by The Levellers at full blast and dance around the front room in the dark and not care. But I won't. It's almost midnight as I'm typing this, I feel the bed calling me, but I have to tell you, I've had an absolutely wonderful day and it's the sort of day that basically dreams are made of. Allow me to explain.

First off, woke up and over breakfast watched back the BBC HD recording of the Later.. show from the night before. My, the Morrissey stuff looked excellent in HD and it was so great to watch the songs performed in crystal clear high defintion - why BBC don't show it in HD the same time as on BBC 2 is beyond me! I was also quite impressed with Joe Brown - he's been going ages now, but the first song he played with a ukelele (must tell MJ Hibbett about that) and the second with a violin, and sounded rather good both times. It's also a reminder to The Kids out there that being in music isn't about instant gratification per se, but about building up your audience and also doing what you want to do to enjoy yourself while making them happy too. Yaay for good music shows, that's what I say.

The afternoon, as you'd expect, was taken up by the Manchester derby. I was so worried that before the game the minute's silence wouldn't be observed by everyone and that there would be some idiots out there who would ruin the occasion, but rivalries and tribalness were put aside as both sets of fans impeccably observed the silence, and it was rather moving to see the blue and white scarves and the red and white scarves, given to fans on the day, held aloft in memoriam and to provide a fitting tribute to what was a dreadful accident. Not even a football or Man U related accident, but an accident that was just a horrible thing to happen. Common sense had prevailed, and the England "fans" who had broken the silence on Wednesday should look at how Mancunians, red and blue alike, came together and shared the right moment in the right way.

I don't know if it was that or indeed Sven's team talk before the game that had inspired the City players somewhat, but once the first few minutes had gone past and the game had started to settle down that I actually inside felt quite optimistic about at least getting a draw. Playing the five man midfield with just Benjani up front was designed to try and stifle United a bit, and with City attacking their own fans and United the Stretford End, any home advantage would be nullified a bit - plus the sun was in the eyes of their players that half, so an important toss to win by the Dunnie Monster (Richard Dunne). And as the game went on, confidence grew as it was clear the sense of occasion was starting to get to some of the United players. Understandable, maybe, but nonetheless something to take note of.

And twenty five minutes in, me, my brother, my uncle and his son, all celebrated like mad. A superlative pass from Martin Petrov from the left (later to be called by no less than Alan Hansen as pass of the season, rock on!) found Stevie Ireland's run, and his shot was saved by van der Sar. Darius Vassell shot and it hit van der Sar and came back out, but he was cool enough to slot it home past the United defence for 1-0. Unbelievable! I was going mental, and my brother, being a big Vassell fan, was virtually kissing the screen in delight at seeing the man do the business.

At the back, Micah Richards and the Dunnie Monster were keeping United at bay, with able support from Didi Hamann, who dominated the midfield and showed experience beats pace every time if you have the intelligence to be able to do something with it. It kept Cristiano Ronaldo quiet and all he'd do was fall on the floor and whinge a lot, which is something even the United fans are probably sick of him doing now. It was still a case of the confidence being there for City, and after a Petrov cross was narrowly saved at the feet of the improving Gelson Fernandes, we had a corner. The initial cross was blocked, but Ireland found Petrov, he floated the ball back in, and Benjani glanced it off his shoulder and past van der Sar and it was 2-0!

Yes, two nil, and just before half time. I was in dream land. I had to pinch myself to think that it was City actually with a chance of turning United over at Old Trafford for the first time since 1974 - way too long in my view. And at half time you could see the City players start to look and think "we can do this today, lads!". The second half went on and I was expecting some United pressure, after all to be fair they are good at their comebacks if need be and that's what's made them champions over the years. But it never came. Didi Hamann struck a thunderous shot goalwards, Ireland and Benjani almost combined to get another goal, and it was a real team effort and performance, even if it was spoiled by conceding a well struck Michael Carrick strike late on.

Near the end though, the City fans really did hold sway, comfortably outsinging the United fans, and in the surround it sounded absolutely awesome. Great chants of the day were "F*** off back to London, f*** off back to London, na na na na" (to the United fans leaving 10 mins early) and "Benjani, wooooah, Benjani, wooooah, he comes from Zimbabwe, he scored on Derby Day.." along with a real classic: "Fergie's right, your fans are s****e". This referred to Sir Alex Ferguson having a go at his own fans for being too quiet and not backing the team during a home game recently. Not to mention of course Blue Moon at full volume along with "We're Not Really Here" and best of all right at the end an undisputed chant of "We're The Pride of Manchester". Well, cos we are now. Official. The first home and away win in the league in the same season since 1970 was definitely reason to celebrate for me (hell, I wasn't even born when that happened) and it just made me feel so wonderfully happy.

Before I got too carried away, there was still a gig to go to later as well. I headed over to my friend's place and the two of us headed off down the M62 towards Liverpool to see Amy Macdonald. Although my friend is a United fan, he's very honest about any performance and admitted that the team didn't turn up today, and that City deserved their win. I really applaud him for that and for being so sporting, and we had a good discussion about the game whilst listening to the dullness of the Chelsea-Liverpool game on Five Live. And believe me, it was absolutely dull. We managed to get a good parking spot pretty close to the venue and then headed off into the centre of Liverpool to grab something for tea - and a local Wetherspoons more than sufficed for that!

Back to the Liverpool Academy we headed, and it seemed a nice enough venue. It reminded me of Manchester Academy 2 somewhat in terms of size, although the bars here were at least in the venue and not outside it, and there was a nice balcony for people to view the gig from as well. My friend and I managed to get a good spot to the left front of the stage which was excellent for us both to see from, and we hoped that Amy would do a longer set than the forty five minutes she did when I saw her at the Roadhouse last year, as good as that was. I kept thinking that it's a sign of the times as she's gone from there in Manchester to doing Academy 3 last year, Academy 2 in a couple of weeks, and then Academy 1 in May, so gradually playing bigger venues.

On came the first support act, Julian Velard (official site) (Myspace) - and he was very good. He mainly played the keyboards/piano while singing his songs, and had a bass player and drummer who looked all very cool and bohemian New Yorker stylee, with a tight and coherent sound. I liked what he did and I kept thinking he'd be perfect on tour with Barenaked Ladies. He really went for it with the keybord/piano and showed a heck of a lot of enthusiasm in his playing, which impressed me no end. He also seemed not to waste time chatting but getting lots of songs into the set, good for him I say. I think he's got an EP out somewhere which I might have to track down.

Next up was the more acoustic Cass Lowe (Myspace) - and he wasn't bad either. A bit more mellow all round, and mostly it was just him and guitar. He did have someone helping out on keyboards occasionally, who looked a dead ringer of "Tubes" from Soccer AM. But nonetheless, reasonably good. He even whacked in a slightly different sounding acoustic version of "The Love Cats" by The Cure, which was all very well.

But then for whom everyone wanted to see, Amy Macdonald. Dressed in a shimering silvery top and jeans, and with her trusty guitar tech changing the guitar at virtually every song, it was a darned good effort all round. The band sounded a lot tighter than when I saw her last, and also it seemed as well that her voice has matured a little too - it sounds a bit more passionate and really into it, and she was quite happy to walk around the stage with the guitar with a grin on her face, which got everyone in the right mood. As you would have expected, the singles did well, namely "Poison Prince", the gorgeous "Mr Rock and Roll" (my tune of the day because she nailed it and everyone could feel the happy vibes) and album tracks such as "Footballers' Wife" and "The Road To Home" were also well received.

She did have a nice surprise though: on came Steve Cradock from Ocean Colour Scene, and she knew of him from his playing with Paul Weller as well as OCS. As it turned out she asked him to play on the tour, and he obliged. So not only was there a cover of OCS' "The Riverboat Song" (even if Amy did forget the words half way through to giggles from the audience in a nice way) but he also played the guitar on what's going to be the new single "Run", so there's something to look forward to as well. It was a nice touch that, and as well as that surprise she played two new songs over the course of the set, as well as her cover of The Killers' "Mr. Brightside" - before I knew it, it was curfew and time to leave, but definitely a good set and now I'm sorely tempted to go to the Academy 1 on 22nd May - we shall see.

My friend and I headed back towards Manchester with a Morrissey live CD to keep us company, and a good live CD it was too, it featured one of my favourite B-sides "Disappointed", which I still happen to know all the words to, as well as old Smiths classics such as "Girlfriend In A Coma", "Panic" and best of all, and possibly still my favourite Morrissey song, "Everyday Is Like Sunday". And yes, for the record, I do know all the words to that one, and it's not often I can say that. All in all then, what a day and half that was and it made me so chuffed to be blue and also to see a good gig at the same time. Rock, and rock again!

Saturday 9th February - Screws Loose

Well, not literally anyway, I'm not that way inclined, you know! Allow me to explain. After my usual weekly dose of Soccer AM with the rather lovely Helen Chamberlain on Sky Sports 1 it was time to head off to my friend's place as he wanted some of the drives from the old PC fitting in the new one, such as the card reader/floppy combo drive and the DVD writer as well. Thankfully it was quite easy getting them out of the old case, as it was a screwless case, but what proved difficult was putting them in the new one. Not because of having to prise off some of the metal to be able to slide the drives in, oh no, but because there were hardly any screws to be able to screw the drives in with. Eventually we found some of the right ones and were at least able to make the drives pretty secure, and once they were checked in Windows to be present, the job was done - and if could find any more I'd bring them over so they could all be tightened up nicely.

Had a chilled out afternoon with my friend, mainly talking football, listening to the live commentary of games on Radio 5 Live and also talking about plenty of music, where David Bowie and Morrissey were the topics of conversation for the day, not least as Mozzer was on the Jools Holland Later.. show the night before. Thankfully BBC iPlayer had the show on so we were able to see some of it over the web, and as it turned out he did four songs. One of which was brand new, and it was "Something Is Squeezing My Skull", which we both enjoyed - so tune of the day definite winner that one is. I didn't watch the whole thing but was interested to see that the Moz stuff looked good and doing one of my personal favourites at the end was a class move.

Anyway, got home later on and didn't win the lottery (boo) and then looked at the BBC HD schedule, and what's on there? Only the Later.. show from Friday night, in HD! Which meant that I could watch the Morrissey performances in high definition. I set the Sky HD box to record that before heading off to bed (because it was on quite late to be honest) and knew that it would set me up nicely for tomorrow.. the very small matter of Manchester City against Manchester United and the whole possibilities that it would bring if City managed to win - well I can hope, can't I?

Friday 8th February - Reissue! Repackage! Repackage!

Had a mixed sort of day today really. On one hand I did at least manage to get a couple of things fixed at work that I needed to get sorted out. One of them was a challenge and nightmare though: to get data off an old Pentium II based Windows 98SE laptop, with a faulty CD drive and faulty floppy drive, meaning that you couldn't install any drivers whatsoever for USB pen drives and the like to then be able to transfer data off. What I had to do was use a screwdriver to take off some of the bottom of the case revealing the hard drive case and assembly, and then when that was done to unscrew the hard drive assembly so I could then connect it via USB to the PC (I have a laptop to USB adapter for laptop hard drives, amazingly handy let me tell you) and then get all the data off that way. It worked, but because the laptop hard drive was slow then so was everything else - got there in the end though.

Also the engineer came out to fix the two colour Laserjet 4650Ns today, and spent a fair few hours getting everything sorted out. It turned out that the fuser gears had gone on one of them (the other had had its gears recently replaced) as well as the fact that the sensors were mucky. All I can say is thank heavens for taking out the HP Care Pack extended warranty on them both, otherwise I would dread to think what the repair bill would be including the parts for that!

I had a quick look in Sifter's in Burnage before doing the weekly food shop, and I noticed that there was an advert for the forthcoming Morrissey "Greatest Hits" album released on Monday, as part of his new deal with the Decca label. I find it particularly ironic considering Morrissey's lyrics in The Smiths' classic "Paint a Vulgar Picture" which proclaims "Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs." I also find it somewhat ironic in the track listing that a high number of the songs are actually ones from his two most recent albums "You Are The Quarry" and "Ringleader of the Tormentors" with occasional nods to his early classic singles such as "Suedehead" and "Everyday Is Like Sunday". But as for a Greatest Hits album? No way.

For a start, where's the absolutely brilliant "November Spawned A Monster"? And where is "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful", or "Pregant For The Last Time" either? Too much concentration on the new stuff for me, I'm just thankful that the limited CD has at least something for the diehards in terms of live tracks, but still nonetheless it's a bit of a rip-off to be perfectly honest. It just smacks of double standards when Morrissey seems to have on one hand slated the music industry for their countless re-issuing of the stuff, and yet he sees it fit to do it himself. Sour taste in the mouth? Definitely.

Anyway, enough of that. Re-watching bits of Ashes to Ashes tonight (thank heavens for Sky Plus!) meant that I could have a go over of it and see if it stood up after a first watch. I have to say that Ultravox's "Vienna" still holds itself as a classic, even if it was kept off the top by, of all things, Joe Dolce's "Shaddap Ya Face". And which tune do people regard highly in years to come? So Midge and go definitely had the last laugh. So when he's not now competing on Celebrity Masterchef or attempting to end poverty, he came up with gems like Vienna - tune of the day without a doubt. I even have the album on CD. And as the video is a classic..

This means nothing to me.. oh... Timperley! As Frank Sidebottom once sang. Although there's still people who think that the place name is made up because of Frank. Who are these fools?

Thursday 7th February - Fire Up The Quattro!

Had a fairly busy day today, but mainly being on hand and on call, as it was an important inspection for one of our courses taking place today and just in case anyone needed any assistance or indeed if the plotters needed any maintenance - I'd done most of it the day before such as making sure all the colour calibration and print heads were fine, but nonetheless always good to make sure that everything's been taken care of. I also managed to arrange a call out to our colour laser printers, which had decided to die rather spectacularly with the same symptoms of paper jamming as it comes out of the top cover via the fuser unit. I have a feeling that it's possibly related to the paper sensors, or indeed the heat that might be going through the units at certain times of day, but I'll have to see what happens when we have the engineer out tomorrow.

Which made the opening episode of the new series Ashes to Ashes all the more worth looking forward to. Of course I loved Life on Mars and only hoped that this series (basically Gene Hunt along with Ray and Chris now in 1981 with DI Alex Drake, a new character) would be as good. And what did I think after seeing the first episode? Well, the jury is well and truly out on this one. On the positive side, Philip Glenister is brilliant as Gene, and really has that look of a really hard 1980s DCI to a tee. There's also some good attention to detail in the fact that one of the ghostly characters chasing Alex Drake around is in fact the clown character from the David Bowie Ashes to Ashes video, played in the video by Bowie himself (a classic vid and no mistake) and that it looked rather 1980s urban gritty. A neat touch was for example when Drake woke up in 1981 and departed the boat, she looked across and where the Millennium Dome would be now was just wasteland, neat. Anyway, here's Bowie:

;

On the minuses, I'm not sure if the storyline is going to as strong to measure up to Life on Mars, and that's of concern. No matter how good the acting is, a weak plot always certainly seems to undermine things, and Drake's almost obsessive nature of nailing Layton (wonderfully played by Sean Harris, who played Ian Curtis in 24 Hour Party People) reminded me of how Sam Tyler was in the first episode of series 2 of Life on Mars. What also was a let down was the feature of the yuppies - they certainly weren't around until the mid 1980s and it was a mistake having them in - certainly 1981 was about riots, the Royal Wedding (the theme for next week it seems) and a general feeling of Thatcherite ruled depression that hung over everyone. I am hoping that the series does develop well and any potential chemistry between Drake and Hunt works in a good way. Keeley Hawes is decent enough as Drake, her 2007 character quite feisty and suited but her 1981 one seemingly lost and portrayed well enough. For me though, it stood okay as a drama on its own but there's clear references to Life on Mars that make it impossible not to think of that excellent series. I'll have to see how it goes.

One plus point though: excellent use of 1980s classic songs throughout the programme. Of course the aforementioned David Bowie classic is there, Ultravox's "Vienna" also got a look in as well, but then there was the classic Clash track "I Fought The Law" which just has to win tune of the day - seemingly well placed in an ironic sense that it was playing when Hunt and co were seeking the drug dealers and attempting to go and kick their backsides! Mind you, said Clash track was released in 1979 so at least it would have been played at many indie/alternative/punk nights even in 1981 - and of course even if it is a cover.

Key line of the day: Gene Hunt preparing to rock and kick backside later in the episode: "Fire up the Quattro!" - delivered like a classic.

Wednesday 6th February - Holiday Plans But Not For Me

Another day of getting things sorted, well apart from one annoying thing. One of our academics had a new colour laser printer delivered, and so I arranged a suitable time with him to go and install it. It was only once I'd tried to connect it up and nothing came out that I realised that there was a major problem: it was a HP Colour Laserjet 1600, and it only works with Windows and not Macs. There's no Mac drivers, and even the packaging doesn't have any mention of Mac on there. I did find a kludge method of attempting to get it to work and I managed to print the odd page but it still wasn't reliable enough - so we're going to see if our supplier can swap it for a Colour Laserjet 2600, which does work on Mac. Rather annoying though that it's quite hard to find the information about compatibility, and there's several Mac forums that have been complaining bitterly about this. Ah well, sometimes using a Mac isn't that easy after all..

Went over to see Mum straight after work, and for two good reasons: firstly Mum was going to be cooking me some tea, and my Mum's cooking is rather good - she invited me over as well because, secondly, she wanted to see if I could locate some flights for her down to Newquay so she could work on a summer break idea that her and a friend had: basically stay in a different place each night and explore around Cornwall. I managed to sort out the flights for a Saturday to Saturday trip, as well as some places to stay in both Padstow and Newquay for the first two nights, then the rest I think is make it up as you go along, but I did suggest a possible itinerary of where they could go, including one place I really wished I'd gone to last summer: Porthleven. It looked gorgeous as I went through it on the way to Helston and The Lizard, and really should have spent some time there.

It just felt good to be able to help Mum out like that as I know she's wanted to go back down to Cornwall and knows that I'll basically tell it like it is, instead of what the glossy guides want you to believe, ie: Land's End is crap and overpriced (don't bother), and Sennen Cove, just a mile away, is much nicer and more what you'd want to go to, stuff like that. I think as well in a way that for me it's a lot easier to base myself somewhere where I can take myself off on little adventures each day but have the comfort of being able to camp back at base and indeed crash in a nice warm cosy bed, which is why I like the idea of having an apartment or cottage for the week - just seems lovely.

The England team have just finished playing against Switzerland and it was at least good to see a first win under Fabio Capello, even if to be honest the first half was rather dull to say the least. Okay, so results are more important at times, even if it is a friendly, but I have a funny feeling that it may take some time to try and start the rebuilding process of an England team. Wes Brown looked absolutely terrible, and to be honest, if he played for anyone else other that Manchester United, he probably wouldn't get a look in at the England team - better defenders than him carry him at Old Trafford. Okay, so Micah Richards was out, but even so.

Actually, talking of football, today is the 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash which tragically killed players, journalists and the like, most notably a fair number of the "Busby Babes" who were set to be a force to be reckoned with as a Manchester United team. For me, it's always been a football related disaster. Just because I support Man City doesn't mean that I detest everything in the world about the red half, and there's plenty of City fans who'd also do well to remember that the legendary ex-City goalkeeper Frank Swift was also on that fateful flight, and was covering the game for the local newspaper. I'm just concerned that there'll be the uneducated idiots out there who don't respect the minute's silence because of their blind hatred for Man U. As far as I'm concerned, those sort of people don't deserve to be football fans, never mind City fans. And one thing both City and United fans agree on: the fact that the sponsors AIG have their logo on the mural outside Old Trafford just smacks of corporate double standards and money-grabbing opportunities - full credit to whichever fan tried to paint out the logo and keep the rest intact.

I got home just before the start of the England game, and to my delight, something I'd ordered had arrived in the post: the Super Audio CD 30th Anniversary Edition of Pink Floyd's classic "The Dark Side of the Moon" album. In full Super Audio CD six channel mode, it sounds, not putting too fine a point on it, rather awesome. It might not be the 96Khz/24 bit DVD-Audio quality, but the way it's been remastered is absolute bliss. The clocks at the start of "Time" and the cash registers at the start of "Money" sound excellent, and "Money" on the whole just bursts forth from the speakers, so tune of the day it has to be.

Tuesday 5th February - Meitz and Mistresses

Had a very different sort of day today. Work went by and without a hitch, and that was quite pleasing considering that at the moment it seems a bit in between. There's an inspection for one of the courses later in thw week and so as you can imagine some of the attention is focussing on that somewhat. But as well as that I've set up a new PC for a member of staff in one of the rooms and had to return the on loan one back to its original place - which normally isn't a hassle but when the building to return to has no ramps, only stairs, meaning you can't wheel your trolley upstairs to take the kit with you, it can be a bit of a pain and I'm quite glad that I got there just before it started absolutely hammering it down with rain, as was the weather's wont in the afternoon.

I made a couple of phone calls to people and also settled in with the rather nice Meitz CD "Vertikal" in the background whilst I started reading the Michael Palin Monty Python Diaries book. It's rather hefty though as it weighs in at a massive 600 plus pages in hardback, and it literally feels heavier than the coffee table I have (okay, slight exaggeration, but you get the idea). I'm looking forward to reading that but the early first few months seem quite intriguing in that no one took them that seriously, as such. Back to the Meitz CD, and it's definitely still as good as when I reviewed it back in the day, and in case you didn't know, mine's actually signed by Volker Meitz himself (he used to compose on the Commodore 64 you see and was one of my 1990s demo composer heroes from way back when). The track "My Love" has to be tune of the day simply because it has great melodies, lovely hooklines and even Volker himself singing rather well, and it feels wonderfully mellow and blissful. And shouldn't a lot of songs be that way? I think so.

Watched Mistresses at my friend's place later, and that's been an intriguing series. The four main characters were on the Jonathan Ross show the other night and it was rather good to see that they really came across in real life as nice women, whereas in the series they also play their roles excellently. Several things are going to come to a head next week, but what's been quite interesting is that Orla Brady's character has been having an office affair, partly because of her very feminine and sexy office outfits that I'm sure had quite a few of the audience's pulse's racing, except now she's pregnant and it's his child and not her husband's, so a lot to sort out in next week's instalment. I've not caught it all unfortunately but what I've seen of it has been up to scratch for BBC's intelligent dramas as of late. Roll on Ashes to Ashes on Thursday.

Monday 4th February - The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold

Well, had a wonderful afternoon and evening yesterday - met up with a friend for lunch and watched the Scotland v France rugger, as well as most of Fulham against Aston Villa as well, mainly chilled out with coffee and/or soft drinks and generally putting the world to rights and being very relaxed, which was rather nice to do. I think when you have the time to spend time with good friends, make the most of it and it's something I certainly appreciate a heck of a lot these days.

And last night was Nick Harper at Manchester Academy 3. Suffice to say that it was just him and his acoustic guitar for two hours ten minutes, and it was fabulous because of it. Not only did we get stuff from the recent album "Miracles For Beginners" including the excellent "The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold" which he wrote about the Levellers' organised "Beautiful Days" festival that he tends to end up at every year (been listening to that a few times today so that's tune of the day) as well as even interspersing the excellent "Headless" from his first album within an epic twenty minute medley and version of "Love Is Music".

During the first track a string on his guitar broke, but he managed to not only sing a verse of the song with just vocals, but also repair the string at the same time! That was impressive stuff and the audience appreciated it - and as for the humour: well playing the beginning of the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" on guitar proclaiming that Girl Power had been switched off was a truly hilarious moment. He wasn't necessarily taking everything too seriously, but when he played his songs he was the consummate professional and really made the audience feel like they were at a special event. I have to admit the vibe was very nice in the Academy 3 last night (making it another reason why I love the venue so) and it just felt that even though I was on my own, it didn't matter: everyone seemed really to enjoy themselves and I didn't feel so alone.

Had a mixed sort of day today really: on the one hand I did manage to get one of our new suppliers' test PCs fully imaged up with the latest image we had for our main drop-in, and so was able to roll that out and really give it a proper acid test. I have to say though that we were all impressed by the build quality and indeed the excellent components that were in there, and certainly in terms of what we would use it for, it's rather good. Fingers crossed on that score. And then it was a case of running through some administrative tasks this afternoon including getting rid of old accounts, checking what network addresses needed de-registering et al. For those of you who think it's all hands on, well it isn't - someone has to do the admin tasks!

Sunday 3rd February - First Three Gigs, Anyone?

Woke up and felt rather sleepy, despite the fact that I'd gone to bed at a reasonable hour. I think I seem to remember waking up in the middle of the night and then flopping back to sleep again, but the disturbed nature of the sleep seems to be something that I remembered as I woke up. Hopefully I won't be too tired for later when I go to see Nick Harper at the Manchester Academy 3. I love that venue: so many bands that I saw last year played there and it was a great atmosphere: the likes of Howling Bells, Duke Special, I'm From Barcelona (twice), and of course the wonderful Kristin Hersh! But then regulars of the site kind of know that.

Interestingly, one of the recent posts on her website message board was a call to see if you could recall the first three gigs you ever went to. Scarily, I can actually remember what they all were. Lots of venues in Manchester were over 18s only, so I couldn't go to anything until 1990 or else be kicked out by the door security. Anyway, here's what they were:

The Darling Buds, Manchester International 1, 11th October 1990 - It was around the time of their album "Crawdaddy" coming out, which had a more mature sound and really did take them a bit away from the C86-era pop music that the fans had grown up with. And better for it I say. The support band were The Caretaker Race, who were a really good indie guitar combo formed by Andy Strickland, who used to write for Melody Maker back in the day. They were excellent and a few weeks later I purchased their "Hangover Square" CD in Vinyl Exchange. Fast forward to 2007 and a chat with MJ Hibbett on the train to Manchester from Glasgow, and he remembered them too. Excellent! Anyway, the Darling Buds were rather good that night as well, and I was stood near the front with a few friends and swaying along nicely, particularly to the wonderful "So Close" - which I've just played back now and realised how bloody wonderful a song it is. Notably the chorus of "You're mine in time, in time you're mine" which is beautifully played. Tune of the day - just for the pure hell of it. But they did play some of their old stuff too, so things like "Hit The Ground" and "You've Gotta Choose" were also part of it. Great fun and despite the pretty small crowd, just one of those moments.

Pop Will Eat Itself, Manchester International 2, 22nd October 1990 - my first live introduction to the Incredible PWEI and one I won't forget. For a start the "Cure For Sanity" album had been released the same day and I bought the album on the way home from work, played it a couple of times to at least give myself an idea of a few of the songs and went promptly out to the gig with a few friends at the time. Let's just say that PWEI were excellent that night and they became one of my favourite bands of all time (and in effect still are) because of their intensity of playing live. Not only did the new album sound good, but there was then a chance for plenty of classics such as "Wise Up Sucker" and "There Is No Love Between Us Anymore". People were jumping from the upstairs balcony (a feat repeated when I saw Ned's Atomic Dustbin there in 1991) and it was generally a feel good time. I felt disappointed that they didn't play "Beaver Patrol" but was so chuffed when they played it in Birmingham in 2005 that that gig became one of my favourites.

Jesus Jones, Manchester Academy 1, 21st February 1991- Their album "Doubt" had come out a few weeks before, complete with Sledge Hammer sample "Trust me, I know what I'm doing" on the opening track, and it was a tour de force of full on in your face indie keyboard and electronicness, that didn't offend too greatly. Of course on Top of the Pops it was always between them and EMF to see who could bash the keyboard the hardest during their live sets. Mind you, the support band for Jesus Jones that tour were no less than Soho, whose horrid "Hippychick" I loathed becuase of its crass sampling of The Smiths' legendary "How Soon Is Now?" and indeed that was their only song most people remembered. Jesus Jones were on top form and "Info Freako" had the whole place bouncing up and down and going pretty mental. Ah, memories.

I feel all nostalgic now and need to start compiling an old school indie compilation from say 1990 or 1991 with what I was listening to at the time. If I restrict myself to one track per artist, there'd probably be the likes of The Wonder Stuff, Pixies, Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Morrissey, Jesus Jones, The Darling Buds, Pop Will Eat Itself, all that sort of thing. Oh yes, and Front 242, Nine Inch Nails, Cabaret Voltaire and some other Industrial stuff on there as well. Talking of Industrial, Ministry are playing the Academy 1 in May. Might have to get a ticket tonight for that when I go to the Academy 3 as the box office will be open and won't charge me a rip off booking fee. Possibilities!

Anyway, if you want to share with me memories of your first three gigs, contact me and let me know - always intrigued to see what others went to see for their first taste of live entertainment.

Saturday 2nd February - High Definition Snow

Well I woke up this morning (in true blues song style) and there it was, the white stuff. I find it completely ironic that I was writing a poem yesterday for the poems page that was mentioning that it would be nice for once to have some snow, and there it was. Unfortunately there wasn't that much of it in terms of the fact that it would stay there for too long, and indeed once the winter's sun had arrived the snow very softly and slowly melted away, but nonetheless it was definitely snow and it was definitely here. It looked rather picturesque and at least it meant that there was something a bit wintry about this Winter.

It had all gone by the time I had one of the Sky installers around to basically do a box swap and fit the Sky HD box into my rig. Of course as I'd had the Sky+ box for a while, it's mine to do with as I please, so I may end up selling it on if anyone would like it. However, a bit of a panic ensued when the first box was tested, and no output was coming out from the HDMI cable, nor was there any possibility of doing the latest software update. Thankfully he had a spare box with him and soon enough everything was up and running, and in 1080i high definition goodness. The box is also black as well so it fits in very nicely with the rest of the rig now, and of course the HD stuff outputs in full 5.1 Dolby Digital, so would have to give that a go.

Didn't have long to wait either, as Man City against Arsenal was on Sky Sports HD1, and so I was there straight away. My uncle and one of his sons came over too, and not only was it a visual feast of high definition goodness, but the sound quality was spot on as well (thankfully the box has an optical audio output delay setting, so you can synch the audio and video nicely, hurrah!) and indeed during the second half we could hear from one of the rear surrounds someone clearly swear and say the "b" word - which made us all giggle. Shame the result didn't though, we were panned by Arsenal and despite at least coming back into it to 2-1 straight after their second goal, we didn't do enough to win and it was only a matter of time before Emmanuel Adebayor finished us off with a class finish. Bet his transfer value is going up all the time right now.

I ended up seeing some preview stuff on BBC HD before the rugby union came on, and game of two halves it definitely was. England though ultimately lost to Wales for the first time in 20 years at Twickenham, which led many people to wonder just why England didn't go after Shaun Edwards, who is now appointed the Welsh coach. Clearly he has the attitude and appetite to win and in truth, the Welsh wanted it more and got what they deserved. My high-def sports day was complete on Sky Sports HD2 by watching the Leeds against Hull KR match, and Leeds were pushed to the end when their late tries won it for them (oh, and some highly dodgy refereeing decisions which went their way). Intriguingly their fans sing the same "Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!" song as the Leeds United football fans do, despite the fact the song's lyrics mention Leeds United in the first verse. Oh, except they never play that bit at the Rhinos' ground. Bah.

However, the HD experience was very nice and it's something that I know I can look forward to with excitement as BBC and Channel 4 are planning to up their HD output, and with all the England, Scotland and Wales Six Nations home games in HD as well, there's plenty there to be kept entertained as well, which is all rather nice isn't it? I suppose as well that I may as well make sure that my rig is equipped for the next few years for audio visual pleasure and that it's an enjoyable experience, after all I work hard enough for it don't I?

Spent some time listening to the rather excellent Nick Harper mini album "Light at the End of the Kennel" in preparation for tomorrow night's gig at the Academy 3 - and from that is "Is It Really Me?" stands out still as a really beautiful piece of acoustic music. I'll have to play a bit more of the recent "Miracles for Beginners" album tomorrow to get myself prepared, but for now "Is It Really Me?" wins tune of the day, no problem. It just has a wistful feel and it's just lovely. So there.

Friday 1st February - Stat Attack

Well, with it being the start of the month and all, I thought I'd see a year on since I started up my Youtube channel, how things have progressed. And so far it's like this: the channel has had over 289,000 video views, and the most popular video has over 38,000 of those views. Not bad, I guess, and it's always intriguing to see not only what's the most popular, but also what's the most commented on - and one of them has over 50 comments, some relevant more than others, but still, that's not a bad thing. I do tend to keep a tight control and make sure I have to approve any comment so that swearing, bad language and bad English (it's amazing how many people write in text speak, incredibly lame I tell you) are filtered out as much as possible.

As for the pictures in the Flickr! gallery, that's quite an intriguing set of stats on there. Up until this morning, there were 9,388 views of my pictures, and another 1,742 had viewed the photostream and 1,681 viewing the sets. The most popular pictures are generally from the Back in Time Live 2007 retro gig, followed closely by the set I took at the Challenge Cup Final. I suppose as well that's possibly because I mentioned the link in a couple of places for each and it was nice to see that people take the time out to view the images. It's a darned sight easier than coding up some HTML for a gallery or three, which I used to do for a while but it took too long and was too dull to do - this way now I can have them up a lot quicker and indeed show them to who I like - a lot better than the old "this is what I did on my holidays" type of thing isn't it?

My uncle came over earlier and the two of us bolted the centre speaker on the stands I'd got last weekend. You see, since the centre speaker can't sit on the LCD telly like it used to do on the widescreen CRT, so I improvised and got a couple of surround speaker stands from Argos last weekend. I found though that the bolts provided to make sure the speakers stayed in place (it has keyhole type locks on the speaker itself) weren't the right size, and so my uncle had the right ones, and so adjusting the stands so it sits behind the telly, with the speaker on the stands at a height just above, meant that it looked once more like a proper surround rig and meant that when playing all sorts of surround that it's going to sound awesome.

Good job too, as I treated myself a little bit and ordered the Super Audio CD 30th Anniversary Edition of Pink Floyd's seminal "The Dark Side of the Moon" album. I have the original on vinyl with the posters intact (no stickers though sadly) but as it's in remarkably good nick for its age I don't want to ruin it, plus the Super Audio CD 5.1 surround mix is supposed to be very nice. I guess now my system can play both DVD-A and SACD that I may as well take advantage and go in to the surround age even more now, although I'm yet to hear a DVD-A as stunningly well recorded as the Bonnie Prince Billy "The Letting Go" one. From that album, do check out "Strange Form of Life" as the acoustics are absolutely gorgeous (it sounded good live last year too at the Bridgewater Hall) and so that's tune of the day for me. Now I just have to wait in tomorrow for something good to happen..