Dear Diary... February 2010

Sunday 28th February - Stay In London Man U Fans, This City Is Ours

It was a tired but happy me that woke up around 7.45am to tune in to the repeat of Match of the Day to see City beat Chelski. And wow, what a game! We were pretty rubbish till Carlos Tevez equalised, and in the second half we destroyed them with counter-attacking brilliance, with two well taken goals from Craig Bellamy and a Tevez penalty. After that one, he got the team together including Wayne Bridge, and pointed at Bridge for the City fans to say "this one's for him". With all the media furore about John Terry cheating on his wife with Bridge's girlfriend at the time, I don't blame Bridge for not shaking hands with Terry, and just letting his footy do the talking on the pitch. The City team won it for him and it was great to have Bellamy putting extra digs in to Terry, haha.

We left the Ibis, a litle tired still but happy, and grabbed something to eat for lunch in the station as the train was leaving for home at 12.55. What I did notice was a fair few Aston Villa fans on their way down to London to see their team in the Carling Cup final against Man U. We did notice a chunk of Man U fans as well, and hearing them talk, hardly any of them had a Mancunian accent. It made me think of City's recent chant: "this city is ours, this city is ours, bog off back to London, this City is ours". Okay it's not bog off as such, but you get the idea don't you? I just thought "right, you lot stay in London, I'm heading back home to Manchester, home of City." Hehe.

The train journey back was pretty speedy and The Love In My Heart did at least get a Sunday paper and gave me the puzzle book to keep me occupied and hopefully off the cold that was starting to get a little worse during the evening last night and today. I also managed to think about how good the weekend had been and when we arrived at Piccadilly and said our goodbyes for now, we really didn't want to leave each other. I gave her a massive hug and told her we'd had a wonderful time and that we'll have to go back sometime to Paris for a longer break. She agreed, and we'll have to work out when to go and do something about it.

I arrived home, sorted out all the washing from my case that needed doing, and then sorted out all the photos. I didn't realise I'd taken so many to be honest, but I suppose when there's so much to see it's just a case of being able to take it all in and make sure I didn't miss a moment. The good thing was that a lot of them came out well enough, and so uploaded them to Flickr. Disaster struck at the first attempt when the Uploadr decided to hang, and when I quit it, all the descriptions were of the picture next to it, so did a nifty bit of cut and paste, uploaded them all again and this time it worked. Phew. I've since got the new Uploadr which should stop that hassle but we shall see.

I then watched the Olympic ice hockey final, and that was dramatic wasn't it? It was all going well for Canada and then the Americans equalised with a mere twenty five seconds to go to make it 2-2, before heading into overtime. Eight minutes into overtime Canada scored, the crowd went nuts, the gold medal was theirs. It felt like it was destiny, but also it showed just how much the nation had been gripped by the Games and how much it meant to them to try and win in everything (and they were the leading gold medallists too). But it was the end of a good games and one I watched a chunk of in HD (thanks to the BBC, well done them!) and it was also good to see that we could learn something for London 2012 - don't do something like "Own The Podium" and be seenm as being arrogant.

Tune of the day is the rather lovely "Something For The Weekend" by Divine Comedy. It just made me think of the whole weekend and how lovely it was and also how Neil Hannon's been doing stuff live with the brilliant Duke Special lately as well, so all well and good with the world there. I'd love something to look forward to every weekend such as trips away, but if I can't have that, then I've got The Love In My Heart - and that's far too nice as well as the best thing ever to happen to me ever, let me tell you!

Saturday 27th February - Parisienne Walkways

It was a fairly early start for myself and The Love In My Heart this morning, as we'd booked tickets to head on Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris. In fact we were making a day trip of it, getting an early train there and a late one back. It meant too that I could plan out roughly what we could do during the day and give The Love a taste of what it's like, so if she liked it, we could head back there for a few days. She had never been before so I am sure it was going to be an interesting day. We managed to get ourselves ready, have the passports and tickets at the ready for Eurostar, and took the short walk from the Ibis down Euston Road and to St Pancras International Station.

We spotted the check in desks and as we'd got there early, we nipped into Costa Coffee and got a bacon sandwich for breakfast each along with a soft drink. With the possible drink restrictions on going across to another country, I had mine, but it turned out I didn't need to as bottled water was okay but not apparently tea or coffee. We checked in, scanning the tickets at the gate which worked really well, and then went through security, so it was disrobing the belt, coins and keys etc and going through the gate. The Love's shoes must have had some metal in them as they were detected but a quick scan proved that was okay and we were on our way to the departure lounge.

Soon it was time for the train to be boarded and it left on time at 0802, speeding underground through East London past Stratford International, and before you knew it, you were in Kent passing Ebbsfleet and Ashford and then down towards the Channel Tunnel. It was only around a half hour or so into the trip that we headed in the tunnel and this was a good opportunity to head down to the buffet car, get myself a coffee and also the T+ tickets for the Paris bus, metro and so on so you didn't have to queue to get them. One carnet and coffee later and as I headed back to the seat, I commented that we'd soon be in France, and sure enough, out of the tunnel we came. The journey was fast and hassle-free and we arrived in Gare du Nord station bang on time.

We did have to wait a little while at the bus station for the 39 bus, but that soon sped Southwards and right outside the Louvre, which was to be our first stop of the day. You could easily spend all day in there, but we managed to see quite a chunk anyway. We admired all the sculptures in the open air square of the Richelieu wing before seeing the grandiose and lavish Napoleon III apartments. The chandeliers, the beds and all the rich rugs and tapestries really did send you back in time to a different era, and even the dressing table with mirror on both sides showed just how the other half really did live. It was fascinating stuff, and as we headed along to see some of the mosiacs and sculptures I remarked just how wonderful all the collection was just in this part.

It was then up another floor in Richelieu to explore more of the sculptures and figures, and plenty of them were quite spooky, not least the one of the tomb of Philippe Pot, who was a former governor of Burgundy in the Middle Ages. There were also plenty of other lavish tapestries including one of an elephant and also one which was called "Fight at the New Inn" which pretty much described what was going on. The tapestries were pretty large though and you have to say that how they were made, and with so much skill, really does leave you in awe.

It was then over to the Sully wing of the Louvre, and through the Greek sculptures. Apart from plenty of sculptures of heads and even parts of the Parthenon which have been preserved, there was also a sizeable crowd at the Venus de Milo as you'd expect. There were plenty of Greek sculptures and other European sculptures everywhere here to enjoy too though and you do have to marvel at some of the wall decorations and ceilings particularly, the one with Raphael in all four corners was just awe-inspiring to see and really showed just how a building can inspire.

Then it was over to the Denon wing and up the stairs to the paintings. Of course this was where the Mona Lisa was and it had been moved to share a larger space, as directly opposite it on the other side of the room it was on was The Wedding Feast At Cana, truly a massive painting and inspirational just by the sheer hard work and its size. Of course everyone was crowding round to get a shot of the Mona Lisa, which considering it's behind numerous glass frames was pretty hard to do anyway (especially as you have to turn the flash off inside the Louvre). We passed there and saw most of the Italian and Spanish paintings and even some English ones before heading down the stairs and out via the Porte des Lions gate.

We overlooked the Seine and saw many a pleasure boat cruising down the river and with plenty of people going around in the relatively cool but dry weather, and you could see the Musée D'Orsay opposite and even the Eiffel Tower in the distance over the top. We admired the river and then headed back through the Porte des Lions Gate and on to the Jardin des Tulieries, where we spotted a kiosk branch of the rather nice Paul sandwich chain of shops, and had a nice ham French stick along with a soft drink. It did the job nicely and we were able to sit outside, enjoy the view of the Arc de Triomphe du Caroussel (the small Arc near the Louvre) and also the gardens as well.

In fact, some of the sculptures in the gardens were rather lovely, they all seemed to be mainly in green and of women in various forms, notably by one artist, Artistide Maillol. The ones of Air and Monument à Cézanne were pretty inspiring, as was The Night, a woman kneeling with head in hands and knees. It was good to see too that in one of the small basins in the gardens little children were playing and controlling boats in the water, relaxing at the same time. It really felt like it was a mile away from the hustle and bustle of the city and how busy it all was (not to mention the traffic and how it seems non-stop around the centre of the city most of the time).

After walking past countless tacky souvenir places close to the Jardin des Tulieries, it was then time for a little diversionary stop to a rather nice shop - Colette in the heart of Rue Saint-Honore. It looked like a posh Urban Outfitters but also quite trendy and fashionable, and the website certainly looked that way too. We wanted to see some Parisian chic in full effect and my, did this shop have it. With some cool laid back music, everything neatly arranged and dresses by designers costing hundreds of Euros, it was a good chance to window shop but admire all the really lovely things inside. The Love was tempted by one blue and white scarf which did look very lovely, I was to later find out the price was a mere €70 though, so not exactly cheap methinks!

It was then back through the Jardin des Tulieries, along the main walkway and past the octagonal basin, where everyone seemed to be relaxed and relatively chilled out, and to the Place de la Concorde, where the obelisk stood tall and the sun shone on it (it made for quite a nice shot actually) and we had to cross carefully to avoid the masses of traffic before heading on the Champs-Élysées. We did take the 42 bus part way up to save the legs a bit of walking, and that helped a fair bit as we were then able to see all the really posh shops that line the street as well as the cobbles synonymous with the Tour de France. They had all sorts of posh shops and arcades too - car showrooms even and a massive Virgin megastore too. And before our eyes was our destination - the Arc de Tromphe!

We made our way downstairs and underneath the massive roundabout that is the Charles-de-Gaulle Etoile, and paid the entrance fee to head up the Arc. It's a massive spiral staircase that takes you up to the first level which tells you about the history of the Arc, and has a shop too selling you all sorts. It's two hundred and eighty four steps too and you certainly felt that after climbing up for some time. Then it was another forty odd steps up to the top, and I have to say it was well worth it to admire the view from up there. You could look west to La Defense, east along the Champs-Élysées, South towards the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower and then North to the Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. It was defintely awe-inspiring and taking the view from there was well worth it.

It was then back down, managing to hitch a ride in the lift to save walking down the spiral staircase before heading along underneath the other side of the roundabout, where it was traffic central merging and causing chaos, before getting the number 30 bus which would take us to Pigalle and Montmartre. As we were stuck in traffic due to lots of work being done on Place de la Clichy, my friend kindly had texted me to let me know the City score - and it was amazing. We had won 4-2 at Chelski, which was pretty amazing all round really. I made a mental note to watch the highlights later and enjoy that one. The bus eventually moved and we got off the bus at Pigalle, where the famous windmill and red exterior of the Moulin Rouge greeted us.

It was then a walk along the boulevard, past a fair array of tacky shops (souvenirs or adult material) before heading to the much more cultured and cosmopolitan area of Montmartre, which really is built into a hill and pretty high up too. As we wanted to head to the Sacre Coeur, it was the funicular railway which was a good move, saved our legs immensely. Up we went in no time and a few steps later we were outside the Sacre Coeur, and the view overlooking most of Paris and the Pompidou Centre was an inspiring sight to say the least. It made for an emotional walk inside the church itself, and as well as admiring the gorgeous painting inside the ceiling and the way it was built basillica style, we stopped and lit a candle for those who were no longer with us. I did feel quite emotional because it did mean a lot to me to remember people, especially in a place which is still used for religion even now despite millions of tourists coming in.

That done, around Montmartre and to the Place de la Tertre, where artists were painting and sketching by the bucket load, and were ready with brollies to protect their work as rain started to lightly fall. I even noticed a couple of people playing chess as the evening drew in, their relaxed demeanour really setting a feeling of belonging there in the moment. We had a look around quite a few little art galleries and gift shops that were there in the area, before heading downhill and eventually after passing the Montmartre Tavern, back along past plenty of textile shops and indeed the funicular railway entrance before heading to a square close by and making our next move.

We just about I reckoned had enough time to head to the Latin Quarter on the 85 bus, so that was the plan. We'd get there, have a meal and back to Gare du Nord and get the train home, making the most of the day. The rain had started to fall but it wasn't too bad, and soon the 85 crossed by close to the Notre-Dame and we were getting off at the top of Boulevard Saint-Michel, and through the narrow cobbled streets of the Latin Quarter itself. Lots of the restaurants were all competing for business with their deals on meals, and after a quick look at a few we headed to one which looked more traditional than some of the others, and they did three courses for a mere €14.90, which wasn't bad whatsoever. We got in, ordered a drink and perused the menu.

In the end, the three courses were pretty good and no complaints from either of us really. I had the cheese and ham pancake to start and The Love had the caramelised onion soup, then we both had the steak in pepper sauce for main with some nice home cooked chips, which was very homely indeed. Dessert was also a good option too, The Love had the creme brulee, which was cooked just how she liked it - pretty crisp and slightly burnt on top just to make sure all the sugar was crispy, and I had the vanilla ice cream which tasted good too. It worked out well and the meal was spot on really.

It was then back to the bus stop and the twenty minute wait for the 38 bus had me worried that we'd miss check in for the train and have to stay over in Paris overnight and get the train home the next day. When it did turn up it was pretty busy but soon sprinted along the road, and as people got off near Gare d'Est, there weren't many people left, and soon we'd got to Gare du Nord, walked through to the station and then headed upstairs to the Eurostar check in. Thankfully we'd made it dead on 30 minutes before setting off, and managed to check in and get through security. I was worried that I was going to let The Love down, but I didn't. Phew! With us now relaxed and ready, we got on the Eurostar and headed on the 2113 back to St Pancras, having a slight stop to pick up people at Lille before shooting through the tunnel - we had a coffee to keep us going.

Arriving back at St Pancras I remembered to set the phone and watch back an hour, and as we were leaving the station we admired the sculpture of a couple embracing at the station, which reminded me of how we sometimes are when we have to leave for home. We stopped by in Euston to get some water if we needed a drink overnight during sleep, and then got back to the Ibis. Match of the Day was on but City had been on already so I made a note in my head to wake up for the repeat and head back to sleep and then it was time for sleep for us both - a long but rewarding day all round. As for tune of the day, I think MC Solaar's "Today Is A Good Day" sums it up nicely - and having the undisputed king of French hip-hop just mellow you out would be perfect on a Parisian day too. Hurrah!

 

Friday 26th February - Breakout To Shepherd's Bush

It was off to Piccadilly station again this morning, as I was meeting The Love In My Heart for a nice weekend away. We'd planned it some time ago, firstly because Swing Out Sister had announced that they were playing in London and we wanted to go and see them again after them being so great in Manchester, but also because with that we worked out that we could go to Paris on the Eurostar and really make a day of it the day after. With the Ibis booked close to Euston as our base for the weekend, it was all set and I was really excited about the whole thing. It's not often you can visit two capital cities in one weekend is it? With my passport and everything else packed (well apart from one thing which I'll come to later) it was off on the 1035 to Euston.

The train journey was nice and relaxing and it was typically efficient Virgin Trains, getting to Euston a few minutes ahead of time. It was then a short walk out of the station, almost being blown over by the wind, and round the corner to the Ibis. I quite like Ibis actually, because they let you check in from 12 noon and you can check out any time up to 12 noon, the rooms are decent sized and have everything you need, and they even have flat screen tellies which face where you sleep so you can sit in bed and watch telly. Hurrah eh? We also got a nice surprise when we got to the room too - the bathroom was a nice new one like they had in Glasgow when I stayed, with big walk in shower. How nice is that?

We got everything unpacked and sorted out, and soon headed for a walk around London. We ventured down Tottenham Court Road and went in some shops like Heals, mainly to have a mooch but also to get some ideas for the home as well (mainly for The Love, it has to be said). You could tell they were starting to get ready for Mother's Day though with all the things they had there. We walked back along and noticed just how many coffee places there seemed to be - one too many in my view. It was then along Euston Road and Marylebone Road until we reached Regent's Park.

We took a nice walk around there, the straight avenues with fountains, places to rest and sculptures to admire, before heading left and to Queen Anne's Gardens, where roses were ready to be grown. They all had sections that were named too, which were all arranged neatly and you could tell pride was being taken in how they were all made. We also had a coffee in the café in the gardens before heading back past the bandstand and then alongside part of the lake, where squirrels were there a plenty! Some of them were being fed and enjoying every mouthful and they were happily coming to us both with that "feed me!" look on their faces. We then headed back to the Ibis and to get changed for tonight's gig.

I had realised on the train down that, stupidly, I'd forgotten my Oyster card. Duh! I was a bit gutted as I'd preloaded it with balance last time to make sure that I was able to use it for this weekend. I had to get a one day travelcard instead which would sort me out for the journeys we were going to make later but at least there was an alternative. Of course The Love had remembered hers and so her balance was enough to do the journeys that we needed to do, so she was all sorted. But first, something to eat for tea, and so we nipped round the corner from the Ibis to the Crown and Anchor. This is fast becoming one of our favourite pubs in London, the atmosphere is lovely. And they do good food too. I ordered the beer battered haddock and The Love had the chicken with bacon and chips etc. Both of them were gorgeous and well worth it, and there was even Doom Bar on cask for me. (or Black Sheep or Bread of Heaven, how lucky am I?) We chatted away and ate, and it was a nice warm atmosphere in there which felt lovely. Some of the tables had been reserved, so if I'd have known that I'd have reserved us one, but we got a space and ate anyway so we did fine.

It was then on the tube from Euston Square to Shepherd's Bush Market, and off to Bush Hall where Swing Out Sister were playing. Walking down Uxbridge Road reminded me of Rusholme in Manchester, not so much because of the Indian restaruants (there weren't that many here) but because of the ambience of the place, all a hubbub of activity and plenty of multicultural places to eat, drink and hang out. It felt quite comfortable actually and so we soon found the venue. The ticket said 7pm, and we'd got there around 6.40pm, but it turned out that the doors were 7.30pm. Ouch, that meant waiting in the cold, and there was a sizeable queue so we didn't want to head for a drink and then find ourselves at the back of the venue! Thankfully at 7.15pm common sense prevailed and the doors opened, we got a drink and then headed inside the Bush Hall.

It's a really small but intimate venue to be honest, and the decor on the ceiling and the walls really showed how ornate it all was. It was originally for dancing and even was used as a bingo hall back in the day before its now current use for live music. There was a small balcony upstairs so you could watch the gig there with separate bar, although the viewing of the band seemed a little short on space. Thankfully we got a good spot just left of the stage and with a good view of the action (the high microphone indicated to us where Corinne was). As we were waiting for the action to begin we got talking to a very nice couple from Glasgow, which was lovely. The husband of the pair was the one who'd wanted to see the band for ages, as it was one of his favourite bands, and so he was naturally excited. It was good of her to come along too, and we both said to her that having seen them live before, she would love it too.

And so on came Swing Out Sister (official site) and they did not disappoint in any way. On they came for the first part of a two-part set (like when we saw them at the Lowry) and it was hit after hit to be honest. Starting off with "Surrender" with a laid back jazz feel set the wheels in motion, with Andy Connell in full pelt in the piano and Corinne Drewery looking stunning in an orange dress with black top underneath, very oriental but stunning. It as good to see singer Gina Foster with them again, and she provided perfect accompaniment to Corinne. The percussionist was the same as was the guitarist, with a cool double bass player and trumpet and horn player completing the line up, on a pretty tiny stage, even smaller than say Academy 3!

The fun continued with a lovely slow version of "Breakout" (well they had to didn't they?) and it was nice to see that they hadn't forgotten the recent album "Beautiful Mess" either with the lovely "Butterfly" getting an airing, as did the title track later on. We also got the likes of "Somewhere Deep In The Night" which sounded even more jazz-like than it normally does, "Notgonnachange" and plenty more besides. During the break we chatted with the Glasgow couple and they were both really happy with the whole thing, describing it as amazing and how tight they were as a band. I couldn't agree more actually to be honest.

The second half was really about getting everyone even more into it, and by heavens they did. We had "La La La Means I Love You", Gina's song "Miracle" which came out lovely, a wonderful rendition of "Twilight World" (make that tune of the day whilst we're here), "Alpine Crossing", "Am I The Same Girl?" with everyone going "Yes I am, yes I am" along with plenty more. I wanted them to do "Something Every Day" but didn't get it, ah well. The night did end with everyone dancing and they did an extended version of "Breakout" to send everyone home happy and joyous, and that was that. It had gone far too quickly and was far too nice. We then headed out with the Glasgow couple and walked up the road and said our goodbyes as they headed to a restaurant, but promised we'd keep in touch (I'll email her when I get back). We then headed on the tube back to Euston Square, and walked to Ibis to crash out ready for the long day ahead tomorrow.

Thursday 25th February - City Are Bobbins

Well, was it worth watching City online last night? A resounding no. We were okay during the first half and had some chances, but needed to put them away and didn't. This I knew would come back to haunt us, and it did in the second half too. City were on the back foot as Stoke attacked, and sooner or later their pressure would tell, and a fairytale at that too. Dave Kitson was back on as sub after five months out and he did a neat one two before slotting it home to make it 1-0. I was upset by how easy the defence crumbled when he ran at them, which wasn't very good at all.

I knew we needed a quick reply and got it, when Emmanuel Adebayor's knockdown set up Craig Bellamy to slot it home nicely a mere 100 seconds later for 1-1. All was well but then the ref sent off Adebayor for raising his arm as Ryan Shawcross was tangling with him. It was a clear red it has to be said, and what made it more galling was that Robert Huth held back Bellamy even worse than Adebayor had done, and the ref didn't give anything. Talk about inconsistencies or what? But regardless, I can't hold the ref accountable to the fact that in the second half and extra time, City were poor and in extra time we were punished with two good finishes to make it 3-1 and out of the FA Cup, meaning yet again no silverware for us.

It made me think that (and this was something I alluded to back in December) that maybe the timing of changing the manager wasn't right. I wasn't a big Mark Hughes fan but at the same time thought he should have had till the end of the season and go from there. What also happened to the City board's big plan for stability, which they seemed to want to focus on a bit? Clearly that went out of the window. It still rankles a bit actually and now we're stuck with what we've got. If we change again then clearly no one is going to come to City and try and get the club into the top four. Look at other clubs around who have had managers for ages and they do okay don't they? - the likes of Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal and dare I say it Man U. Food for thought there, I think.

Anyway, today felt productive and having sorted some issues out with an installer not working, it was good to be able to move on and get two laptops finished off and issued to staff, so that felt like a weight off my desk, and I was also able to sort out an issue with a Mac as well on top of that, so that was good. I've even started working on an up to date build for us, which is quite handy to do as we have stuff we use on a daily basis to administer the systems but need to have most of the same software as the students so we can help them out if need be. It's updating what I've already got and so far so good, it all seems to be playing ball nicely. I'll have to resume that on Monday now.

I got home, made some tea and settled down for a bit to watch the women's curling semi final between Canada and Switzerland. It was good of the BBC to still have Steve Cram and Rhona Martin commentating even if Britain were knocked out, and who'd have thought that the athletics legend would be pretty knowledgeable on the game? He actually came across very well and obviously having the 2002 Olympic winning skip with him was pretty useful in terms of any expert advice to pass on. It was a tense affair and it all came down to the final end. Canada were 6-4 up but Switzerland were lying two. Canada's final stone knocked the Swiss one out, and good job it did or else the Swiss could have got three and won. So it was up to their skip to knock the Canadian stone out and keep theirs in. It was tension, and the Canadian stone went but so did theirs! One wasn't good enough so Canada won 6-5, and the home support went mad.

For the Swiss skip it was heartache, she lost in the final to Rhona (and Britain) in 2002, and lost in the final to Sweden in 2006 (who've made the final again after thrashing China) and it's a pretty tough call. She's consistent but does that final winning streak elude? I wondered on as the women's ice hockey was on later, a real grudge game between the USA and Canada for the gold medal. I only saw the first period as it was on pretty late, but from what I saw Canada were playing well but not able to use their power plays so well, and went 2-0 up, which proved to be the final score. So I got to see the best of it anyway!

Tune of the day is "Best Of You" by Foo Fighters, I did sneak in a go of Guitar Hero Van Halen, and it proved to be a good song to do. It's quite an easy number to play but it's also quite long so you do need to concentrate in between to make sure you nail it all. I have to say though that on some songs the difficullty jump from easy to medium is pretty intense and you need to be ready to handle it. And this is coming from someone who can play most of Guitar Hero 5 on that setting!

Wednesday 24th February - ITV Is Bobbins

Another day at the office today, and I felt like progress was being made somewhat. I had one Mac user come in and was worried that he'd lost or deleted his files on the desktop and all that. When I investigated it further, what had happened was that he'd renamed his home folder by accident (he admitted later he had leant on the keyboard and an attempt to rename the folder came up and wasn't sure what it was) and so when he next logged in, the OS didn't see one and recreated it. It was an easy enough thing to rename it back (I did it as another admin user to be safe) and once we got him to log back in, all was well with the world again.

I did manage as well to get a couple of other jobs all well and sorted, but it's a frustrating experience at the moment because some of the things we'd like to get done we can't. I want to for example get one of the laptop images all done and dusted but that can't be done because there's a piece of software I need to install, and the only install source I can find for it is currently unavailable and requires maintenance work for it to be fixed. It's a nightmare because I know full well I could finish everything off in a matter of minutes otherwise.

In an unusual but rubbish move by ITV, none of tonight's FA Cup replays are being shown on telly. Not even on ITV2, ITV3 or ITV4. No. And they wonder why everyone says the FA Cup is so devalued? Things like this only really add to the fact that in reality ITV as a live football broadcaster is pretty rubbish. I agree with what the Leeds fans chanted in their tie at Histon a couple of years ago, even with the swearing which you could hear on the mic during the game. You can find it readily on most video sites on the web if you're interested.. Oh, and I'm just trying to watch their coverage on their web site for Stoke City against Man City in the replay tonight, and it cuts out every minute or two. Oh joy. It's clear they don't have the technology to make it work..

Tune of the day is one of the tunes from Guitar Hero Van Halen, which arrived from Tesco DVD Rental and I had a good go of tonight. The Van Halen stuff is fine (at least it has "Jump" and "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love", whose guitar riff formed the basis of Apollo 440's "Ain't Talkin' Bout Dub" ) but some of the stuff by other bands seemed more fun for me, possibly because I know it more (and part of the reason I rented it) - so "Space Truckin'" by Deep Purple gets my vote. If only I could do the vocals as well as the guitar...

Tuesday 23rd February - Putting On The Scrabble Ritz

It was a pretty good day for me in the office - not least because I spent some time updating our existing Macbook Pro disk image. I brought it down to one of the new Macbook Pros, and it basically needed some updates doing, namely for the operating system, EndNote X2, GroupWise and Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac. Once that was all done and dusted and the disk was checked via the permissions repair, it all looked rather good and so connected the Macbook Pro to our Mac server and transferred the image up to it. It's actually quite easy to do really and it means that now any new Macs we have will be completely up to date with everything and we've got a standard which we can use across the board, which works well for us all.

Later on I had the company of The Cream In My Cake coming over, and once she got showered and changed out of her work stuff (she had come straight from work to mine, aww) it was on with the tea. Nothing fancy tonight, fish, chips and peas, but it was nice to finish off the fish that I had and be able to make us tea together. I still had some tartare sauce too so it was good to be able to enjoy the meal properly. After that we decided that we needed dessert and some wine so headed to Tesco, got a nice little jam and cream scone each and a bottle of Hardy's Crest shiraz (oh yes, very nice) to wash everything down with a little later on.

We then got out the Deluxe Scrabble and I also put on Swing Out Sister's debut album "It's Better To Travel" in preparation for Friday's gig. I had taken delivery today too of the official Collins Scrabble Dictionary, which we could now use to adjudicate in any game we played. It has every playable two to nine letter word and a basic meaning too, so you at least felt justified when playing the word if you knew it was perfectly legal. In fact, "Twilight World" pretty much summed up the mood when playing as night set in, so that's tune of the day easily for me.

A week or two ago, The Cream had played RITZ, and as she explained it, it was like "putting on the ritz" (or showing off). Without a dictionary to check, I wasn't sure about the validity of the word. Anyway, in the second game we played with the rather nice Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins album on, she giggled and later on played said word. We checked the Scrabble Dictionary, and it was there, just as she described. It was a nice humourous moment and certainly made the evening quite nicely. In fact in the first game of the evening she posted her best ever score and came up with the rather nice PEONY (a flower) which scored a pretty good 28 points along the way too.

Monday 22nd February - Is She The Same Girl?

I had a pretty busy day at work today, and that was a good thing as it helped the day go by rather nicely. I spent a bit of time doing some reports, doing a full check of statistics on the email boxes for the staff, and also working on some spreadsheets with statistical information which might prove useful further down the line, did some orders, and on top of that sorted out a network connection for a staff printer, and set up the printer on another machine as well so they could print to it over the network. And on top of all that got a couple of new Macs to sort out too, so plenty for me to play with.

I got home later on after the bus journey seemed to take an absolute age, and decided that I'd make the most of what I had in the cupboards and sort myself out with some tea. I had some diced chicken in the freezer (it was bought that way from Cooltrader as was) and some korma sauce and those individual sachets of rice which I could do in the microwave if need be, so I thought "curry night for me tonight". I fried off the chicken and made sure it was nice and browned, put the sauce in and let that simmer, did the rice, and before long I had a nice healthy portion of chicken korma for my tea, and that tasted rather nice all round really. Felt good watching the ski jumping team event on BBC HD for a bit.

I turned over to Granada Reports (the local news on local telly around here) and the presenter Tony Morris was at the Band on the Wall doing an interview, and when Lucy Meacock mentioned that he was a fan of the band he was going to chat to, then I knew - it was Swing Out Sister! They're playing Band on the Wall tonight, which I would have gone to (as would The Cream In My Cake) had I not already got tickets for the Shepherd's Bush Hall gig on the 26th. Tony had the very lucky task of interviewing the lovely Corrine Drewery, interspersed with clips of (what else?) Breakout - you think Granada would be a touch more original.

It was nice to hear Corrine chat and explain why even after all these years she still loves Manchester so much and how it feels much more independent than, say, London. And indeed she still has that bobbed hair too, so sleek and black. I just thought about how much we loved it when we saw them last and that we'll soon be able to see them again and enjoy them. I think it's been good to be with a lovely woman such as The Cream On My Cake, as some of her music tastes and mine overlap nicely and it's in some way helped me rediscover bands too. "Am I The Same Girl?" (their cover of it) is tune of the day as if anyone were to ask Corrine that she could reply the next line "Yes I am, yes I am" and after seeing that interview I'd be inclined to agree.

Sunday 21st February - Dour And Turgid

It was off to the City of Manchester Stadium this afternoon with my friend to see Manchester City up against Liverpool in a game that was a real six pointer for the quest for fourth spot and Champions League qualification. Having home advantage would possibly help, and knowing that a 2-2 draw at Anfield was a pretty good result all things considered despite chucking it from 2-1, I thought that the upper hand was with us. The snowy weather from the morning had mostly cleared, the City website said that the game was most definitely on, and it was time to see what we could do.

It was getting pretty full of rain and sleet once we approached the ground, and although the temperature had gone up, it was still pretty cold. I was glad I'd put layers on and wrapped up well in my City long sleeved away number as well. The cotton in that's really thick and keeps the cold off. My friend had exactly the same idea, so we were both there in the retro away shirt cheering the beloved Blues on. Could this be the turning point of the season and indeed could we possibly progress?

Sadly, the game was pretty dour and turgid for the most part, with both sides almost it seems scared of losing somewhat. City did have the odd chance in the first half but it was a case of defences on top, and with certain Liverpool players being allowed to get away with some pretty nasty fouls (notably from Steven Gerrard and Javier Mascherano). And the referee was awful too - there was no flow to the game thanks to him and on one occasion City had the advantage going forward, and he pulled the play back for no reason. I was well upset with that - couldn't he see that we also wanted to take the free kick quickly as well? The City fans chanted "who's the Scouser in the black?" and the first half frittered away.

Second half was a slight improvement as at least we went for it with driving rain and sleet making the conditions on the pitch not so easy. I kept saying "whack it low and hard along the deck and watch the goalie worry" and Emmanuel Adebayor did that with a low rasper which their keeper Pepe Reina did well to get to and palm away for a corner. Adebayor was also denied by Skrtel when he was possibly clean through and about to pull the trigger for a goal, and to be fair it was a good tackle. Still though we pressed, Craig Bellamy came on and tried his hardest to change things, and on top of that we should have had a penalty late on when Adebayor was bundled over in the box.

It wasn't great though and a 0-0 draw was about right, the City fans booed (mainly the ref but it also had to do with Mancini's negative tactics too - playing 4-5-1 at home is rubbish to be honest) and that was that. We made it over to see The Cream In My Cake afterwards and we had a coffee and chat there. It really was nippy outside so to be warmed up was lovely, and The Cream headed back with me to mine for a bit later and we watched the Olympic ski cross final, which was rather good fun - you thought snowboard cross was intense, this is even more so, especially as some of them are former downhill skiiers who know a thing or two!

Tune of the day is "Boredom" by Buzzcocks. Not least because it represents part of one of punk's all time greatest releases, their Spiral Scratch EP, but sums up today's game. To be honest at parts of the second half I could have fallen asleep, but I was shouting for the team to play better instead. But if I ever get the chance to see Pete Shelley and co on tour, I might just have to go - they're still kicking it live and I'm sure it would be great fun to hear this at full pelt with everyone yelling out "Boredom, boredom de dum..."

Saturday 20th February - And It's Gold For Great Britain!

How often do you hear the above phrase at the Winter Olympics? Hardly ever. The last time we won gold was when Rhona Martin pulled off an excellent final stone to win the women's curling in 2002, and before that you've got to go back to Torvill and Dean's "Bolero" routine at Sarajevo back in 1984. As for an individual gold, Robin Cousins in 1980 in the figure skating springs to mind. So as you can well imagine, any chance at all we've got of getting a gold medal and the BBC are on to it like a hype machine, with constant reminders during last night's Super G coverage that it might be worth staying up for to see Great Britain get a gold medal. Unlike the likes of Norway, we don't normally have the top sportsmen for winter sports, who can rack it up in the biathlon, skiing etc.

So I had to make a decision just before midnight and the day turned to Saturday morning. Would I stay up and watch it live on BBC HD, or Sky Plus it and then watch it in the morning? One mug of coffee told you all you needed to know - I wasn't going to miss this unfold, and it was soon time for the third of the four runs in the women's skeleton, where Amy Williams was the leader with fellow Brit Shelley Rudman (who was silver four years back) in joint seventh place. Amy went first as the leader, and with Paul Dickenson getting suitably excited but authoritative in his commentary as ever, she went down.. and it was a new track record, there and then. Excellent!

Shelley Rudman then went later on and improved her overall placing slightly to be seventh outright, but did a good solid run. She admitted later that with more practice time on the track she might have been challenging for a medal but was going to give it her all and back Amy for the gold. She was very magmanimous and graceful about it all and was more interested about making sure if Amy won she got her deserved moment, which was good to see. One eye was also on her partner Kristian Bromley later on in the men's event too.

A bit of a break ensued and the Beeb showed the Brits against Germany again in the curling and that excellent last stone in the ninth end by skip Eve Muirhead, just getting us all nicely warmed up for the final run. They go in reverse order of placing this time so it was the Romanian first, and she wasn't that good and would finish way off the pace. One by one they all came down and each had their little bit of podium glory if they became the new leader. Shelley came on, posted the best time of anyone in the fourth run, and was at least in the lead for a little while.

The sixth placed rider came down, and wasn't good enough to topple Shelley, so she'd made sixth at least. Then Anja Huber, placed fifth after run three, had an inspired run, the second best of the final run in fact, and posted a time 0.33 ahead. With the next two or three being fairly close, could she sneak a medal? Noelle Pikus-Pace was next, and a couple of mistakes meant that she agonisingly was a tenth behind Huber. This meant that if one runner mucked up, she was in with a medal shout. Her team mate Kerstin Symkowiak was next, and did a brilliant run to take the overall lead, pushing Huber into second.

The last two came down, first was Melissa Hollingsworth of Canada. I remember four years ago she had a terrible final run which guaranteed Shelley a medal, and her run this time was just the same - trying too hard and with the added pressure of being home favourite. Her time dropped her to fourth overall and out of the medals, which meant Huber won bronze. She was going mental, and rightly so, she pulled it off when it mattered and you could tell how happy almost everyone was for her, which was good to see.

Then it was Amy. She could ride a little conservative and still win it, but the key was not to make mistakes. She did a lightning start, kept the speed up, got to corners eleven and twelve which she'd previously admitted were causing her problems, absolutely nailed the line, and then kept going, got the difficult final corner correct and crossed the line a massive 0.56 seconds ahead of anyone. She had done it! I punched the air with delight and the British crowd there were going mental, not least the three who were bare chested and had the letters A, M and Y respectively on there. Were they Newcastle fans out on a jolly to Vancouver or what? In any case, it was so well deserved and quite rightly a lot of the coverage afterwards went to interviewing Amy, who came across so happy and shocked but also a determined athlete. As BBC commentator Clare Balding rightly said, when there were complaints about her helmet (despite it being passed as legal) that just fired her up more and said "well I'll show you all" and she did. Yaay Amy, and yaay for skeleton - the last three games have been bronze, silver and now gold!

Tune of the day might seem obvious but it was the first thing I thought of when she crossed the line, "Gold" by Spandau Ballet. Give it the end of the year and the BBC Sports Personality of the year, and it'll be on when they show coverage of Amy doing the business on the ice. In fact, she's already a major shoe in for the award, unless England win the World Cup at footy in which case it'll be someone from that, you can guarantee it somehow. But in the meantime, "you've got the power to know, you're indestructable, always believing..." yeah, go Amy, go!

Friday 19th February - Giant Slalom Crashes

It was a mixed bag of a day at work today to be honest. We found out earlier in the day that we now have to support two more buildings on top of the ones that we support. Have to see how that goes, but there's always a little bit of tentativeness when you're having to take on some new stuff because you think about how it impacts on your workload. I did have some stuff to sort out though: the backup server seemed to crash for some reason and I found out that it was looking to one of the agents elsewhere and that wasn't responding so it caused it to stop, so I simply remmed out the line that referred to the other agent and all was working again, so hopefully all is well there.

I also managed to progress a fair bit on getting the Samsung N210 laptop ready for an image. Thankfully the existing N140 image I had worked, all apart from the graphics adapter, so it was a case of then getting everything ready and sorted with the additional software needed to be installed, as well as testing it all out. The good thing was that it seemed to handle everything pretty well and was quite quick with a potential dual core Atom processor on board. The trackpad mouse was a bit naff though, I ended up using a USB mouse and felt much better afterwards, let me tell you.

I nipped into Tesco on the way home and did all the food shopping, and noticed on the way back to mine that one of the local Chinese takeways were being renovated and under new management. It looked like the front was being double glazed and the whole place getting a serious makeover, which was a good thing. I made myself some tea and then turned on the telly to watch the Winter Olympics. I saw the British women play really well at the curling and although it was tight at 4-4 after eight ends with Germany, Eve Muirhead as skip did a superb final stone which meant that we got three points, and with Germany unable to do anything in the final end, it was a 7-4 win and well earned.

The men's giant slalom was a tricky course and several skiiers were caught out by it, notably a couple of the Canadians and some of the pre-race favourites struggled at times. The cream though comes to the top though and the early starting American Andrew Weibrecht set a pretty good time. A couple of Italians got very close indeed before Bode Miller set off, and his top section was the best of all, and held it together nicely on the bottom section to edge out Weibrecht by a mere 0.03 seconds. At this point, four or five were separated by just over a tenth, and one of the Canadians came down and just missed out too.

However, Axel Lund Svindal carried his excellent work from the downhill, and he rode his luck and the course well, getting the valuable turns nailed and coming out of the Coaches' Corner with an immense amount of speed, at least 5-6Km/h quicker than anyone else, and so it proved as he beat Miller by 0.28 seconds. Miller was the first to applaud, fair play to him, he knows when someone actually beats you and earns the medal. No one could get close to Svindal and the goal was his, and the race was delayed for a fair while when Patrick Jerbyn suffered a horrible crash close to the finish and had to be airlifted to hospital. Ouch.

Tune of the day is once again "Pop Looks Bach" by Sam Fonteyn, aka the proper theme tune to Ski Sunday. Ah, the days of Sunday afternoons with David Vine introducing another instalment of downill racing from the likes of Bormeo, Wengen, and so on. Just think how good it would be if the Beeb had used that as the Olympics theme - it'd have been ace.

Thursday 18th February - Fab Felicini's

I pretty much rushed back home from work tonight, as I had a pretty nice evening planned ahead of me. I was going to meet up with The Sugar On My Pancake and one of our friends and the three of us were going to have a little night out together. Our friend is missing his partner badly (understatement) so keeping him occupied for a while, we thought, was a good thing all round really. And on top of that, we were going to eat out as well, which is something that I don't normally do in the week either, so a definite plus point.

I got home, got showered and changed, and even had time to check my mail before heading on the bus in to the city centre. From there I walked to The Sugar's works, where she and our friend were there and just starting to walk up to meet me, good timing all round. We headed into The Waterhouse, but that was full, so off we headed to Ra!n and it was pretty peaceful in there, so I was also able to have a nice relaxing pint of Brewers' Dark as well whilst we chatted. Our friend was having the kitchen done in the house and he told us both it was like a dust trap everywhere, whilst we spoke about our recent visit to see my cousin, all was going well.

It was soon time to head to Felicini's, where I had booked a table for the three of us for 7pm. I always love it in there, the food is top notch, they are really good on the customer service side and it's all round excellent value to eat there. We got a nice table by the window overlooking the canal and pretty much chatted for a main chunk of the evening through the courses we had. We had a garlic bread to start, and they even did half with tomato and half with cheese, so we could have a slice of each just as an appetiser. The mains looked lovely: our friend had the seafood risotto which looked divine, whilst The Sugar and myself had the spaghetti carbonara, which had a poached egg on top as well as chunks of ham with the pasta and even some prosciutto on top as well, all very delicious.

Myself and our friend both love the desserts, so we made sure that we had room. He had a whole vanilla panna cotta to himself (and believe me they are massive) and I had the selection of ice creams, a bit smaller but delicious all the same, with strawberries and cream, morello cherry and vanilla bean flavours. The cherry one had big chunks of cherry in it and was my favourite of the three but they were all gorgeous nonetheless. After that it was off to the Cornerhouse for a coffee and chat and to look out at the world outside whilst we chatted.

It was sad for us all to say our goodbyes at the end of the night, and I'd like to think we cheered our friend up a fair bit too. Myself and The Sugar headed back to her place, and I kept an eye on the biathlon 20k with Norwegian legend Ole Einar Bjornedalen getting a share of the silver with the Belarussian athlete, who had shot clean in all four target ranges to be in with a shout. It's brutal in the 20k though: miss one target and you get one minute added on to your time, no penalty loops or anything, it's a flat one minute. Too many misses and forget about even coming close to winning!

Tune of the day incidentally is Vampire Weekend's rather nifty little short single "A-Punk". Not only have I played it in Guitar Hero 5, but also it was on today in the hairdresser's whilst they were doing their normally fab job of getting my hair cut down to size and looking a bit more normal then the overgrown mess than it has been of late. And of course, "A-Punk" just has those great short pop song elements, a singalong chorus shout bit, a nice interlude and a really short sharp shock feel to it, and that's good isn't it?

Wednesday 17th February - And She's Down!

I had a very nice surprise tonight when I got home from work. I opened the door and got in, and noticed that there was an envelope addressed to me that had arrived earlier in the day. When I looked at the back and saw the little indentations on the envelope, I had a feeling it might be a little card. And when I opened it, it was a truly "awwww" moment. The Milk In My Coffee had got me a customised little card and had put the words in herself, which showed just how lucky I am to have her really. I couldn't believe it, and read the inside a few more times for it all to sink in. What a lovely surprise to come home to and that really did make my day.

I had spent some time earlier in the day explaining about disk permissions on Mac and Linux to one of my colleagues, and how rwxr-xr-x equals 755 if you use the chmod command. It also helped to explain why sometimes you need to do a "repair disk permissions" in Disk Utility on the Mac to try and keep everything rather ship shape all round. We managed to solve an issue for a member of staff where Quark XPress 6 on their Mac failed to launch - it was down to a corrupt preferences file. Once we deleted that and allowed it to recreate when Quark started, all was well with the world again. Isn't it great when these things work?

Later on it was time to watch the women's downhill skiing - and BBC excelled themselves again by having the race in HD. Chemmy Alcott of Britain was number 2 starter, not that favourable, but she was the first skiier down after the number 1 runner crashed half way down. Her time looked okay but nothing special and this was proven soon enough with an impressive run from Elisabeth Georgl, who really did smash the time out of sight. That looked good till Julia Mancuso came down, and really did nail the run, getting two of the difficult corners spot on, and really hammered the time to take the lead. The BBC summarisers thought it was good enough for a medal, possibly gold, and they weren't far off.

Red hot favourite Lindsey Vonn came down a while after, mainly because there'd been two nasty crashes as skiiers launched over the final jump and ended up landing awkwardly and crashing out. One of them wasn't too good as you saw the skiier go over a bump and go airborne on their tummy. Ouch. Vonn though chanelled all that energy into the skiing and absolutely hammered Mancuso's time by half a second, meaning that Georgl was almost one and a half seconds down but in bronze, which also showed how tough the course was.

The biggest shock was yet to come - down came Anja Paerson of Sweden, and in the split times it looked like third or even second for her, then she went over the final jump, and had approached it awkwardly. She went in the air and by my reckoning went down around sixty metres before landing awkwardly and crashing. The crowd had a gasp - Vonn couldn't bear to look as some of the others also were concerned, but after a while thankfully Paerson got up, but she looked in not so good shape. Alcott eventually was to finish 13th, which wasn't disastrous but not as good as her 11th place four years ago, but fair play to her, some of the top skiiers failed to finish and she'd made it look not that tough, so good on you.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Take Me To The Hospital" by The Prodigy - yes, it's a banging dance choon and all that but I thought the main title was pretty appropriate after seeing some of the crashes in the women's skiing though. I can just imagine Lindsey Vonn getting herself psyched up by listening to a bit of the Prodge before she hits the slopes. Or maybe not. Oh, and before I forget, well done to the women's curling team who beat China 5-4 in sudden death to win their first game - and that was a big scalp to take!

Tuesday 16th February - Coq Au Vin For Tea For Me

After a long day at the office, spending most of the time with a Mac laptop and running all sorts of tests through it, including a handy run through Tech Tool Pro 4 to see if there was definitely anything awry with the Mac in question, it was good to head out and head towards seeing The Milk In My Coffee, who was very kindly making me tea. However, the traffic in the city centre was pretty bad and because of some of the road closures, waiting for a bus to her place was a little longer than anticipated. Mind you, she had asked me to nip in the Asda on the way to her place as well to get some bits to go with tea, and I didn't mind one bit doing that.

I arrived and The Milk was happy to see me (and me too of course) and we settled in and had a good chat about the day and how things had gone for her during the day too. I noticed that the Olympics were on and had the men's curling (doing rubbish against Sweden too) in the background whilst we caught up. I could smell something very nice in the oven, and so it proved. She had done coq au vin, added some extra mushrooms and also done fresh carrots, broccoli and potatoes to the mix as well. It all tasted rather gorgeous and with slices of a crusty baguette to have with it, it was all rather nice.

As it was Pancake Tuesday, she'd even gone to the effort of getting all the ingredients to make the pancakes herself, even flipping them half way through. I had one with some ice cream (the posh Cornish ice cream too no less) and some strawberries, and that tasted rather sweet but nice. She stuck to some lemon and sugar on hers, a bit more traditional, but that would have done for me anyway. The ice cream was spot on and really did melt in the mouth as I devoured it. Awww. And with that, we kept an eye on the biathlon pursuit, with Rob Walker getting rather excited whenever anyone missed a target, not least as he'd say the moment before "and it looks like she'll hit all five clean now". In fact, the French bronze medallist shot all 20 shots clean and so moved up to bronze medal position because of it, good for her.

We did see some of the Brit Awards later, although some of the results were predictable. Full marks to Peter Kay though who appeared unflustered after Liam Gallagher's rubbish antics when accepting the Best British Album of the Last 30 Years award for Oasis' "What's The Story Morning Glory". He simply said "What a knob head" and I couldn't agree more with that sentiment. The Milk was happy enough with some of the acts on, and I got "Fire" by Kasabian, and it was a good performance by them, so tune of the day right there methinks.

Monday 15th February – At Long Last, The Downhill

I have been keeping one eye on the Winter Olympics at Vancouver since it all started last Friday. Admittedly the time delay has meant that I’ve only been able to watch certain events unfold between the morning and afternoon in their time before heading to bed (it’s seven hours behind, I think, which means that the likes of the figure skating are on around 2-3am here, ouch). One event which I always look forward to is the men’s downhill skiing – for many still the event to win at the Games because of the prestige, but also because you have one chance to do it – and that’s your lot.

I spent time today sorting out the final part of the admin rollout for now, with one PC in particular taking most of the day to sort out. They had plenty of data on the hard drive which needed backing up and then restoring to the new PC, thankfully I had an external hard drive with me with tons of space, and so that proved to be a good move. Not least when the person in question had around 60GB of data which I had to transfer back and forth. I thought at first “this is a bit slow” and so did a couple of other PCs in the meantime. Then I realised that only one of the USB ports on the old PC was USB2, the rest slow USB1. Once I’d found the USB2 port, backing it up was a relatively stress-free experience and it meant I could crack on. Hurrah!

Back home it was on with the television and on the BBC HD channel (thankfully the BBC are showing chunks of the content on HD, which is a nice touch). The downhill was on there and it was clear to me that the course is fairly tricky to navigate, with certain key corners being the ones where the title would be won or lost. The first few went down and were okay, then Bode Miller started to really show them how it was done on the top half. He lost some time on the bottom half, but posted a time that looked pretty difficult to beat or get close to, and I’d wondered with some of the big names still coming if he was going to get a medal or not.

Then one by one they all failed to beat Miller’s time and that did start to make me think “actually that’s a good time!” and so it would be proven. Axsel Lund Svindal of Norway came down the course with his number 16 start bib, and although behind at the start, he did make up some ground on one corner and coming over the final two jumps it looked very close indeed. He reached the finish line, and wow! It was very very close. Two hundredths of a second, in fact, and he took the lead. That took some doing, and to be fair Miller was pretty laid back and his attitude seemed to be “well, if someone better beat my time, then fair enough”.

Two skiers later came Didier Defago of Switzerland. He managed to keep with Miller and Svindal’s time and the gliding sections meant he was ahead. He just had to nail the last two jumps, and almost came to grief on the last one but managed to keep it all together. He crossed the line, the BBC commentary team went mad and he had got in front, by 0.07 seconds over Svindal and 0.09 over Miller. Now that’s pretty close to me! Well done Defago though, and as for the other fancied ones, Didier Cuche was rubbish, as was Manuel Osborne-Paradis, and the other Canadian who was fancied fell about half way down. Oops. If only the legendary David Vine was around commentating, he’d have something to say about that.

Tune of the day is a fairly obvious choice, but one I simply had to have in there. It’s Sam Fonteyn’s “Pop Looks Bach” which for years was the theme tune to Ski Sunday on BBC2, when Ski Sunday was good, it had David Vine as host and you’d be magically taken to the likes of Kitzbuhel and Wengen for the real classic downhill races, full of danger but also full of bravery. Just doesn’t seem the same somehow does it?

Sunday 14th February - If You Go Down To The Woods Today..

Yes, I know what day it is. But to me, I've always said that if you love someone, you love them each and every day and not just today. With that in mind, we decided that we'd do the sort of Sunday that we'd normally do. As I was at The Stripes In My Shirt's place anyway, we got up and had a bit of a lie in, just chatting about all sorts and relaxing, which was good. She made us both a really nice breakfast, with bacon, scrambled egg and some toast, which she'd cut into little heart shapes. Awww.. that was nice. In fact, she kept the remainder of the bread that she had cut off, because we could use it later when we'd be out for a walk - cunning plan, you see.

We got everything sorted and after dropping off some bits at my place, it was off out to Quarry Bank Mill in Styal for the afternoon. Being National Trust members does have its advantages, as we get free parking and if we wanted to go around the mill, that'd be fine too. We were planning to walk around the gardens there, only for us to find that it was actually closed till 1st March. Ah well, we'll have to go back in March and have a look then I reckon. Instead it was a case of walking along the path from there and through to the woods, which was a nice walk mainly by the river side but also had a little pond where some ducks were asking to be fed, and so The Stripes was able to use the bread and do the feeding nicely.

Later on just before we headed across the Heron's Pond bridge we actually saw a pretty large heron, with wings spread very wide, sitting patiently by the water and looking almost motionless. It was only when I spotted his head move did we realise it was live, and later on his wings were all tucked in as he perused the surroundings. We did eventually get to the end of the woods and you were back on the road that leads to Styal one way and Wilmslow the next, so we headed back the way we came and through the woods, which was a very nice walk overall. The path was pretty dry in the most part and it was good to see wildlife just going about their business. Plenty of people were walking around and we had a short walk in the Mill Meadow to see the mill from the back, which looked rather impressive to say the least.

After a short walk around the Meadow, it was back to The Stripes' car and we headed into the centre of Wilmslow to have a quick walk around but mainly to go for a coffee, and it was nice being sat in Caffe Nero and just watch the world go by and chatter about all sorts. Thing is, we'd go for a coffee sometimes anyway just to be sociable, so that worked out rather well all round really. We had a little cupcake to keep us going too, and the lemon one I had was rather delicious, and light. Well, why not, we're allowed to treat ourselves aren't we?

We got back to mine and it was on with the CD and out with the Scrabble, as we both fancied a game. I did pretty well in the first game we played, playing INVITED for 69 points (including of course the 50 for getting rid of all my letters) and later on JERKED on triple word, with the J on double letter, for 78 points, so I couldn't argue there really. Sometimes the better moves can be when you don't get rid of all the letters but have some of them strategically placed in the right way, such is the game and how it can be played. Mind you, The Stripes came out with RUCHED as well, which was definitely a fab word to play as well as QUIFF for 30 (double letter on Q) so she did pretty good too.

Throughout the first and most of the second game we listened to the Duke Special CD I'd got yesterday. She was most intrigued by the live cover of "Tainted Love" as it's one of her favourite songs, and the way Duke did it with Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy was rather masterful, and in the same sort of style as Duke would expect to do it, we reckoned. Also on there were covers of "Ain't Got No" by Nina Simone, "I Feel For You" (written by Prince but made famous of course by Chaka Khan), "Lucky" by Radiohead, "I Know There's An Answer" by The Beach Boys, and even "Maps" by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs too, so all good. But we both really liked the version of "No Cover Up", it sounded lovely the way it was done, so tune of the day for me that one. Mind you, we both liked the album and earlier today I pre-ordered the two new CDs he's releasing next month as part of a pledge by fans to help him out to release it all. And the two CDs will be signed too, which will be rather fab don't you think?

It was then time for me to make us a lovely meal for tea whilst The Stripes was more than happy watching Countryfile and enjoying that. We both wish it was still on Sunday morning mind you, but it definitely was a good thing for her to see. I'd decided a while back I wanted to do another effort at a three course meal (I did one a few weeks ago which was a decent effort) and I'd got almost everything ready for it on Friday. I did a wild mushroom soup with some nice granary triangle bread (I'd warmed it in the oven too which really helped it a lot) and it was the posh Covent Garden soups you can get. She really liked that I'd made the effort with the bread and it definitely made her feel classy, hurrah for me.

The main came a bit later on and it was chicken with cheese and bacon, along with some new potatoes, carrots, broccoli and peas, which did the job nicely without being overly filling. I've made that before but it was good to see I hadn't lost it and she enjoyed herself too. At the same time the dessert was in the oven cooking away, and I'd got a really nice apple and blackberry pie to cook in the oven. It tasted divine with either the cream she had or the Ambrosia custard I had, and really did finish off the meal nicely. The Stripes was really pleased with me and I felt pleased with myself too. I wanted to make an effort and show her just how much I love her (which I do lots) but also to improve my own cooking skills a lot too, and I know that means a lot to me.

We snuggled up on the sofa later and kept an eye on the Winter Olympics, catching the men's 10k biathlon "sprint". The camera panned on legend Ole Einar Bjorndalen, and I thought that his form coming into the games was patchy and he wouldn't win. In the end his shooting let him down badly as he missed four out of the ten targets which cost shed loads of time. It was quite a shock in the end too as the winner was only ranked around 20th on the World Cup circuit, but crucially he missed no targets and had the best of the weather with an early start number before the snow came down some more, so he did superbly well overall to really nail it and get the win.

We saw some of the speed skating short track on relay and then it was time for her to head home. It was hard to let her go really, not because I knew that she had to because of her being able to be up for work in the morning, but because we'd had a lovely time together and in many ways just had another good Sunday together, regardless of what day it was, and that was what made it special for me. Like I said, if you love someone, you love them all the time and her card to me today (we got each other a card and that was all) said it all: "loving you is easy, I do it every day" and the feeling is definitely reciprocated, let me tell you. I always appreciate how fortunate I am to have met someone so lovely, and it was one of those moments to remind me of that.

Saturday 13th February - Stoking Up The FA Cup

It was a relatively early(ish) start today as I wanted to head out to get some nice shoes for going out in. My current going out pair have lasted well and are still in decent nick, so the plan will be that they'll become my everyday pair for work (because I have to do a lot of bending down under desks and stuff as well as wheeling stuff around, so don't want a good pair to be wrecked, then the new pair I'd hopefully get will be the pair I keep for going out and other nice things. I do have some logic in this in that it means that it saves money in the long run if I get a decent pair in the first place, and I know what I like.

First stop then was Wynsors in Hazel Grove, as they often have good branded shoes at much less than everywhere else. There was plenty of stuff in but nothing really jumped out at me to say "this is what I want" so it was back on the bus and in to the centre of Stockport. After checking out a few different shoe shops (and noticing one had closed down) I went in to one of the little independent shops, and they had a sale on. I did actually see a nice Ben Sherman pair, but they only had size 7 and 9 in the sale. And guess what? I'm a size 8, right in the middle, which they didn't have. Not good. However, I did then notice a nice pair of Pod ones. My last two good pairs have been Pods and they've lasted me ages, they're very comfortable too so it's a win win situation with them. They were a little bit more expensive but worth it, and so one chip and pin transaction later and they were mine.

I nipped also into HMV to see what was new out, and as I was browsing around I noticed a Duke Special CD I hadn't got and at a good price too, so that was a definite to be bought for me. It's called "Little Revolutions" and has alternate single versions, B-sides and live tracks as well as cover versions. I'd have to try it when I got home, but I also noticed two CDs in the two for £10 I wanted too - David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane" and Slayer's classic "Reign In Blood" so they were both purchased at the same time. I hadn't got myself a CD since Christmas so I felt like it was time for a little treat now and then - we do need them don't we?

I got home and had the Southampton-Portsmouth game on ITV HD whilst listening to the Slayer album. Of course it's a classic, and a perfect example of when thrash metal really does sound melodically fast but also really hard at the same time. I'll have to give "Raining Blood" tune of the day not least because of the fact I can also kick backside on its vocals on Guitar Hero Greatest Hits, so that just had to be done methinks. I'll listen to the Duke special CD tomorrow so I can play it when The Stripes On My Shirt is over - she likes them too and it'd be nice to see what she thinks as well as me.

After seeing Southampton sadly get crushed by Portsmouth, I watched some of the racing and saw the shock of the season as Denman fell in the Aon Chase at Newbury, and also saw some decent racing at Warwick, which is a really strange track due to its design, but there was some quality chasing going on. My friends picked me up and it was off over to see The Stripes and then myself and my friend to head over to the City of Manchester Stadium to see Manchester City against Stoke City in the FA Cup fifth round. The traffic to the ground did seem a fair bit less busy than it would otherwise be, and when we arrived at the ground, I was bitterly disappointed to see it only be around half full.

The game started well enough for my beloved Blues though, and a through ball from Stephen Ireland saw Shaun Wright-Phillips lob it over the keeper, and he chased to get the ball in, but the Stoke defender seemed to have got to it, slipped, the ball bounced off his head and Shaunie did the rest to make it 1-0. Matthew Etherington went off for Stoke with a horribly twisted knee, and his replacement Liam Lawrence lasted till just before half time before he also went off with a bad knee, and on came Rory Delap. "Uh oh", my friend and I thought, "this could mean trouble."

And so it proved early in the second half, a rubbish clearance from Shay Given went out for a throw in deep in the Blues' half, and a Delap special throw in was met perfectly by Ricardo Fuller with no Blues defenders around to make it an easy headed equaliser for 1-1. Both sides had their chances after that with Gareth Barry's header around the closest to getting a winner, but to be honest Man City played rubbish and were in my view rightly booed off after the performance. It wasn't that good at all, and I feared that in the replay at their place we'd get hammered if we played like that. And we play them in the league on Tuesday, where the only bright spot is that Adam Johnson isn't cup tied and so can play. Fingers crossed.

We had a relaxing evening over at The Stripes' place later on, where she made us all pizza for tea and cheesecake or profiteroles for dessert, so that was rather nice all round. The Winter Olympics had started and we kept an eye on the women's biathlon sprint whilst we were chatting away - it looked rather difficult to concentrate on the shooting after all the cross-country skiing, and those that didn't miss a target were definitely in with a chance of winning. It was also good to see some of the speed skating with the 5000 metres being fascinating stuff as each of the athletes went for it to see if they could get a top time. In the end, the Dutch skater won rather well with a time no one could get close to. It was a lovely day all round despite the result, and I hoped that tomorrow would be just as good.

Friday 12th February - Tea And Cake, The Perfect Combination

After a hard day's graft at work, where I'd finally managed to get the whole building's new admin PCs rolled out and all seemed well with the world, it was a walk over to Tesco to get the food shopping sorted. I had the brainwave that doing a nice meal for The Stripes On My Shirt might be a good idea over the weekend, so I worked out what would be a great three course meal and set to work to find out what I could get. I got the starter sorted, the main I already had an idea for and then I saw something in there which I thought "wow, that's perfect for dessert, that!" and so that was all sorted too. It's good when you're able to do that sort of thing.

It was then making myself something for tea and munching that happily before tidying a bit around the house, as my friend was coming over with his wife. They were dropping a laptop off for me so I could install Windows XP plus all the laptop drivers for their laptop. I also need to make sure that the recovery disc for Windows Vista is created as well so that if they do want to head back that way, they can do so. It was good to have a brew and a chat with them when they got here, and I had some fresh cream Victoria sponge to go with the cup of tea. Ah, tea and cake, what a good combination and perfect to have to enjoy yourself I reckon.

We also had a blast of TV Show King 2 on the Wii as well, as I wanted to show them how much better it was than the first one. They were both suitably impressed and my friend played against me to see how he'd do. I was doing well until the last spin of the wheel where he landed "swap cash" and so swapped the cash with mine. I couldn't make enough money in my spin and so was out of the final round, which my friend duly won and kicked proverbial backside against the opponent. It was all good fun though and it's good to see that the original game, as loved as it was, needed improvement and that we got it in bucketloads. Call it the Wii's equivalent to "Buzz" on the PS2 if you will.

Tune of the day, because I'm feeling rather retro, is "Wise Up Sucker" by Pop Will Eat Itself. Hard to believe it's some twenty one years ago since the single came out, and the album it's from, "This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This" is still one of my all time favourites. It was so ahead of its time and when you hear the megaphoned mic belting out "Wise Up, sucker!" you just know where you're at. A few years ago Clint Mansell of PWEI got on stage with Nine Inch Nails and together they did it, with Trent Reznor and Clint sharing vocal duties. I would have so loved to have been there!

Thursday 11th February - Russell Howard, Take Those Glasses Off

It was a nice and relaxing evening tonight, as I'd invited The Stripes On My Shirt over for tea, and as she was on her earlier shift, it meant that she could come over a bit earlier too. In fact I knew what time she was coming over, and I'd just about sorted the oven out for the tea before she arrived, looking as lovely as ever. In fact, she even had a nice new necklace and matching bracelet, which she'd got from Next and because she used her vouchers that she'd got at Christmas, it effectively didn't cost her anything. How good is that eh?

I soon had tea all sorted, I'd done some fresh spinach and ricotta tortellini with sauce and some meatballs, and some garlic bread with cheese on the side. Not maybe the most exciting thing ever, but I do like to cook occasionally and it's nice that I can do so and make a fuss over The Stripes. We talked about our week in general and mentioned about how things are all happening ready for their move and what's been going on, and I generally also had plenty to say about what had gone on in my week. It was good to catch up and I indulged her slightly with Emmerdale and Corrie (is it me or is Gail absolutely stark raving bonkers?) and in between showing her Sports Island 2 on the Wii, which seems good fun, especially the petanque event!

After the soaps it was time to turn on BBC2 for Mock The Week. I have to say it's lost something since Frankie Boyle left, whether it was a case of balance or risqueness, I don't know. Dara O'Briain is still very funny, and Hugh Dennis' dry with along with Andy Parsons' ascerbic nature works well. It seems the mantle of being the daring one has gone to Russell Howard, and it'd be fine but for those bloody stupid glasses that he seems to have on these days. It doesn't suit him whatsoever and I find that I can't take him seriously when he's wittering on. That said out of the guests, Jack Whitehall was very dry and funny and I actually warmed to him a fair bit - he or David Mitchell would be a good permanent panelist, I think.

It was good just to relax a bit more and we did see the rest of Dancing on Wheels on BBC3 which was really good - so nice to see that disability was seen in such a positive light and that the wheelchair dancers were really good - the one who was paired with Mark Foster really had the passion and fire and Mark was a beautifully understated partner for her, giving her all the limelight as the routine of tango really soared to a fiery end. It was good too that some of the Strictly lot are involved: James and Ola Jordan are two of the judges and Brian Fortuna is the dance coach for the couples. It's a positive thing and it goes to show that for the celebrities, looking at the person was most important. In fact, a few of the women looked stunning in their outfits and I'm sure if everyone saw the person the same, they'd think "wow, they're hot!" as they were, definitely.

It was sad when The Stripes had to head home, but at the same time I know she's got an early start tomorrow so wanted to make sure she had sleep. Tune of the day is "Sleep" by Marion, it seemed quite apt as I wanted to head to bed too, was yawning a little bit and I think the lack of sleep I've had as of late is catching up with me somewhat. Plus when Marion reformed and I saw them live, they were fab and that track was really good - seeing Jaime do his stuff was spellbinding, let me tell you.

Wednesday 10th February - John Daly's Power Drives

After work tonight I first went round to see my Mum, as I'd not seen her for a little while and thought it would be nice to catch up. I also had a CD of pictures from the weekend I'd had in Bournemouth and East Knoyle, and wanted to show them her because some of them were of pics of the family as well. Even though I do put a fair chunk of images on Flickr, I generally keep any of family private and offline, it's just me respecting privacy all round and meaning that I only give the CD to those in the family that need it. So it's a win win situation really.

Mum made us both a cuppa and we had a chat about the weekend, and she told me that she'd not been down there for a while and I'm sure that it was a lovely time all round. I mentioned how nice the beach was and the price of the huts, along with how lovely it was just to walk in the country, and how wonderful it all was. Mum asked me whether The Stripes On My Shirt would come back with me, and I said a qualified yes (she had infact spoken to Mum last night whilst I was at the footy) so all was well. Mum didn't realise initially that her laptop had a DVD drive, but it definitely did and so I was able to put the disc in and show her the pics, which was rather lovely to do.

After heading home later and munching some very nice tea, I had a text from my uncle asking if I fancied playing Tiger Woods 09 online against him. As it happened, I was heading to theirs anyway as he'd asked me for a CD of the pics, so I responded with "we can play together rather than online as I'm coming over" and that was all sorted. I arrived there and my uncle sorted me out with a nice cup of tea, and all was well with the world. He too asked me about the weekend and I explained how good it all was, and he mentioned when he popped by down there last year and what a good time they had, so that was lovely.

We chucked on the Wii and then Tiger Woods 09 and we decided to have 18 holes of match play over the Firestone course. My uncle (as he always does) picks John Daly, because he can whack it but also because he's a bit of a hero for my uncle at golf. As I wasn't on my Wii, I couldn't pick my golfer whom I'd put through tournaments and customised so well, so I went for Ian Poulter instead, and off we went. It was good to see that the commentary worked really well in this mode and that we were able to knock some lovely shots together. It was pretty much neck and neck after the first couple of holes, with us alternating winning a hole. Eventually it got to the fourteenth and I'd eked out a lead, and putted for birdie to make it a 5 and 4 victory. Still, it was good fun. Not least if I'd driven first and whacked it 300 yards or so, my uncle's Wii remote would vibrate to see if Daly could match the drive I'd set. All good fun that is.

I got home and there was a very nice little email from my relatives in East Knoyle saying that it was lovely to have us, and that my cousin's little one was still talking about The Stripes On My Shirt. Awww, I am so glad she made a good impression but also it goes to show that her personality is pretty infectious. With that in mind, tune of the day is the funkadelic funktastic "Infectious Grooves" by the band of the same name. It's such good fun and when you think it's Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies and Rob Trujillo (now in Metallica) doing their thing, it makes you realise that rock and metal dudes can show their playing skills on a wide range of stuff if they so like, so yaay them.

Tuesday 9th February - Championship, You Are Coming, Bolton!

It was another Manchester City home game for me and my friend, and this time a midweek local game against Bolton at home. Earlier in the season the sides had shared a 3-3 draw at the Reebok, which was full of flair but not very good if you're a defender of either side's goal. However, since then quite a bit has changed: City have of course got "Bobby Manc" (ie: Roberto Mancini) as manager, and Bolton poached former player Owen Coyle from Burnley to become their new manager, despite the fact that Coyle was doing a splendid job at Burnley and in truth would have probably stayed there if any other job rather than Bolton came along.

The game started and the Bolton fans were in full flow taking the mickey out of Wayne Bridge over the John Terry affair, with chants which are far too rude to repeat here, let's just say they made one fatal faux pas with the chant: the woman in question isn't actually Wayne Bridge's wife, nor has she been. Thick so and sos. Ha. 1-0 to us. And of course in riposte City started singing to "Sing Hosanna" the likes of "Championship, championship, you are coming, you are coming at the end of May" which was quite witty and perhaps possibly true depending on the result later. 2-0 to the fans. Hurrah.

And soon it was 1-0 to City as well. The very impressive Adam Johnson on home debut went down the right, cut inside the area and was clumsily fouled by the Bolton defence, and the referee didn't hesitate to point to the spot. Up stepped Carlos Tevez, who wellied it straight down the middle, and in truth the Bolton keeper Jussi Jaskelainen was very unlucky not to save it, the ball trickled in off his midriff. Mind you, it was Tevez's nineteenth goal of the season, which is not a bad strike rate whatsoever at this stage of the season, and certainly showed just how much he was enjoying his football at the moment.

The rest of the half was nondescript apart from a possible Bolton penalty which was instead a free kick to us for a foul on Kolo Toure - although I have to say it did look like a penalty to them from where I saw it. It wasn't exciting stuff per se, but we were doing the job and if we have to win boring to get points on the board, then so be it. The way I look at it is that we could possibly aim for fourth place and by making sure we don't make silly mistakes and really do concentrate, that'll help enormously. And so will Adam Johnson - he looks like a very astute buy from Mancini already as he terrorised the Bolton defence all the way through the game.

The second half saw one moment of brilliance that could well be a goal of the month contender. Patrick Vieira in his home debut for City spotted the run of Emmanuel Adebayor, and lofted a superb thirty five yard pass (about the only good thing he did all game, admittedly). Adebayor was in no mood to faff about, and he chested it and then turned and smacked it past Jaskelainen for 2-0. And I mean smacked, you could see the back of the net take a right hammering. It was a great finish and my friend unfortunately was on the loo at this time, so he was a bit gutted to say the least - we stopped after the game for the highlights so he could see the goal.

We headed back after the game and it wasn't the best game ever, but hey, three points on the board and we're in with a shout for fourth. A lot might also depend on tomorrow night's results, but that's another day and another set of games we have no control over. But it was a positive night all round and great to see my friend as ever. Tune of the day is "He Was Really Saying Somethin'" by The Velvelettes, as the club have been playing the Motown classic every time they show first half or match highlights and it has that great sixties groove to it. Of course some of you might remember the Bananarama cover version....

Monday 8th February - Back To Reality

It was a slightly tired but happy me that woke up this morning, and soon myself and The View From My Beach Hut were up and ready to rock and roll. My cousin and her husband got themselves sorted, whilst we kept their son entertained with plenty of fun and games. I even spent a considerable amount of time helping him build different tracks with the Thomas The Tank Engine wooden train set that he had. I used to love those wooden tracked sets as a child and I'm sure that he could see that we could have much fun building a track too, and it was nice to have some creative play and involve him.

We all had some gorgeous bacon rolls for breakfast, with lots of nice bacon cooked just right and with a dollop of ketchup on and had a coffee before it was soon time to head to the train station to get our 1045 departure to Manchester. It felt really sad to leave, and it also felt sad because it was so lovely to see everyone and we'd all agreed that we'd had a great time. I just hope that they really like The View, because I know she's so special (well the son did anyway, she was his new best friend!) and it felt like it had been too long to see them - so I'm hoping we can see a bit more of each other now and then, that would be rather lovely.

Thankfully I'd had the foresight to book First Class advance on the way back, which wasn't too expensive, so it meant a much more quiet atmosphere and comfier and bigger seats, plus freebies of course (well I know you pay for it in the price, but still..) Soon we'd had coffee and biscuits as the train headed out of Southampton and towards Basingstoke and Reading and The View had her magazine and I had the iPod on, and I think I'll make "Crazy" by The Icicles tune of the day - it has that feeling of being all Summery and as if you were on the beac listening to it, but it also describes lyrically how I feel about The View - "I'm feeling crazy about you". I know, I know!

Once we got past Reading it was an at-seat service separate to standard class, and even a selection of little lunch treats, so we had some crisps and The View had the ploughman's platter and I had a ham and piccalili pie. I wouldn't normally eat that stuff, but there wasn't too much of it and the ham was spot on, so a spot of lunch with coffee went down well. I had some more crisps and biscuits after Birmingham with a coffee later, so felt like I got some of my money's worth anyway. When I went to the loo around Leamington Spa, I could see how rammed standard class was and how pleased I felt I'd booked First Class instead.

We arrived back in Piccadilly on time and it was a really hard thing to say goodbye as I gave The View a massive hug. I just felt that we'd had another lovely time and that also it had been good to see my relations and also take a break at the same time - all worked rather well actually. As I headed home I just thought about it all as I sat looking out of the window as the bus went along the main road. I noticed as I got off the bus too that one of the former pubs which had been shut for being dodgy had been completely demolished now. I'm all wondering what's going to be there instead as the bank next door is also closed - maybe making room for a Co-Op in the area? I thought that'd be nice to see. Ah well, back to work tomorrow...

Sunday 7th February - Off To Sir Christopher Wren's Village

It was a nice early start on the Sunday morning as myself and The View From My Beach Hut awoke, with the sounds of my cousin's son running around. It was good to see he'd had a good night's sleep too and was ready and full of energy. We got ourselves changed and ready and headed downstairs so that our hosts could ready themselves and we made some toast and coffee to have for a light breakfast, knowing that we'd be having a Sunday roast dinner later and to save some room in the stomach for that (as you'd expect to do.)

Once we were all good to go, we all got in the car and headed off to see my cousin's Mum and Dad, as they'd invited us over for lunch. It was soon leaving Bournemouth behind, heading along via the A31 and then the A350 round the back of Blandford Forum and then down through the dips and steep one in six gradient hill towards the back of Shaftesbury, where we'd then rejoin the A350 and head for the village of East Knoyle. It's most famous for being the birthplace of one architect named Sir Christopher Wren (check your history books if you don't know who he is) and the little village shop is even called Wren's Shop. We then headed slightly out of the village up hill and towards The Green, where our relations live.

It was great to see them both in such fine form, and over coffee during the morning plenty of chat was involved and they made The View very welcome indeed, which was rather lovely. Mind you, she also looked gorgeous in the top I had on and kept thinking to myself "Just how lucky am I"? I just hope that people can see that. The lunch was being made so it was plenty of time to catch up and be able to explain some of our recent adventures, and sensibly the little one was amused by some Wiggles and Fireman Sam, and my cousin's very old but still working Weebles playground set, which was lovely to see.

Sunday dinner was served, and my, was it gorgeous. My auntie excelled herself with beef and chicken, roast potatoes, peas, carrots, stuffing balls, gravy and Yorkshire puddings. Everyone got what they needed and the seven of us tucked in. It was really lovely and there were empty plates all round, which really was a lovely thing. The wine we had was nice too - The View and I stuck with the white and myself and my cousin were on pouring duties for everyone to make life easier. And then - dessert. Spoiled for choice, but we went for the toffee and pecan roulade with cream, gorgeous. The apple and blackberry crumble with custard looked ace too, and it was a very full me later who felt rather satisfied all round.

We all headed out for a walk later in the afternoon, which took us up to the view from The Green where you can actually see Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset on a clear day, and then down a country lane round the back of the historic Clouds House, and down a dip to a small little hamlet which had an old school red phone box and a field that kept alpacas amongst other things. We then headed along another road and past several thatched cottages, some of which were having their roof repaired by the local village thatcher, who was doing a splendid job. With some of these old cottages being listed, you have to keep the original features. It was then back down hill and along another lane and to the house, where after a slight issue with the laptop detecting the CD drive, I was able to show them the pics of my nephew and niece that I'd promised Mum I'd take for them.

It was soon time to leave, but we'd all had a lovely time and it was a really nice and relaxing Sunday lunchtime and afternoon. I felt quite sad leaving, the country and village life seemed much more slower and picturesque too. The village has one bus on a Tuesday and Saturday which takes you to Salisbury, and a connect service which you ring and book in advance which runs to Shaftesbury, so not the easiest place to maybe head around if you can't drive (which is why my cousin explained to me that when she lived at her Mum's that you drove as soon as you could possibly do!). We then headed back in the car to Bournemouth and let the little one have a nap in the car whilst the dulcet tones of Paul Weller kept us all mellow - in fact make "Thechangingman" tune of the day as I quite like that one myself, you know.

As we were still full from Sunday lunch we later on had some nibbles, beer and wine once we'd settled the now very tired but happy little one to bed, and I dug out the Travel Scrabble as we became engrossed in four player mode for the rest of the evening. At first I wasn't sure if my cousin was going to be okay playing it, because she'd told me how sore a loser she was, but it ended up being quite good fun and a close contest between the four of us - I only really broke away in one game. With four players you do get less turns so you have to make everything count, and The View impressed with XI for 50 (the X was on triple letter both ways you see) and that definitely put her in front on the final game, and took a mammoth effort from two of us to overhaul the final total - which was still very close indeed! With the Superbowl on and with the time approaching gone midnight, it was time to head to sleep, but we'd had a really nice wind down evening and on top of that another lovely day. Why can't all days be like this?

Saturday 6th February - Escape To The Beach

It was an early(ish) start for me this morning, as I was meeting up with The View From My Beach Hut and heading out on the train from Piccadilly. I'd arranged to stay with my cousin, her husband and son, who live in a lovely part of Bournemouth, and the idea would be is that they'd get to meet The View but also for me to be able to catch up and have a good chat and natter about all sorts (we're terrible once we get chattering, we're non-stop!) - and added to that, her Mum and Dad (my auntie and uncle) had also invited us to Sunday dinner the day after, which was very nice of them.

Thankfully the train from Manchester to Bournemouth is direct with no faffing around via London, so it was a nice easy journey really. We'd got some Boots Meal Deals sorted for lunch so we could munch on the train before getting there, and having nipped to Burger King for their bacon butty with hash browns for breakfast before we set off, it just meant that we'd be all good to go for the journey too. It was nice just to have a reserved seat at a table and just watch the world go by, and The View finished her most recent Shopaholic Abroad book whilst I had the trusty iPod Nano on blasting out some tunes. I had a big grin on my face when Swing Out Sister's "Breakout" came on, cos it felt like we were breaking out elsewhere, and we love the song too, so tune of the day it most definitely is.

The train soon headed out via Birmingham, Leamington Spa, Oxford and Reading before reversing back out of Reading and down to Basingstoke, Southampton and to Bournemouth, where we arrived on time just after 1pm - not a bad journey really, some four hours forty minutes or so and in relative comfort too. And £23 advance - can't say fairer than that really. Everyone was there waiting for us so it was lovely to say hello, and as you can imagine, any little boy almost at the age of three just had to be excited by seeing trains (he does love Thomas The Tank Engine!)

After dropping the cases in the car boot, we all headed down towards the town centre and after parking up, and a shoe change for The View, walked down via the very lovely Lower Gardens to the beach itself. It was nice to see that even with a bit of Winter sunshine (which was gorgeous!) the beach was really resplendent in its beauty and cleanliness, with people walking along the pier and also plenty of play happening on the beach. Naturally we kicked a ball around and kept everyone happy, and strolled along towards the Durley Chime area of the beach. What I did notice was the sheer number of beach huts around - and indeed how much they were to rent or buy on a twenty five year lease. I guess it'd be worth it for the view of the sea and the fact you're right on the promenade with everything you need, but you'd also be gutted if you went there for a week and rented a hut, only for it to chuck it down!

We stopped off at the Durley Chime Harvester bar and we had a drink in there. We couldn't sit outside overlooking the sea as all places were taken, but we went inside and had a good chat and it was clear to see that the little one was taken with The View, and she made a fuss of him as well which was lovely to see for me - it meant he was comfortable. You could also see how busy it was for food and such like, which is why there was a queue of people waiting to have their name called out for a table. If it's like this now I thought, I dread to think what would happen in the Summer and how long you'd wait.

We walked back down the promenade and stopped for an ice cream. The local ice cream manufacturer looked to have a good selection and I went for the clotted cream and berries. That was very very nice indeed, not least because there was lots of it, but also because it was melt in the mouth time. I could have easily gone back for one every day if I was here during the Summer months, I reckoned to myself, and we then had a bit more play with the ball before heading back along the Lower Gardens, stopping to admire the well adorned Chinese lanterns in preparation for the Chinese New Year next week before heading back in the car to their place.

It was a nice and relaxed evening, first watching England beating Wales at the rugby, and then we kept their son amused with plenty of play and also he showed us the little portable DVD player - and he could work it properly and everything. His time was divided between Tom and Jerry and The Wiggles, nothing wrong with that as she showed myself and The View who they all were. When it was almost bedtime, it was nice to see a good set routine of being cuddled up, watching a bedtime hour (usually involving this programme called Max and Ruby with two rabbits who are brother and sister) and then settling him down to sleep too.

Once he was all sound asleep and we could keep our ears to him, we had a few drinks and my cousin very kindly ordered a curry from a local takeaway. Once it arrived, I could understand why they use it, because not only was the food gorgeous but also plentiful as well. I had a chicken korma with pilau rice and garlic naan bread, and it all tasted absolutely spot on, with big chunks of chicken as well. The View's lamb makhani by all accounts really did hit the spot, and lots of really nice flavours seemed to emnate from there. It was well worth it, and because by all accounts it's a restaurant as well, good to see that the quality is on the same level. I supped some very nice Tangle Foot and all was well with the world as we eventually crashed out to sleep - but had had a really lovely day.

Friday 5th February - Escape From Tesco

Well it all happened after work today, let me tell you. I had managed to achieve what I set out to do at work and that was to roll out the remaining three PCs for the second floor, and as these were all for senior heads, I'd arranged a time for them to be away from their desks so I could get on with things and not disturb their day - it made more sense for me to do that and to be able to get everything done properly. It felt much better at the end of the day to be able to achieve what I set out to do - and it made me feel good knowing that as I was off work on Monday that everything was in a good place for next week.

Anyway, after arriving home I headed to Tesco to do the weekly food shop - and thought it be best to do it now and get it done rather than do it Monday evening before heading back to work. I had got round, pretty much had everything almost on the till ready to go and then I was told that everyone had to leave the store pretty sharpish. There had been a smell lingering for a few minutes beforehand and some of the staff reckoned that it was a gas leak. They are working on the gas supplies and replacing the pipes locally, so I figured that if they're doing that they didn't want to risk another fire like we had last year, so safety first.

Although yes I was gutted that I hadn't been able to get all the shopping done, at the same time I do understand that there is health and safety to consider. I did manage to do the EuroMillions at a newsagents on the way home too, as I thought just in case I do win the £85 million jackpot, I'd better enter hadn't I? As it turned out, I think some people had the same idea as me as there was a little queue starting to form before I headed out of there and homewards.

I turned the disappointment into opportunity though by electing to defrost the freezer. It's something I have to do periodically and as I didn't have that much stuff in there I thought it was a perfect time to get it all done and make sure that everything was all sorted. It took some time to fully defrost and I did manage to collect quite a bit of defrosted water in the little gully that protrudes from the bottom of the freezer, and that meant I was doing the job right. It's much better now and so should operate at a more efficient rate - saving energy and money. I'll have to make sure the next one I get is completely frost-free, that should save me some headaches I reckon.

Tune of the day is Tenacious D's "Master Exploder". When you see that in the film "The Pick of Destiny" they really go for it, and it's amazing that Jack Black's voice really does nail those high pitches so well. It's a shame that the occasional swear word was cut out for when it appeared in Rock Band 2 as a playable song, but nonetheless some people just leave them in anyway when they try it on vocals. It also show just how much fun the D are - so don't mess with them. Especially if you're Satan, hehe.

Thursday 4th February - CD In The Post

Having decided to carry on the roll out of the admin PCs today, I actually felt quite satisfied by what I'd managed to do. I set myself a target of doing five of the six PCs I needed to replace in one room, and knew that one of them would take time because of the software I'd need to reinstall. I had a plan and stuck to it, doing each machine one at a time and making sure everything was working and also working rather well. What pleased me no end was that the staff were all very co-operative and understanding, and also made sure that everything was out of the way for us to put the new replacements in.

One of the PCs was for our marketing officer, and she has Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium, which as you can imagine is a pretty big application. What makes it much more fun and games is that you have to de-activate the software on the old PC first and then uninstall it before you can put the new one in and then re-install the software on the new machine. And of course the install takes absolutely ages - around forty five minutes or so, even on new kit, because of all the files that need to be copied from the two DVD discs. Makes me wonder what really does make it that much better than good old Photoshop 7, which does the job rather well (well it used to in the office for me anyway.)

I did manage to get everything done, and so that pleased me, and as I headed home I realised that if I could get three done tomorrow that'd be over half way, and indeed that it would be one whole floor completed. I thought to myself as I headed home too that it would be advantageous to me to be able to get the whole thing done and show just how much I want to drive on and do things. The bus journey home thankfully didn't take as long as yesterday and so I was able to relax a bit more when I got home, and cleaned the house up a little bit too before the arrival of The Sunlight Through My Window later.

I did also have some time to open the little parcel that arrived today - it was the Swing Out Sister "Get In Touch With Yourself" CD that I'd purchased off an eBay seller a couple of days back. With me seeing them at the end of this month I thought that getting some of the back catalogue would be a pretty smart move all round, and so as this album had been long deleted it'd make perfect sense for me to be able to get it right now. And with good reason - there's a really nice cover version of "Am I The Same Girl" on there which we loved when we saw them live - and so tune of the day it is. Isn't it nice when things arrive quickly and eBay sellers are so good to you? Well, I think so.

Wednesday 3rd February - Snow Go

It was all going well at work until around 3pm as we all looked outside and saw that there were fairly big flakes of snow coming down and heading towards us. Thankfully myself and my colleague had a job to do, so we went up to one of the upper floors of the building to get things sorted out, and we were also able to really see just how much everything was coming down - at a pretty much rate of knots all around methinks. I was just wondering if it would settle and we'd have a repeat of what we'd have of the last month or so. Fingers crossed

I started to head home and noticed that it was getting rather slippy underfoot as the mixture of snow and rain had turned to slush, but with the cold wind was soon turning to an icy slush that could well have you falling over at any point in time. Indeed it did look a bit dicy out there and as I headed to the bus stop I did have to wait a while for the bus. Now, what normally takes around twenty minutes or so on an average day to get the bus home took in the region of fifty minutes. The traffic was crawling on one road and then when the route got to the main road, that was crawling too. I don't know if there'd been an accident or anything, as I'd seen an ambulance go past, but it wasn't pretty.

Here's me thinking it was the last of the snow but no such luck - it didn't settle too much afterwards but even so, it was a case of that it might come back at any time and the icy grip of the cold winter just isn't over as yet. It made me want to curl up in front of the fire and do nothing but watch telly, although I did have a shed load of ironing to keep me busy for the meantime anyway, which is pretty much everything I've washed and got ready in the last few days. The good thing is that it's all ready for weekend anyway now which is something.

Tune of the day is 3 Daft Monkeys' "Paranoid Big Brother", it's the perfect opener to their excellent "Social Vertigo" album and pretty much sums what they're about, with intelligent lyrics, great fiddle parts from Athene and a really catchy hook that draws you in. Recently they did the song as part of the "Songs From The Shed" sessions and you can watch it at the official Songs From The Shed site. It looks rather cold though and I'm sure they were playing it pretty hard to keep warm as much as anything! Yaay them.

Tuesday 2nd February - Birthday Roll-Out

Today at work it was the start of rolling out some new PC kit. Thankfully my colleague had done an excellent job of getting most of them imaged and ready to go, so it was a case of heading to one of the admin offices and being able to deliver the new ones, take away the old ones, set up the printers on each one and also in some cases set up some of the network scanners as well that they had so that everything worked well as intended and was able to do some suitable scanning if required. What was good was that all the new kit looked rather flash and that everyone seemed really happy with it. So that went well.

After heading home and putting some washing in the machine ready for later, I headed to my Mum's and avoided most of the rain along the way, as it's my youngest sister's birthday today. Mum was cooking a roast chicken dinner for myself, Mum, my two brothers, my sister and her boyfriend and my nephew, and also for The Sunlight Through My Window, who was heading to my Mum's later after she finished work. It was all very nice, chicken with roast potatoes and potatoes, carrots, peas, stuffing, Yorkshire puddings and gravy all neatly arranged on the plate. It tasted delicious and I know that The Sunlight enjoyed hers later on.

My sister was thrilled to bits with the River Island gift voucher we'd got her - she usually shops there and told me that was what she wanted, as she'd seen a dress in there that she really liked but wanted to hopefully have enough vouchers to get it as a little treat for herself, and hopefully she then would do. It was good to see her anyway and I know that she was full of chatter and my nephew was way too full of energy, running round left right and centre. I don't know how my sister copes sometimes to be honest, parenting is one job that I would most likely be pretty lousy at to be honest with you.

Later on myself and The Sunlight headed back to mine, where we watched Gok Wan do his thing with "How To Look Good Naked.. With A Difference". It was such a positive programme for those with a disablity, Gok basically saying "it doesn't matter, you can look great" and the really lovely lady he had on was really enjoying the moment, and Gok was so considerate about her. He made a fashion bible which talked through the fashions and was all touchy feely inside, so as the lady was blind she could sense and hear what was being imagined as a fashion icon. What's also good is that he's campaigning that it doesn't matter if you have a disability, why shouldn't you be a fashion model? And quite right too. He's one of the few fashion type people I can actually stand - he doesn't do skinny models everywhere, he does normal people and makes them feel good about themselves and gorgeous with it. Good for him.

It was then on to the Scrabble and it was a pretty tough game to start with, but I did manage MINUTED (which also made BARM) for a nice score of 76, so that was pretty nice overall. We had Ryan Adams' excellent "Easy Tiger" album on which I really like, and especially "Off Broadway" which is tune of the day - it has a lovely mellow acoustic feel and it has tons of feeling, especially as the chorus is sung with a sense of longing and belonging all at the same time. It's just gorgeous and well worth checking out.

Monday 1st February - Disappointed

Another day at the office, and the final one at one of the other buildings before I move back to where I'm normally based. That said, we had a team meeting in the morning and then over lunch I found out that although I was moving back, it would be at the expense of one of my colleagues who'd be moving to the building I've been in. It's a bit of a double edged sword and instead of making me feel happier about the move, I just have this feeling of disappointment to be honest. I'll try and fit in wherever possible, but it would have also been good to catch up with my colleague and get stuff done this week. I'm sure we'll manage somehow.

I headed into the city centre later to get my sister's birthday present, as it's her birthday tomorrow. She had an idea of what I could get her and so it was a simple task of heading into the shop that I knew I could get what she wanted and pay my money and all sorted. It's good sometimes when the recipient has an idea of what they'd like, makes the task easier. I also nipped into HMV and spotted that quite a few of the games had been really reduced in price. I have a feeling that come this time of year everyone hasn't got much money and so will be spending time indoors instead and not necessarily shopping or going out. Band Hero in Game had gone down to £19.99, which was tempting, if only for the fact I could play some of the SD content on that as well as Guitar Hero 5, and the songs were a bit poppier too of course. We shall see.

I also noted that John Mayer is to be doing another tour later this year, but (and here's the but) it's all arena gigs. Fair play that he's gradually getting to be more popular over these shores, and not before time, but there's something about an arena gig that doesn't quite go so well with me. Whether it's the fact that you feel anonymous in a crowd, or you end up watching a big screen with the show going on, or that you just don't have that same connection as you would in, say, the Academy 1, I don't know. All I know is that I just don't feel the same somehow and so I'll have to probably give that a miss. Darn, why couldn't it have been the Academy?

Tune of the day though isn't by him. I decided to have a listen to some rather different cover versions tonight as I felt like a change in listening to my CD collection, so it was a case of flicking through the singles particularly and hearing some of the great B-side covers in there. Ash's version of "Does Your Mother Know" is always good fun, and The Frank and Walters doing "Funky Cold Medina" always gives me a giggle. However, Moby's rather different "death metal" version of Devo's seminal "Whip It" has to be the most odd cover in terms of relation to the original, but it's highly listenable nonetheless, so that gets my vote. Oh, and the CD single it comes from also comes in a neat rubber embossed sleeve and with a fast as hell version of "All That I Need Is To Be Loved" which I'm sure would be a great anti-Valentine's Day track. Hehehe.