Dear Diary... January 2003

Wednesday 29th January - Can we buy a ground off you?

At the time of writing this, today has been a strange and yet happy day, not least as Manchester City crushed Fulham 4-1 at Maine Road. What I didn't realise until tonight is that it's the last ever scheduled midweek game at the ground, so it was nice to be part of the history and see the team do the business. Even if we went 1-0 down after just two minutes and only the post stopped us from going two down. Thankfully, that seemed to have kick started us into action and goals from Anelka, Benarbia, Foé and Wright-Phillips (a mere 30 seconds or so after he came on as sub) did us proud and also meant we now have (at long bloody last!) a positive goal difference. About time too.

One thing I did at least notice was the little banter betwen the City fans I was sat with, and the Fulham fans in the North Stand. If you don't know,. Fulham are currently lodging themselves into QPR's ground, Loftus Road, while they wait for their Craven Cottage ground to be re-developed. However their chairman (who also owns Harrods, I think) has basically stopped the re-development for now due to the spiralling costs and making cutbacks, meaning they could end up being another Wimbledon (the proper Wimbledon, that is AFC Wimbledon these days, are at least trying to get back to Plough Lane unlike Franchise FC and that bastard of all bastards, Charles Koppel.) Anyway, the City fans sung "we've only got two grounds" (as after all we're still in Maine Road and the City of Manchester Stadium is virtually done) to which Fulham sang back "Can we buy, can we buy, can we buy a ground off you?". Witty and also funny, it must have at least made them seen the lighter side of their first defeat since... we beat them 1-0 at Loftus Road! They must be sick of the sight of us or something.

I usually walk to Maine Road from my house, as it's only about two and a half miles away and that can be done in about 30-35 minutes for me. However, as I was coming out tonight, all the local roads round me were closed off and the police were cordoning off an area that the army fire crews were sorting out (the firemen are on strike, again!). Anyway, after seeing one of my relations near the scene it turned out that the place that had been burned was supposedly home to a knocking shop (for those of you who don't understand English slang, this phrase means an unlicenced brothel) and someone had set it alight on purpose. Supposedly. That's all very spooky, but there has been growing opposition locally to so-called health clubs and massage places, that really offer sex on the side. One of them is on the main road, and has no shame in blatantly making it obvious (closed blinds and all that) that sex is on the menu if you go there. That's all very well if you want to make the money, but considering that many children walk down that main road every day, it's a little bit offputting to say the least. Of course, the right way to do it is to close them down the proper way through the proper legal channels, and really, it should be the only way. As a result, it's going to be fun and games getting into work tomorrow as everyone tries to find alternate routes or stops in. Oh joy. Not.

Must also mention the fact that my father turned 50 yesterday - happy birthday Dad! I'm giving him one of his lifetime ambitions in a week or so, and that is seeing his beloved Tottenham at home. It'll be a day out for me too, and not least a chance to peruse the record shops in London and all that jazz (no, not like in the movie Chicago, thank you!) and then go and see them hopefully stuff Sunderland by a few goals, that would indeed be quite nice. They lost 0-1 at home to Newcastle though so a bounce back just might be required.

Oh, as I mentioned Chicago, I did see it last Friday with a friend of mine. Overall it was pretty good, although I am not convinced that Renée Zellweger was the right choice to be Roxy. I am not sure if she got the part right and it was like she was torn between two different roles and sandwiched them together. On the other hand, Catherine Zeta Jones is surprisingly good, as is Queen Latifah (yes, that oldskool rap star no less) too. My mum would probably watch it again and again though because Richard Gere is in it (although whether he can sing I'll leave you to debate) but overall it was pretty slick and did indeed at least try and make the musical genre interesting, although the fact that there wasn't that many people in the Odeon would suggest to me that it's not everyone's cup of tea and they're prejudging before they go and see it. To that I say, give it a go. You may never know (my gosh, I rhymed without even realising. What am I like?)

That's about all for now. Stay tuned though as I finally get down to writing some words of my first novel next month!

Monday 20th January - From happiness to despair in ten seconds or so

No prizes for guessing what got me on Saturday - typical Manchester City. We concede a goal after a mere ten seconds to Alan Shearer of Newcastle, and end up losing 2-0. I don't mind the defeat (considering Newcastle's home record of late, it was almost expected to be honest) but it's the manner of conceding the opening goal that bugged the hell out of me to be honest. I'll be at the next game (Fulham at home) so they had better pull their proverbial socks up and perform a bit better. Just to add insult to injury, they show the goal about ten zillion times on ITV's "The Top Three" (I refuse to call it "The Premiership" because of ITV's obsession with Liverpool, The Scum and Arsenal) and pour misery on us all. Thanks very much. Not.

On much happier things, I did eat out yesterday with a friend at one of the nicest places to eat in Manchester (in terms of value for your dosh, anyway). No.1 Oriental Buffet is situated on the corner of Princess Street and Portland Street (next to the Palace Theatre car park) and the concept is nice and simple - all you can eat from the buffet at a fixed price, depending on when you go. People who work in town sometimes go there for lunch, as for £5-50 you can't go too wrong, and on a Sunday it's £6-50, which is pretty good. The nice thing is that it caters for vegetarians a fair bit too, and some of those dishes looked nice, but also there's plenty of variations. There was two choices of soup plus lots of salad (including this tuna and sweetcorn mix thingy) if you wanted to start on something light, then the main stuff, there's so much! I love the crabstick in there, really good that is, and so is the Yeung Chow Fried Rice, beef in black bean sauce, sweet and sour pork, chicken chow mein, lemon pepper chicken, chicken and mushrooms, etc. I could go on for ages about all that but suffice to say that the food in there was a lovely as ever yesterday, and it's really good to see the staff changing the hotplates as new freshly cooked food comes out - so you know they're always making fresh stuff for you. The desserts are also included as well so you can have ice cream, swiss roll, jelly, fresh fruit etc. Utter heaven. Judging by the fact we had to queue to get in, and when we left there was still a queue (albeit the same sized queue) I think it begins to tell its own story. If you haven't tried it yet, please do - my friend was instantly converted!

Also managed to end up in Ra!n Bar over the weekend, one of my favourite pub/bar haunts in Manchester. No matter when I go, I always feel really chilled out due to the surroundings (the brewery converted it from an old umbrella factory, hence the name) and also the fact they do proper real ale, not this press a button and out it comes crap that you get in so many themed pubs and bars nowadays. Only minus point - the Moonlight Oak Dark Mild isn't back yet (it's one of the guest ales every couple of months or so) and I just so want that to be on permanently - it's simply the finest pint of ale you'll get anywhere. I promise. But it was good to chill and talk and also to watch the world go by and the place get busier (thank heavens we got in there early!) and just feel so at ease. Even better, the guest ale they did have on was pretty nice, and the normal mild was back on (I so missed that over New Year when I was there) so I just supped that and enjoyed myself. And why not?

Enough talk about food and drink. Here's food for thought instead. If you can't love yourself, you can't love anyone else. Sayonara for now.

Wednesday 15th January - The price you see should be the price you pay

My post is full of holiday brochures, and it's all my fault. I think I went a bit mental looking at web sites that were offering brochures of their holiday cottages that I could peruse at leisure rather than spend time and money on the web. It's been ages since I had a proper one-week holiday, and this year I decided that if I saved myself enough money, I could go on a week's break somewhere late Summer, depending on how things go between now and then. But perusing the brochures that have come through the door have left some questions unanswered - the main one being why can't the cost be all inclusive, not add on extra booking fees or cancellation insurance in the small print? I've noted a few places I'd like, but the small print attitude of "ah yes, but don't forget the statutory £15 booking fee, and £17 cancellation insurance unless you send in documentary proof at the time of booking" really was starting to do my head in. Thankfully not all of them are like that, which is a relief big time, but even so it's not what you want to see when considering somewhere to go, is it?

On the plus side however, I have narrowed down a bit where I'd like to go. For sure I want to stay within the UK and not abroad, as that a) brings up the cost a lot and b) I feel ignorant not being able to speak some of the language in the country that I am going to. I'm surprised more of us don't feel like that. For sure, if I went to say Sweden, I'd love to at least get by with some basic Swedish to at least show I'm making an effort and appreciating their culture, rather than just assume everyone can speak English fluently (or in my case, with a difficult to understand accent). Anyway, I'm digressing here. Back to the main point - it's a choice of mainly coastal resorts that I can get to without too much fuss. I like the idea of going back to Whitby - only this time I'll explore the North Yorkshire Moors a bit as well as the seaside, the port, the Dracula stuff and the abbey. It's a really historic little place though, and the walk along the beach with the cliffs behind you is rather nice. Similarly, I'd also like to revisit my childhood holiday memories and go somewhere in North Wales, either somewhere near Abersoch way, or near Llandudno or Conwy. The other option is maybe South Wales, like Saundersfoot, Tenby et al. Cornwall would be under consideration too if only for the fact the cottages there are Stella Artois (ie: bloody expensive) and it's a marathon eight hour train journey (yes, eight hours) to some places from Manchester. That's scary, really.

Anyway, I'm sure I'll make a decision. I've still got lots to go through though so I am sure the decision will be tough. But I know I need a week's proper break, so I'll see how it goes. Till next time...

Monday 13th January - I've been approved yet again

The start of the new year brings junk mail to the masses. Whether it be for Reader's Digest Prize Draw (go on, admit it, you have had an envelope haven't you?) to the seemingly predictable glut of finance related mail through the post. One I got was sent to my mum's address from Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, saying yet again I'd been approved for one of their cards. That went straight into the shredder with all the other such junk, and it really makes me wonder who in their right minds has the nerve to send me such rubbish.

The worst thing like you can do, like spam emails, is actually reply and say "I don't want any more" because that's the way they pick up your address so you get even more rubbish dumped on you. Yet it's completely annoying that it seems about the fifth time that they have wasted their time mass mailing me something I don't actually want. Period. I don't want to be one of these people who have all sorts of credit card and then run up huge debts causing me stress and worry. It's bad enough having a mortgage to pay without all the other stuff to think about (council tax, life insurance, electricity, gas, and so on and so on) - and yes, their marketing really hits home. Spent too much over Christmas? (well, let's face it, don't we all when it comes down to it?) Wish you had more credit? We can help! Really? What? Help you get into more debt? Why don't these credit companies be realistic and tell you just how much intrerest you're going to accumulate, how long it would take you to pay it off, how these days everything credit rated relies on you actually owning one. It's wrong. Very wrong. My old fashioned motto is that if you can't afford it, you make do without it until you work hard and save up for it.

On the plus side, it was nice to see all the students back where I work, although most of them seemed to be panicking about handing their essays in. Mind you, I certainly wouldn't want to be them, having to think constantly about their debts and student loans and how they're going to have to pay it off eventually. But nonetheless, despite all their worries they are on the whole a very nice bunch. The mass question was "I've forgot me password!" today. Not surprising considering they've spent three weeks away probably doing what we all did over Christmas and got very drunk. And why not?

Oh, one more thing: looks like City are going to sign Robbie Fowler from Leeds. I hate to say it, but it could be a risk too far. Oh well. We'll have to see. Take care out there...

Sunday 12th January - The wrong pop stars are dying at the moment

First, the nice happy news to report: Manchester City beat Leeds United 2-1, with a stunning strike from Niclas Jensen amongst the goals, which meant we stay in the top half of the Premiership. That pleased me no end as we've crawled into a nice six team battle for 5th place in the table, good enough for the UEFA Cup next season. Man City in Europe, what about that eh?

The weekend was pretty quiet, although I did have chance to catch up on things that needed doing, and also to play some CDs through my hi-fi rig. Always have to remember though to turn the sound down later at night so as not to annoy everyone - next door to me has two children, for example. It was nice having my dad over so we watched the World Darts final and then whacked on some CDs and DVDs. Top tip: if you want to impress anyone, whack on the last 30 mins of The Matrix on DVD, crank up your AV amp, and listen to the excellent surround effects everywhere. Simply awesome, and my dad agreed. I think he's going to have to convince my mum that having five speakers in the front room is a good idea after all, although I somehow doubt it.

Also, I was watching the news and heard of the sad death of Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. I'm not really a fan of their music at all, but most of us would have to freely admit that without their music, the movie Saturday Night Fever just would not have had the same impact on people when it came out- it accompanied the movie just as much as John Travolta did. Also, because of their Manchester connections (the Gibb family used to live in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, when they were younger) some of the fans here would I imagine have taken it pretty hard. First of all the legendary Joe Strummer of the Clash (and if you don't know who he is, shame on you), and now Maurice. It's certainly a sad month or so for the music world, two people who concentrated in different ways on writing good songs and not just any old manufactured pap.

Which leads me nicely onto a rant for the day. Fame Academy, Pop Idol, Popstars, etc. When will the public realise that the whole shebang is just one giant media con encouraging you to spend your money on telephone voting, buying the single and album when they come out, buying all the merchandise and cash-in tour CDs, and making pop stars easily consumable, only to be discarded in years to come? Build them up, knock them down. If Will or Gareth for example want any proof of such manipulation they should make a trek down to their local ASDA, where earlier today whilst getting some food bits I saw that Spice Girls' "Forever" CD was selling for 97p. Yes, less than one pound. That's how much the public become disinterested that your CDs end up hogging the bargain bins in the vain hope someone remembers you and thinks "oh, I remember them!". This is the qunitessential problem that all these built for TV media-made stars will have in the future - how to survive without being able to write songs, or play instruments. They won't.

Ironic that the lyrics of Altered Images' "Dead Pop Stars" would be so true now when it comes to these manufactured bands. "And now I've had my 15 minutes, I'm just another memory, an embarrasing part of your youth, don't leave me dying here, remember how much you used to love me, you did love me didn't you?" I don't think even Clare Grogan at the time would have realised the truth that this song brings home. This mind you was at least when Altered Images were still in their goth phase before they themselves became victims of manufactured pop and suffered the consequences..

Anyway, remember this: if you're next buying a CD, buy a band who can play their instruments and have something to say, you'll be doing yourself a favour. Over and out for now..

Wednesday 8th January - Bringing home the bacon in the cold

Well there I was going on the bus into Manchester city centre Tuesday night, and it amazes me how many drunken people there are around. Take the bloke on the bus I was on - he seemed a little gutted that the bus driver didn't have his heater on (it was bitterly cold) and then started waffling to himself that the French would be on strike, and God bless America. Then on the way home, there's always a plethora of drunks that either hang around the 24 hour Spar on Piccadilly to see if anyone will be foolish enough to give them money for their endless supply of Kestrel Super Strength or lurk around the train station so that people will take pity on them. Sadly for the most part, they're the same people week in week out pulling the same stunt trying to get money. And where does it go? Down the nearest off-licence. See the Thoughts page for my full opinion.

Looking on the news tonight, London it seems has had some snow. Whilst we've had nothing of the sort in Manchester, it has been quite cold and I'm really thankful the heating hasn't packed in. Unlike the days of being in secondary school - almost every day in January due to Health and Safety laws the central heating boilers would pack in, and it would therefore be less than the minimum 16 degrees centigrade, so you'd get sent home from school for the day. Which was okay now and then, but for the working parent it was a nightmare as often their child could be at home or at their mate's house and you don't know about it. I mean, we've all been teenagers once, right?

Just made a bacon sandwich - lovely. Not least due to the local Tesco stocking this very mighty fine rindless back bacon, with hardly any rind or fat and lots of meat. It seems to cook rather well under the grill as well, which has to be good. It costs a bit more than the normal stuff, but believe me, it is worth it. I'm actually going to give the vegetarian meat rashers a go this weekend - they look quite nice and the soya meat might be an interesting option. I suppose over the last few months due to one reason or another I've been tempted to try more veggie stuff in order to eat and be healthier. Sweetcorn fingers is another of my current faves, they're really nice and unlike some of the fish fingers, are really crisp and tasty. I guess when you can do your own thing a lot more you can get away with trying new stuff.

And Footballer's Wives is back on the telly! Trashy, but utterly brilliant nonetheless. If I had to pick one of the wives, the woman who plays Donna gets my vote for some strange reason, a bit more down to earth than the others. But it's sooo trashy. Perfect escapism and all that.

I think I need a lie down... tata for now.

Tuesday 7th January - Hell is a place called IKEA Warrington

So, the first diary entry of 2003. And what a start to the year. It's already minus temperatures here in the UK, which really needs it after the mass floods in the south of England. It's amazing that after so many floods and warnings that the Government seems to have paid little attention to actually working out how to stop them, or at least to ensure that the drainage systems work properly. It's also ultimately ironic that Manchester, the one place you would expect to flood, gets away with just minor puddles in sections of road that have seen better days. No, honestly. And always the drivers that decide to run through them and splash anyone on the pavement for a laugh or something smilar.

Went to IKEA this weekend. Big mistake for two reasons: firstly, the sale was on and so everyone and their mum decided to drive down in their environmentally unfriendly cars and pollute Warrington with their fumes. That in essence is the main problem of out of town shopping centres as such, they're so out of town mere mortals can't get to them. That is, unless you're prepared to actually get off your backside and check the times of buses and trains, which I did, and got there no problem at all. Okay, so it's a bind if I have to carry anything too heavy, but as I knew what I was looking for (small shelving/TV units and maybe a rug) I also worked out what I could get away with. Second: most of the people shopping were what I call moochers - in that they like to take their time looking around (mooching) and not actually buying anything - just thinking "oh, that's nice" and "but yes darling, that won't go with the laminate flooring!" and just ending up having little mini arguments in the middle. I knew what I wanted, but had to work my way past the moochers, and when I found what I wanted, it was out of stock. Even worse, despite me knowing and noting down the internal IKEA product code, it didn't even show up on their computer systems. Hmmm.

Actually, as much as I've got a fair bit of stuff for the house from IKEA, my bug bear is the catalogue. Why can't it just have what is in the shop all year around, rather than just endlessly supply you with "room ideas" which are never how you in your own individual style seem to like it? I end up spending far too much time looking at it and trying to work things out, rather than just be able to go "right, I want this in black, what name is it, where would it be and how much would it cost?". That's why people shop at catalogue shops like Argos and Index, because they can look at the catalogue, know what they need to find, locate it, check it's in stock when they get to the store, and order it. No fuss. No messing about. That's what IKEA need to do, just have a catalogue with everything in it and what it does, and then maybe have a supplement showing you the rooms with all the separate bits cross referenced in the main catalogue so you can work out all the costs. So you'd have all the separate kitchen stuff, then a model kitchen with lots of bits together. For example, I got a nice chopping board last time that is hygenic and safe, a pack of two for less than £2. But did I see it in the catalogue? No. I stumbled upon it by sheer chance.

I can't finish this entry without mentioning my beloved Manchester City's awful performance in the FA Cup against Liverpool. Last FA Cup game at Maine Road and we go out with a whimper, play pathetically bad, and really don't deserve anything more from it. My only hope is that it's an off day that we got out of the system and that we can go back to the relatively decent form we've been in, in the league. Mind you, Leeds next Saturday so that is not going to be easy. One bit.

Sayonara for now...