Dear Diary... January 2004

Saturday 31st January - Snow joke

Well, who would have thought it? Snow in Manchester, that actually settled? Yet it actually happened this week. I was there on Tuesday night relaxing with a couple of CDs (notably the excellent Shakespeare in Love film score) and at around 10pm, I heard the wind get up a little and as I looked out of the window, all I could see was a coating of white - everywhere. Cars were skidding round the street corners (although the main road near me was pretty clear, thankfully) and children were out building snowmen and taking their opportunity before the thing melted away. I just kept thinking to myself how nice it would have been on Christmas Day to have had the snow, just for a perfect Christmas time, but never mind. I can't even remember the last time we had snow in Manchester, so there's something I suppose.

Of course getting to work Wednesday morning proved quite an exercise. Thankfully the main roads the bus goes on to work were pretty much all clear (even if the Council hadn't got the gritters out, doh!) and so I actually managed to turn up for work at normal time. A lot of the roads outside Manchester were pretty heavily gridlocked though, so my colleagues were delayed coming in. Can't say I blame them. I those conditions safety is the most important thing, making sure that you manage to get there without any slips or crashes. Having seen some of the roads around and about though, even on Thursday after a partial thaw, the cold temperature meant really icy conditions everywhere, bit of a nightmare really.

Still, nice to see some of the white stuff, even if it'll probably be the only time I'll get to see it this year. It's like people always think of Manchester as a place where it chucks it down with rain (pretty much like it's doing now, actually), and the absolute ultimate irony was that it was the rain that washed away all the snow! Go figure. Because I can't.

I've also been watching some of the African Nations Cup football this week. Must admit that the best game so far has been Cameroon's 5-3 win over Zimbabwe. Not just for the goals, but the way that both teams played the game in a very fair manner, no diving all over the place, no whining at the referee (take note, Tunisia!) and in the right spirit with skill being the deciding factor. While both defences did look a bit dodgy, there were some great goals, and three scored by Patrick M'Boma of the Indomitable Lions (that's Cameroon) and Peter Ndlovu (BBC's Ray Stubbs' favourite player, probably ;) bagging a couple for the Warriors (Zimbabwe). Best goal was the third from Zimbabwe late on. Even though they couldn't win at 5-2 down, they still played with pride and determination, as if wearing the shirt meant something to them (overpaid England internationals, take note!) and their goal of the game, a superb strike from Esrom Nyandoro was nothing more than they deserved. It was so nice to see such a good competitive game played the right way, and credit to both nations. Must admit I'd love Cameroon to win anyway, for the memory of the late Marc-Vivien Foé. Best of luck, lads.

Sunday 25th January - Aaaaargh

Sometimes I wonder why I'm a City fan. Sometimes I wonder why the team frustrate me so much. Sometimes I wonder why the FA Cup is now treated with apathy from some fans. I mean, take today's game against Tottenham. Now if this was a league game, this would be 47,000 plus, no hassle. But yet for some reason despite the ticket prices being quite low really (all areas of the ground were £20 maximum) it was a paltry approximation of 34,000 that turned up. And that attendance seemed to be plucked out of the air for sure. I would imagine it was more like 28,000 actually, and a virtually half full stadium didn't help atmosphere wise. I recorded the game as it was being broadcast live on BBC1, and co-commentator Mick McCarthy (ex-City player too) stated that he was surprised by the lack of atmosphere and how in the old days of the Maine Road you'd always have the noise of the Kippax to get behind you. You know what? He's right. It just seemed a stunted atmosphere today despite the team's best efforts in the first half, even taking the lead with a Nicolas Anelka tap in. I wonder where we'd be without his goals this season. First half we were good, second half we were bobbins and if it were not for some poor Tottenham finishing (especially from Helder Postiga - what a duckegg he is!) then we could have well gone out. The only thing is that there is a replay a week on Wednesday at White Hart Lane, but I don't fancy our chances there. They did miss Freddie Kanoute though, he's on African Nations' Cup duty with Mali.

I headed into town this weekend, and what a surprise, everyone's going totally overboard over, yes, you guessed it, Valentine's Day. Bah. You name it, the shops had it, not just the cards, but all sorts of sexual therapy guides, relationship guides, and all sorts of things in red with love hearts on. Talk about over-commercialism. I'd love to hark back to a day when these sort of moments pass you by without having to think too much, and also to a time when if you really did love someone, it was like all the time instead of just making an effort one day a year. That is surely a much more nice and romantic gesture, or so you would think at any rate. And of course there's Easter Eggs in the supermarkets. And don't even get me started on the fact that Creme Eggs seem to have been getting smaller and smaller over the last few years!

I also managed to find some time to go out with my Mum and Dad last night. It is my dad's birthday on Wednesday so I thought it'd be nice to head out and munch, and what better place than one of their favourite haunts, The Cheshire Line? It was a really nice, relaxed atmosphere in there and I munched away on this very nice and large Giant Yorkshire Pudding, stuffed full of lamb, carrots, peas and gravy with some new potatoes thrown in. It was that filling the side portion of garlic bread I'd ordered didn't get finished, which is abit unusual for me, but there you go. I can also recommend it highly as it does a lot of meals two for one, which means you get the cheapest one free and two can dine on a main course and some side bits for easily under a tenner. Which can't be bad in this day and age, eh?

Thursday 22nd January - Ullo Warren, gotta new turntable?

Well actually I haven't. But nonetheless the turntable in part of my AV rig has definitely had a new lease of life over the last few days. I had another look at the turntable belt and it was really really loose, plus I tried playing a vinyl LP that shouldn't have any intentional distortion, and it wasn't the prettiest thing to hear ever either. So it was time for a new stylus and a belt. Thankfully those very nice people at Mantra Audio, the replacement belt came very quickly indeed. A bit of help from my dad in getting the little annoying C-clip off to be able to get to the belt itself, and off went the old, on went the new, and after a quick test both he and I agreed the speed was much much better and definitely constant. I thought it might sound a little on the slow side, but just to be safe I've lightly oiled all the parts that move the turntable and that seems to have tweaked it just nicely enough. The new stylus arrives next week hopefully, I can't wait. However, I did try out some of my vinyl and it was so nice having that warm analogue feel coming through my Mission M73s. Ah yes. I've made a conscious decision to whack on Tubular Bells when the stylus comes and just play that classic last part of side one where Viv Stanshall introduces each instrument in turn. "Mandolin!".

Managed to get myself a ticket for Sunday's game against Tottenham, I'm right by the centre line in the West Stand. I only need to get to go in the East Stand and I'll have sat in all four areas of the Stadium, so that'll be good I suppose. I hope the FA confirm that England will be playing Japan there in early June, that would be good to see an England game especially if there's actually City players in the team. And with David James being first choice keeper right now, the possibility is highly likely. Be interesting to see how we come across on the telly on Sunday, it's time to set the video and see how much we get slagged off by Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson. I know they will. Only hope if they have Peter Schmeichel he'll put a good word in for us.

Anyway, in this age of cynical and crap marketing of the products that they have sometimes overcoming actual good service by retailers, I must thank the nice people at Mantra Audio for their excellent customer service that they always provide. I'll mention this further in the thoughts bit, but to sum up if every company were like Mantra, the world would be a better place. So there. Isn't it annoying too when you go to a shop and you get pounced on by eager sale assistants asking you if you'd like some help. Maybe one day I should get my own back, go into the likes of Currys and enquire about a product I know more about the sales person about. You can imagine it now: "Ah yes, this Sony Pro Logic amp does blah blah" and I'm like "Yeah, but there's spring clip terminals for the speakers and that's rubbish. Surely you should know you get better connections with proper screw terminals, and it's not digital." Hehe. Don't you just have the urge to show your superior knowledge? They're still trying to sell you digital Freeview boxes that were clearly made for the ITV Digital era and think that they're better. Like, duh!

And why is it none of my favourite bands are touring or anything? There's not even any comedy shows that I really fancy either. The only good thing is that Henry Rollins is doing a spoken word tour of the USA at the moment and by the time he's finished, I just hope there's a small UK tour announced. Put it this way, if you haven't seen him doing a talking show then you are missing out. Very badly indeed. He's constantly on stage for two and a half hours plus, with lots of funny stories and also anecdotes from any tours he's done on his own or with Rollins Band and so on. It really makes you feel part of the whole occasion and it's usually hilariously funny. Who wouldn't find his rant against Baywatch just damn good, methinks?

Monday 19th January - It's that fine rain, the one that soaks you through

And virtually since Thursday folks all we've had is gallons of the wet stuff falling incessantly. It was that bad on Thursday night coming back from a friend's house that the bus driver had to slow down to ensure he could actually see where he was going. Now that's bad, but luckily I don't have far to go when I get off the bus to get to my house, so that's a relief all round I can tell you. But of course it also makes anything you plan to do over the weekend more dependant, especially if like me you were full of the flu this weekend. Thankfully I seem to be over the worst of it but even so, it wasn't the most pleasant feeling I've had waking up on Saturday morning completely blocked up. Thank heavens for the nice strong bronchial balsam I've been having, it really shifts the yukky stuff that often settles on your chest and breaks it down, and then helps you get rid of it one way or another. Touch wood I'll be okay for Sunday when City take on Tottenham in the FA Cup. Here's hoping.

As for City this weekend, throwing away a 1-0 lead just minutes after scoring wasn't too good. I suppose we didn't lose and that should be something I guess, but we desparately needed a win to do something useful and start to climb the table. Class goal by Anelka, it has to be said. He seems to have turned the corner in terms of actually playing and scoring, so I only hope he can put a few past Spurs at the weekend. I have a funny feeling that despite our not so good league position, the FA Cup might be our salvation this season for some odd reason or another. Well, I can hope can't I?

But the nice thing for me this weekend was that I finally managed to get my new AV amp, yaay! I had thought and thought about the one I wanted, and eventually plumped for the Sony STR-DB790, not least because it has a turntable input (I play vinyl still, you know) but also for many other reasons, one of them being that it's available in black to match the rest of my AV rig. The nice thing was that I went into Superfi in town and asked if they had any in, which they did. Next thing was to see if they could match the price on their own website, and guess what? They did that as well! So that was me sold. I'll have one of them, I thought, and set it up, hooked it all up, ran the amp in for some time, and well, let's put it like this, it's pretty impressive stuff. So much so, that I decided to review it for all you people. There's lots of nice things it does and I could tell you, but suffice to say that watching DVDs is a very nice experience now, even nicer than before (if that was possible) and also listening to music is pretty darn good as well.

While hooking up all the new rig I did notice that my turntable seemed to be playing slow. A quick check of the connections later revealed why. I was using the wrong connector on the multi-voltage adapter - and soon hooked up the right one that's the 12V one. Quick check of the belt (which to be honest probably needs a replacement within a year or two, must look into that) and make sure all's well, and let it play. And bingo! Good old analogue for 1970s prog rock for me, and lots of it too. Oh yes.

Wednesday 14th January - At last!

Well, I've just got home from the pub a very very happy bunny. Why? Simple. Manchester City won at long long last, beating Leicester City 3-1 away in the FA Cup 3rd round replay. Three pretty good goals too, but I must admit I was most pleased for Nicolas Anelka's goal, because he didn't give up chasing a back pass ball and got in between Frank Sinclair and Ian Walker, nipped the ball home and made it 2-1 with a minute left. The fact Jon Macken scored in stoppage time also just made me go rather mental. After a week in which newspapers like The Sun twisted every word Anelka said, basically saying he wanted out, the goal was his own little way of going "up yours!" to the gutter press and also showing that he hadn't lost it, thankfully. That's four goals in the last four games, which can't be complained about. Only snag: we now have to face Tottenham in the next round, and having lost to them in the Carling Cup, it's revenge time. Plus of course due to the epic 1981 FA Cup final which City lost to Tottenham 3-2 in the replay, there's always been a bit of history between the two sides in the tournament.

I just hope it's a springboard for Saturday's league game against Blackburn at home and of course for weeks to come, we need the league points now and I'm sure that the positive result will only bring the team even more closer together. And of course we'll have our new keeper playing. With the latest injury to David Seaman making him decide on his retirement (good luck to him too, he's deserved it after years of service, not least for the England national team. People forget the vital save he made at 1-1 when we thrashed Germany not so long ago which meant we'd have gone into half time at least level..) it was clear we had to get a new keeper, and so step forth the current England number 1, David "Calamity" James. I'm still not sure it was the right keeper to go for, but nonetheless if he's currently the England goalie, so it brings with it some stature and kudos here to the club, and of course at Euro 2004, we'll have at least one player going there, maybe more depending on if some of our European players represent their countries. I just hope Nicolas Anelka still turns his back on France at the tournament's start: with England playing France I wouldn't like to see the defence turned inside out by Nico!

Well, I finally got paid the overtime that I was due back in November (!) and so I've decided pretty much what I'm going to spend it on too. You'll just have to wait and see what exactly I decide on, but regular readers might already have an idea. I suppose it's taught me two things, namely 1) everything comes to he who waits, and 2) inefficiency is the biggest stress causer at work. You see, for some reason, my claim, despite being done correctly, was not dealt with correctly by either of two departments, which was the reason for the delay. In fact, it took a third attempt at submission in order for me to actually receive what I was owed, which was a pretty poor show all round. Ideally, I'd have loved the money in time for Christmas so I could treat myself to an advance present, but as it's turned out, getting it in January is no bad thing as I can take advantage of the sales pretty nicely if I need to. So there's swings and roundabouts there, too.

Another week, and another dose of useless reality TV, and a bitter disappointment too because the first series was actually half-interesting (shock horror!). Celebrity Fit Club made its return, and abolished anything that was good, in other words, they've made the programme too long, too much focus on the celebrities chatting to Dale Winton, the presenter, and even the celebrities themselves were strictly Z-list to say the least, on the whole. I got bored with it really easily, no more witty narration of the overview of the whole thing, and it just didn't flow at all well. Even the fitness trainer Harvey Walden IV seemed to have a back seat, which was a shame, as him kicking ass giving them hell unless they tried 110% made the first series fun to watch. And to be fair, those who tried gained Harvey's utter respect, like Ian McCaskill, who at his age, was giving everything. He wasn't the fastest or the most agile, but for commitment he was a joy to watch. Can't see any of these Z-list luvvies doing quite the same this time around. Not that I'll be watching it again, mind you.

One day there will again be more good original ideas on the TV, and those that are often get a good audience and fan base because they're something that is a good concept that's well worth a realisation. Something ITV in particular needs to note. Let's kick the likes of Pop Idol off the TV and instead replace it with good stand up comedy shows, get some good serious drama like the excellent Between The Sheets was at the back end of last year (see, they can do it if they want) and also at the same time let's all stop this nation's current obsession with wanting to be a celebrity for fifteen minutes or so. Not much to ask I suppose.

Thursday 8th January - Frustration, and not the board game

Got back from the Manchester City - Charlton game last night, and it was a game of frustration. Nicolas Anelka kept going on runs on his own and being far too greedy, and not passing a fair bit of the time, and then there were so many shots in the second half just going wide of the goal. After Robbie Fowler's strike to put us one-up, I felt we needed another. It didn't come, and then we were robbed. Not by Charlton, they played okay, but by the officials. Now I've seen some bad decisions given in my time, but last night's beggared belief. The ball bounces in the area and hits Richard Dunne on the hand accidentally. None of the Charlton players even appeal, and yet the referee points to the spot. Go figure. Then Paolo di Canio takes the penalty, and David Seaman saves it, and I'm thinking "Yes!" Only I had to think "Oh no!" around a second later when the ball rebounded to di Canio. Aaaargh. Not good. And utterly frustrating that in thirteen league and Cup games (nine league, four cup) that we haven't won, but drawn a fair bit. In fact in that run of thirteen, seven have been draws: Groclin (home and away, UEFA Cup), Leicester (FA Cup), Liverpool, Charlton and Leeds (home) and Everton (away). Now if some of those had only been wins instead...

Anyhow, back at work and I've been trying to get all the things sorted out before the students return for the next term. So far I've updated all the drop-in PCs with the Flash 7 plugin, the Works XP convertor for Word XP, and did all the critical updates too, just to be on the safe side. We also acquired some Canon USB scanners from a department who were replacing them with newer models, and as luck would have it, once we installed the TWAIN driver, Photoshop recognised it happily to acquire images. So I spent some time today deploying them in some of the rooms, and securing them so that they don't get taken away. The nice thing is that they're host powered too, so none of that plugging in whacking great big power supplies. They're cute and compact too, and certainly if I didn't already have a scanner at home, I would use these at work for sure.

And with it being the first week of the New Year, that means one thing: World Darts. It's been pretty good viewing this year, spoilt by the gamesmanship and downright cheating antics of Mervyn King. I'm with the contigent of the crowd who booed him during his second round match, he was so out of order in round one. Basically it was like this: he was playing Rik Hofstra of the Netherlands, and they'd played two sets and it was 1-1. Hofstra looked to be on top. King then asks the referee to check the distance of the oche, because he felt it was too short. The game got interrupted and of course the distance was spot on, so they carried on, but King had got a second win and won 3-1. Understandably a lot of fans were upset, and on BBC, Bobby George said he was "bang out of order". I agree with him entirely, and feel sorry for the Dutch fans at the Lakeside who were robbed of a proper contest. I have a feeling that if King gets through to the final (most likely against Raymond van Barneveld if he does the business) that the whole crowd will be cheering on Barney. Well, I know I will. I'd rather have a proper champion win any day.

Oh, and can someone please explain why Channel 4 are wasting money on programmes like Shattered? What rubbish that is, and hopefully the last nail in the reality television coffin. It really has sunk to a new low in terms of cheap entertainment and people wanting to be famous for fifteen minutes just because they're trying to stay awake and be completely mentally scarred while doing so. Makes me wonder what next (sarcasm mode on), I know, let's do an extended version of the starvation booth that they used to have at the end of the Japanese game show Endurance... oh what a fantastic idea that is.

Sunday 4th January - New Year and relief all round

At last, it's 2004. In the few days up to New Year it seemed that the whole world was dragging along at a slow snail pace, not that I minded too much of course, but gradually you get a little bored with staying at home and start to look in the sales a bit more, usually a bad thing, as nothing struck out at me and said "buy me" and you're also tempted to spend money you might not have. But finally New Year's Eve was here to see the back of 2003 with. Thankfully despite the incessant rain that fell, my friends and I managed to find a pub in the centre of Manchester that wasn't charging for admission (although they'd planned to originally, probably what kept the punters away), charging normal bar prices, and as a bonus, free food and free DJ playing stuff from the 50s to the 80s, which kept everyone happy, which was nice. I must admit I was utterly knackered and having to try and stay awake by 2am so I made my way home via the night bus that was laid on and crawled into bed around 2.30am, which is pretty late for me these days (yes I know, that makes me old doesn't it?). Still, it just goes to show that if you're a pub owner, the way to get punters in is not to charge at all from the outset, and publicise it. That normally works pretty well. Seeing how chock full The Waterhouse was proved that point - they'd advertised it was going to be a freebie for a few weeks.

Anyway, so it's 2004, leap year and Olympic year (must remember to find out when that is and book the time off work, especially as I should be getting more holidays this year). And Channel 4 had something good to start off with - the 100 Worst Pop Records. And there were some horrible rubbish bobbins ones in there to say the least. Remember "Don't It Make You Feel Good?" by Stefan Dennis (Paul Robinson off Neighbours), "I Want To Be A Hippy" by Technohead, or "No Way No Way" by Vanilla, asically four slappers ripping off the classic Mah Na Mah Na, made famous by the Muppet Show, in the chorus? And those were just a few. Must admit I was relieved not to have purchased any of the 100 Worst, so that was good to know I have at least some music taste. Thank heavens though that the public are getting sick of the likes of Cliff Richard as the supposed New Messiah. The Millennium Prayer was a complete insult, and seeing some of the video just made me want to shout very loudly at the television in offence. I'd have put that number one above what was number one in the end, but it did get number two so there were enough like me who were sick of it. Channel 4 did miss out quite a few for people to consider though, I'll have to think of an alternative 10 worst records at some point.

And I didn't even realise some of the more bizarre things until this programme came on: you remember "Y Viva Espana" by Sylvia? You know the one: "Now we're all going off to sunny Spain, y viva Espana.." etc? Well it turns out that the singer Sylvia had never even visited Spain, and she was Swedish. What a rip-off that was back in the days then. And not to mention that Smokie got their idea from re-releasing their hit "Living Next Door To Alice" because when they played one gig, the audience yelled to them: "Alice? Who the f*** is Alice?" and it just so happened the drummer was good mates with very offensive so-called "comedian" Roy Chubby Brown. Just bizarre, I tell you. Still, it was three hours of fun, mickey taking and just general cheese and me going in horror "I actually remembered it in the first place, that makes me sad!" Not to mention when Sabrina's "Boys" came on, I thought "isn't this where she gets her breasts out by mistake?" and sure enough, there it was. No wonder it actually charted with all that charge of testosterone out there.

And at least City started the new year undefeated. Well, okay, we drew 2-2 with Leicester City in the FA Cup third round, but at least it looked like Anelka's back on scoring form, which we've needed desparately, and also that we came back twice from a goal down and didn't let the heads drop. It seemed a better performance and our second 2-2 draw in as many games. I just need us to break the pattern and for City to win now, that would be nice I think.