Dear Diary... January 2017

Tuesday 31st January - Upgrading

So it was back to the plan I had last week, and to upgrade SCCM to the 1610 revision. In fact, I had confirmed a backup had been taken (all good) and that SQL was all good (it was) and so it was a case of starting it all off at the right time. Of course, the good thing was that I had given everyone due warning, and so I kept an eye on it and the log files as the update progressed through, ensuring that it had met all the pre-requisites and had all the features we wanted.

In fact, the upgrade went through pretty smoothly, although one final part seemed to stall when attempting to re-launch some of the threads from the SMS Executive service. I worked out what the issue was and managed to solve that quickly (it was a case of something else attempting to run at the same time, so paused that and then allowed the threads to reload) and then all was good from there. In fact the upgrade completed, I did the admin console upgrade (that took a fair while) and then made sure all was stable.

In fact, the admin console upgrade worked well, but it did take its time as it was removing the old version entirely and adding a new one, and of course that needed to ensure it was able to see all the new features properly. I was pretty pleased how it all turned out in the end, and so once the admin console was upgraded on the Citrix servers, and that I'd tested a few other things, our SQL expert then made sure the other cluster node had its due upgrade to SQL 2012 SP3 (it was at SP1 which was the cause of potential issues) and so with both nodes then done, the reporting services all were good to go - and massively quicker as well it has to be said!

So with that done, time to do some further testing of the PXE settings tweaks that I was looking into. And with the value of the TFTPRamDiskWindow registry key set to 4 (instead of 1), the speed increases were noticeable. What took almost four minutes to download the boot WIM image took less than two minutes with UEFI. I'm going to try again with it set to 8 and 16 tomorrow, as it was late in the day when I tried it, but it does at least mean that I can see some improvements already, which has to be a positive thing. It should also speed up the BIOS boot of the boot image too, but definitely as UEFI is slower, good to see that first.

I headed home and spent some time sorting out a few things before making a rather nice stir fry for tea - some chicken, mushrooms, Singapore noodles and schezuan sauce, all made in around ten minutes or so, so quick too, and rather tasty and filling. I must admit I've certainly experiemented more in cooking in the last couple of years, as I think it's good to stretch myself a bit. Naturally I could have added some more vegetables too, but felt it best to use what I had whilst still fresh, made perfect sense to me that.

Tune of the day is the excellent "Happy House" by Siouxsie and the Banshees, for me one of my favourite tracks of theirs and reminds me when Manchester used to have a Goth club called The Banshee (it was roughly where the Wetherspoons is now on the corner of Portland Street and Oxford Street) and that was certainly where I occasionally would go when I was younger - it had indie stuff played too, but was really good at getting the likes of Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission et al played. Ah, memories!

Monday 30th January - Protests and Prize Draws

Back to work for another week, and certainly a busy one ahead. I spent a fair bit of time today getting some preparatory work for the SCCM upgrade planned tomorrow. However I also took some time to take some timed measurements of how well PXE boot performs with UEFI. Part of the reason is that there are ways to speed this up with some registry key tweaks, but to gauge how much of an increase you might get, you need some benchmarks first.

So armed with two different HP laptops, and two different desktops (one HP and one Dell) and with them all being UEFI capable, I set them all to ensure that mode was on, and PXE booted. From the moment it then asks you to press F12 or ENTER to confirm you want to boot, it's measuring that time up until the boot image WIM has downloaded and is ready to go. Indeed with the two laptops I tried it was looking at around four minutes, which is about what UEFI tends to do - much slower than BIOS based PXE for whatever reason.

Anyhow, with those measurements taken, once I've got the upgrade sorted tomorrow I'll then be able to work out what the increased may be and with some recommendations going forward, well at least that is the theory anyway. I think too that it's good to get these quick wins in play before we then look at the next batch of Windows 10 rollouts, which according to the meeting we had today may be sooner than we think. I for one definitely will be looking forward to that in some way.

I headed home later on and managed to get a few things sorted: I've booked a table for myself and The Love In My Heart for next weekend Saturday 11th for when she is down with me, and thought it'd be good to eat out at one of the restaurants in the South End of Croydon. I narrowed it down, she liked the menu of one place I shortlisted and so we're going there. I thought that people might end up booking because of a certain other day a few days afterwards,so got the booking in early to be on the safe side. Preparation is after all everything.

I also noted tonight how many people had signed the online petition requesting that the US president Donald Trump isn't allowed a full state visit with the Queen in the wake of his ban on travel from certain countries to the states, and 1.5 million or so is pretty large. Even more so it seemed that many towns and cities seemed to have some form of demonstration and march en masse, notably London, Manchester and Glasgow having high turnouts. It also reminded me just how relevant, more so than it should be, that Pop Will Eat Itself's "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" actually is, so tune of the day there.

I also saw the FA Cup draw, and whilst Manchester City got drawn away again (Huddersfield Town, 5th in the Championship, so not so easy) I was massively pleased that both non-league teams got Premier League opposition - Lincoln City go to Burnley, whilst Sutton United have a plum tie with Arsenal. I can only imagine their fans being massively delirious at that and a massive occasion that will be at Gander Green Lane when that happens - which I suspect will be on the telly as well.

Sunday 29th January - Following the Greenway

As the weather had at least turned dry this morning after some overnight rain, I decided to take on another section of the Capital Ring walk - this time section 14, which starts at Hackney Wick and heads via the Greenway to Beckton District Park, around five miles in all. I checked that all the necessary trains and tube etc was running, and so it was off to East Croydon, train to Victoria and then on the Victoria Line to Highbury and Islington. I saw I had a few minutes spare prior to the train to Hackney Wick, so headed over to the Little Waitrose, got myself a coffee in there and then headed back and in good time for the train. So it was nice to relax with a coffee before arriving at the starting point.

I was soon heading along the Lee Navigation, with the London Stadium (formerly of course the Olympic Stadium) on the left, then heading towards Old Ford Lock and indeed the lock keepers' cottage that back in the 1990s used to be the house where Channel 4's The Big Breakfast was filmed. It seems very well kept and the garden has the stadium as a backdrop as well, which of course wouldn't have been there back in the day. I remember the Summer shows were often in the garden a lot too, and much fun with the likes of Gaby Roslin and Zig and Zag!

From there it was on to the Greenway, with the Stadium and the Orbit on the left, but then had to make a diversion due to the work being done close to the Greenway via Pudding Mill Lane DLR and Stratford High Street before going back onto the Greenway itself, and this section looked like it had just re-opened. It did allow me to take in the superb gothic architecture of Abbey Mills Pumping Station, which has even been used as a film location for the likes of Batman Begins and music videos from A-ha and Coldplay too, as well as various television series over the years.

It was then a case of following the Greenway, passing close to Plaistow tube station, East London Cemetery and going straight on for two more miles, although admittedly there wasn't that much to see at least it was some green space, and relatively calm and peaceful too. It was then off there and heading towards a footbridge over the A13 with the "Beckton Alps" in the distance, crossing over and entering Beckton District Park, first of all the North section, then crossing over to a path towards the South section, passing a burned out old car (which Newham Council really need to get removed) and then towards Stansfield Road.

It's actually a surprising end, as it ends close to a pavilion and before a left turn into more of the South side of the park, but it isn't that far from Royal Albert DLR, so makes sense if you wanted to get public transport back. I took that to Canning Town, and then from there to London Bridge - and as I had arrived at Canning Town, the rain started to lash it down, so possibly timed the walk to perfection really. It was then on the train home, and got home in good time to see the second half of Sutton United getting their historic 1-0 win over Leeds United in the FA Cup fourth round.

In fact later I saw an easy 4-0 win for Manchester United over Wigan Athletic, meaning all but one of the fourth round ties had been settled at the first time of asking, with only the Leicester City v Derby County replay outstanding. This should hopefully mean more time to work out where to head for the fifth round with the draw tomorrow, and admittedly a home tie would be nice, although with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Sutton United and Fulham still left in, it could be another away game not that far from me as well. We shall see what happens.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the excellent "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" by Pop Will Eat Itself. Despite being written back in 1994, it's actually even more relevant today than it was back then, with a real nod to the rising tide of racism and right wing politics, the "politics of hate" as the band correctly put it. Certainly for me it has lost none of its power in the years since, and showed how ahead of their time that the band always were, and continues to be.

Saturday 28th January - Glad All Over

After changing the bedding and sorting out some washing this morning, it was nice to be able to kick back with some telly, have a nice breakfast and a coffee, and get myself all sorted for this afternoon, where I'd be taking the relatively short distance to go to Selhurst Park and watch Manchester City away at Crystal Palace in the fourth round of the FA Cup. I had of course been to West Ham away in the third round and saw us win 5-0, and whilst not expecting that scoreline, it was my second City away game this month and hoped for another good result.

So it was on to the 468 bus from near the flat and before long I was heading towards the ground, and it wasn't too bad traffic wise even though it was less than an hour or so to kick off. Close to the away end one of the takeaways was doing a very good deal where you got two pieces of chicken, chips and a drink for around £3.50. That was lunch sorted and it seemed that plenty of fans were doing the same all round and not paying inside the ground, or heading to the Sainsburys close by and doing the £3 meal deal there. Not daft us fans you know.

Inside the Arthur Wait stand it was, and it was a reminder of the older stands in football, where you hoped you weren't behind a pillar or that it blocked your view of the action, and the corrugated iron roof and brick wall at the back really sent me back in time. In a way, and with the stands close to the pitch, it was a case of old school football, and that was pleasing. Of course Crystal Palace's anthem is "Glad All Over" by the Dave Clark Five, although when played over the tannoy, the City fans adapted it to the current "We've got Guardiola" song instead, so tune of the day.

Out came the teams and the atmosphere was buzzing nicely, especially in the City end. It seemed not every Palace fan had turned up as swathes of empty seats were around. Lots of singing for us Blues though, and really helping the team along. David Silva had a shot well saved, and at the other end a superb save from Willy Caballero kept the score at 0-0. It was a case of City dominating a bit of the half and keeping going, and just before half time a breakthrough, with Gabriel Jesus passing superbly to Raheem Sterling, and from there he slotted it past Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal 1 on 1. 1-0 to City, and right at the end of the half it was almost another as Jesus' shot was well saved.

The second half got underway and plenty of hail came down for around ten minutes or so, you could hear it hammering on the corrugated roof, and it must haved been pretty awful to play in. That said though City kept going, and later on a lovely run from David Silva found Leroy Sané in space and he coolly slotted it home for 2-0. A bit more breathing space for us, and indeed the City fans were in fine voice cheering on the team and with the subs coming on, we still had more opportunities up front, and late on the impressive Jesus was fouled. I was pleased to see him do well.

So from the free kick, Yaya Touré superbly struck it into the top corner for 3-0 which led to a mass exodus from the Palace fans and the Kolo / Yaya Touré chants from the City fans as well, which was all good. And so it was a nice 3-0 win for us, and so far that's eight goals scored and none conceded in the FA Cup, and so I'll look forward to the fifth round now. I also noted how the likes of Lincoln City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Oxord United took their chances and caused upsets, and away at Lincoln is the tie that no one wants next round, for definite.

Friday 27th January - End of the Week

I was thinking about working from home today, but knew I needed to be in to make sure I completed the two Surface tablets and had them ready, and by mid-morning all was done - with them both having the necessary software on, all the features and functionality present, and it was noticeable just how nice it was to use when working. In fact one of our people from HR was using it for testing, and so he came over late in the day to come and see me and collect it, so was nice to be able to spend some time going through things too.

I also managed to take some time to look at one of the HP laptops and ensure that not only did it successfully pull down a Windows 10 image, but was also ready to be able to be provisioned nicely with the current Windows 7 laptop image afterwards, and that worked rather nicely in the end too. I think it's always good to be able to test these things out and have a real sense of feeling of satisfaction that it's all well too. I take pride in being meticulous and sorting things out properly.

It was a fairly satisfied me heading homewards, and indeed I spent some time this evening sorting out the flat, so made sure all was clean and tidy, and then did some further dusting and cleaning and vacuuming so that I could take pride in the place. I must admit it's a lot easier to clean a flat than my old house of course, but I do sometimes miss the extra space that it offered. However, also being able to then take it easy and relax for the rest of the evening is always appreciated of course.

And The Last Leg is back on the telly of course, so it was a definite must watch for me - and with David Tennant as guest too. Needless to say that the three hosts had a real sense of their eye on the issues happening around the world at the moment, and dealt with their usual wit and intelligence too. Of course the theme tune still rocks (Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy - make that tune of the day) and really, the show should have won the other night at the NTA Awards.

And on a positive side, the online food shopping delivery arrived on time, no issues this time around, and with a very friendly delivery person too. In fact all of what I was after came, and it was nice to pack everything away and have plenty of food in for the next week or two, and I even treated myself to some St Austell ales too - they were four for £6 and as I had a voucher for £6 off my shopping, effectively a freebie. So I got one each of Tribute, Proper Job, Proper Black and Admiral's Ale, might have to enjoy those later in the week or possibly even tomorrow night!

Thursday 26th January - R is for Result

Another busy day in the office, and good to get a fair few things finalised along the way too. I spent some time working on the way to get all the previous instances of R removed, and worked it out. It's all very well using the %programfiles% variable when you're logged in and have all the environment variables associated, but of course if you're executing the necessary commands to do the software removal when no user is logged on, well of course it's not going to know about that. A simple substitution accordingly for the full path, and what do you know, it now works correctly. Hurrah to that I think.

I also spent some time as well sorting out an App-V package for SCCM 2012, and this is where I thankfully remembered that I had documented the steps last time. It's well know that you need to use the older type PVAD virtual directory and install both R and R Studio into that, and so when you launch either in an App-V environment, it knows to be able to talk to each other and work it all out. In fact it worked very well indeed, so was rather pleased that it was good to go should we need to.

It was also a case of working out some finances later too - and notably to be sure that I could budget well for the next month. Of course with it being all Christmas and New Year, I was pretty spot on money wise in January and didn't go over the top, and managed to book trains for the next few months or so whilst they were cheaper. Now of course this also means that if need be, I can then be sure to keep on top of it all and book cheaper and so then Manchester visits to The Love In My Heart are more of a certainty, which is nice. Admittedly that's one thing that does keep me going - a lot.

Which of course meant that when I did chat with her tonight, it was nice to know that she had had some reasonably good news and we both were able to think positive on her behalf. I know for her too that being able to share those moments together is rather nice, and means that even though we may be some 200 miles or so from each other, we're actually closer than we think in terms of how much we talk, and how much we then make the most of the time we do get together.

I also think for me I've spent more time listening to music too, to take things easier during the evening and generally relax a lot more when I've got home from work too. So much so that tonight I decided to play another classic album in full, namely Skunk Anansie's debut album "Paranoid and Sunburnt". It's still a classic for me, including the ace "Selling Jesus" and my favourite on there, "I Can Dream" (tune of the day) and the whole album rocks pretty hard. I still have fond memories of seeing them live on a cold January night with one of my friends in 1996 at Manchester Academy 2, and "Skunk Song" during the encore - which was, in a word, mental!

Wednesday 25th January - Light at the End of the Southern Fail Tunnel

Another day, another day of delays via the whole Govia Thameslink Railway shambles. My usual train to work was delayed by eleven minutes getting in to East Croydon, and by the time I arrived in central London that delay had become seventeen minutes. That of course does mean that I'm now able to put a delay repay claim in, as the 15-29 minute rule came in from December 11th, so needless to say I've done so. This is also where having my Oyster monthly travelcard purchased online comes in handy too, as it means that I can easily provide the receipt and send that with the claim.

On the way home though it transpires that there may yet be light at the end of the dark and mysterious tunnel that is Govia Thameslink Railway and of course as part of that, Southern Fail. According to rail industry insiders, the Department for Transport aren't satisfied with the "force maejure" claim put in by GTR, and so there may be a move afoot. This also though may be an attempt to try and derail any forthcoming judicial review put forward by the Association of British Commuters, whose excellent work has really put the passengers first and the company (and the DfT) on the back foot, especially with constant delaying of Freedom of Information requests et al.

Needless to say as well that as yesterday was the first "normal" and full timetable that Southern had run in months, with no ASLEF overtime ban or RMT conductors' strikes happening, you would think that their reliablity would be decent, right? Actually, no. It was worse than it was on the strike days in terms of percentages of punctuality and reliability too. Shocking stuff, and that only serves to back up the theory that they're really not fit for purpose (master of understatement here)

Anyway, another productive day at work and I've set about sorting new versions of R and R Studio for the staff who are using those pieces of software currently. Noticably though it's worth mentioning that when you install a new version of R, the old version does not remove, rather annoying that. I've managed to come up with a removal script which does the work, using the in-built uninstaller with the /VERYSILENT switch to run very silently. I now need to make sure this is nice and robust.

It's always part of my testing to ensure that you install software with no previous version on, as well as do it over the top of a previous version and see what happens - this way you can catch situations like this, and make sure you've got those events covered. And if disk space is also at a premium, it's pretty important that there's attempts to make sure all is clean and well. Of course, these things, as The Smiths sang in their song and tune of the day, take time, but best to make the most use of the time properly and all that. And it's pay day tomorrow - thank heavens for that.

Tuesday 24th January - Upgrade Is Not Go, Mini Break Is Go

Well, it's at times like this that you're quite pleased that the SCCM in-place upgrades have a very useful "run pre-requisite check" for checking all is well before you upgrade. I had planned a change to go to the new version 1610 today and the change was all approved and good, and the test server upgrade went rather well. However, I spotted that with the live system (where the database server is stored elsewhere) it appears that there was a SQL requirement that it warned about. I did a bit of further reading and it turned out that the SQL instance needs to be on SQL Server 2012 SP2 or above - and ours is currently SP1. Ah. That'll be why then.

One of our SQL experts is on the case though - as there are other databases on the same server that will use the same SQL Server software, so need to be absolutely sure that service packing to 2012 SP3 won't actually break anything. Naturally of course SQL is a big integral part of any good SCCM setup due to the fact that the reports and other data are stored there, in database form which the admin console pulls all the good stuff out for you in a user-friendly fashion (as it does) and so that's always useful to know.

In other, and more nicer news, I've liaised with The Love In My Heart and sorted out a nice little weekend in early March in Birmingham for ourselves. As I'm a loyalty member with Accor Hotels, I'd accumulated a fair number of points over time due to some nice extra points on stays, and even gone up in membership to get room upgrades. However, they changed the loyalty system a while back, so if you don't stay in one of their hotels for a 12 month period, you effectively lose all the points. Now, when you consider that x number of points equals money off towards a future stay, you can see that there's potential money to be lost.

We worked out that the last stay we had was at the Mercure Promenade des Anglais in Nice last year (private sale of 40% off including breakfast worked out superbly for that) and so we needed to ensure we had a stay before 5th April. So start of March is a good thing, as we could potentially use the points we have then for a stay later in the year and either get it for free, or a considerable chunk of money off, always a good thing. And as we both quite have a soft spot for Birmingham, we thought it'd be nice to go, especially with New Street station and Grand Central shops all finished and looking rather lovely.

I had to co-ordinate some trains as well as the hotel we're staying at, but it all worked out well in the end so we can meet at New Street on the Friday evening, then have a nice two night stay and go home on the Sunday. I'm looking forward to it already (mind you, seeing The Love In My Heart always makes me happy anyway) and I'm sure for us both it'll be nice to have some quality time for just us. Sorry kitties! And with that in mind, "Breakaway" by Tracey Ullman is tune of the day - had that in my head once I'd managed to sort it all out and get it booked.

Monday 23rd January - Encrypting the Surface

I made a breakthrough this morning with the Surface Pro 3, and worked out just why the step to configure the MBAM Client was failing. It was simple really - it was because of course if you've got the Surface 3 without any form of keyboard attachment, this makes it almost impossible for you to put a PIN in if you're going down the TPM and PIN method of encryption. Of course, the key thing is that there is a setting which you can do, so for those devices only, you can add a registry key with its value set to 1 accordingly (which is HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\FVE\OSEnablePrebootInputProtectorsOnSlates) - and with that set, the MBAM step for configuration does happen.

However, what appears to also happen, with it being a TPM 2.0 device, is that the TPM owner password isn't saved back to the MBAM database either. I'll need to liaise with my colleague on this, but I suspect part of the reason for this is that TPM 2.0 handles ownership of the TPM differently, and so won't necessarily need to save back the recovery keys into the MBAM database due to the way that it can handle recovery. I'll do some further testing tomorrow but I think that is the reason.

Still, always good to get the head around new things and new ideas, and especially of course as it means that we'll be able to therefore do some nice pre-provisioning of Bitlocker, meaning that of course it then allows for some nifty use of free space encryption - the idea being that you don't have to encrypt all the sectors of the drive straight away but only as used, so that should work out well with some time saved - in theory. I think though that there'll be a lot going on this week..

I headed home via a diversionary route as the train I had planned to get had left two minutes early, so much for being on time and all that - even the station clocks said so. Unperturbed, it was a train to Mitcham Junction and then the tram home to Croydon, so that worked out okay in the end. I did nip in Lidl to get a few things food wise for during the week, and it was good to get all of that done, and then be all good for the week. Roll on when I get paid though I think!

In the meantime I had a bit of a 1990s indie phase tonight and listened to some classics of that era, especially the excellent "Ich Bin Ein Auslander" by Pop Will Eat Itself (make that tune of the day) - and with all that is going on in the world, it now needs to be the anthem which we all stand behind and unite against the likes of increasing racism in a less tolerant world. In fact, the song's actually more relevant even now than when it was back in 1994, and that is saying a lot.

Sunday 22nd January - Knutsford Niceness

After a nice lie in of sorts, with the two cats Jô and Brian giving us both attention as well as making part of the sofa their own with them being nice and comfortable, we had some nice breakfast and then got ourselves ready. The weather was pretty awful, but we needed to do a reccy for an all day conference that The Love In My Heart was at tomorrow, so we left just before lunchtime and then headed off to find the place that she was to be at, and it wasn't too bad to locate that either. In fact it was a quite easy place to see, so it'd be good for her tomorrow. I suggested a possibility of going to Knutsford, and she thought it'd be nice to do so.

It was then on the Mancunian Way, and then Princess Parkway, and then the M56. In fact when we got to junction 7, for the A556 turn off, the first part of the new road is now open, so you go underneath all the roundabouts and straight on to the road, and that's rather nice. Of course the rest of the road isn't built (yet) but progress is being made, and before we knew it, it was off on the road to Knutsford and following the road leading to the free car park on the Sunday, and then taking a walk along the streets.

In fact some of the shops were open, including a new place which seemed to stock plenty of bottled real ale as well, with plenty of local brews on offer for the masses. I might have to investigate that further at some point, but we were a bit peeved to see that The Hidden Jem had closed and wasn't there anymore. We also noted an increase in bars and a nice real ale bar at that which was also noticeable. We then went into the Angel at King Street, where we've been before, for Sunday lunch, and we noticed how nice it was since it was refurbished, and felt rather homely.

The Love had the Sunday roast gammon, which just looked stunningly nice, and I had the fish and chips, which was also spot on, lots of fish and some really nice chips and mushy peas too. I felt the need for dessert and so the sticky toffee pudding was mine to be had, and that was rather gorgeous all round too. I was most pleased with that and had a nice little coffee to go with it too, which just seemed to work rather well. In fact it was a shame that time was going by much too quickly.

So it proved too, and before long I was having hugs and kisses at Piccadilly and saying goodbyes. I will miss The Love loads next weekend, but at the same time, we had a nice long weekend and it was good to spend time together. I had some nice music on the way back including "Computer World" by Kraftwerk (make that tune of the day) and it was overall rather nice to just kick back and relax, then take the tube and train homewards, arriving not long after 8.35pm. Not too bad really considering.

I spent the rest of the evening watching the Masters snooker final, and saw Ronnie O'Sullivan pegged back a bit from 8-4 up over Joe Perry to 8-6, which then became 9-7, and Perry was playing well. In fact it was a tight 17th frame but one missed chance on the final red let Ronnie in, and he cleaned up to win the match and clinch a record seventh Masters title, collecting the Paul Hunter trophy and beating Stephen Hendry's record of six (which he had jointly held with Ronnie). I can't help but think the crowd need a bit of sorting out and learning how to behave properly when watching the snooker mind you...

Saturday 21st January - Throwing It Away

The Love In My Heart and I had a really relaxed morning, fussing overthe two cats Jô and Brian, and then having some breakfast, seeing a bit of Saturday Kitchen, with Liz Carr from Silent Witness being brilliantly funny and dry, and then later on heading off to her father's for a while, and dropping off her sister's birthday card and present too. In fact her father was quite chipper actually and it was good to see him on good form, and we saw the opening two frames of the first semi final of the Masters snooker whilst we were there, so all was good.

Later on we then headed off to pick up some dry cleaning, as the nearest dry cleaners was actually one near my old stomping ground, and I headed into Tesco to pick up some Dreamies for the cats (they go mental for them believe me) and then after that it was heading back in good time before the crowds arrived to head off to the Etihad for tonight's game between Manchester City and Tottenham. Of course I was going there with my friend later and so we were both keyed up for a rather good game all round.

It was a tense first half all round, and despite several chances from Manchester City, none of them were going in, with Pablo Zabaleta coming close from a volley from a corner, and also some headers going wide. It felt like it was going to be one of those days, especially as there had been a real sense that Tottenham weren't quite there. At half time we were all thinking that if we kept going with the same attitude and determination, it wouldn't be too long before we scored.

And so it proved too. In fact it was a nice little move forward, but as the ball headed towards Hugo Lloris the Tottenham keeper with Leroy Sané chasing, I thought it was a lost cause. Not so, Lloris knocked it into Sané's shoulder and he slotted it into an empty net for 1-0. A few minutes later and a cross from the right was fumbled awfully by Lloris, leaving Kevin de Bruyne to slot home into an empty net again for 2-0. In fact, it was the sort of goalkeeping error that we'd half expected from our own keeper.

It was too good to be true though. A few minutes later it was a case of a cross coming in and it was headed home without any challenge whatsoever by Dele Alli, which was a bit slack all round from the City defence. The turning point came though when Raheem Sterling was challenged for the ball when about to shoot, and it looked like a foul and penalty, but not given, and Tottenham went up the other end with Son scoring the equaliser for 2-2. Boos went around for the referee, and rightfully so, another poor performance and perhaps costing us more points. 2-2 it ended, and although I might have taken that before kick off, it was massively disappointing to be honest.

Back at The Love's place, she and I relaxed with some telly, so she saw the rest of Let It Shine and we had a gorgeous tea of stuffed chicken with a cheese sauce and vegetables, spot on that. We also then turned over and The Love had the rest of The Voice on, still not convinced by that, but what I was convinced by was Joe Perry's comeback in the snooker later. He was 5-2 down to Barry Hawkins, and needed a snooker, but came back from the dead, and then won 6-5 in a tense decider. Joe's walk on music, "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, is tune of the day and I was genuinely happy for him to show some superb battling qualities.

Friday 20th January - Catch Up and Beth Rowley

As The Love In My Heart was in work today, she handed me the other set of flat keys so I could head up, have some toast for breakfast and then leave as I needed to. In fact I gave Jô and Brian the cats some of the Tiger cat treats before I left, which made them rather happy, and I got to the tram stop in good time to now be off peak and pay less for the day ticket. I made my way to Piccadilly Gardens and then headed towards the Northern Quarter, and soon was in Vinyl Exchange having a good mooch at the CDs and vinyl in there. Admittedly, plenty of temptation, but at collector's prices too for some of them, so definitely if you wanted quality rare stuff all appeared good. CDs appeared to be less prevalent, maybe a sign of the times now.

I also went in Piccadilly Records for a bit too and then headed to Next as I needed to get a gift card for The Love In My Heart, before then heading back towards Stevenson Square and noticing the Bowie picture someone had painted there, rather good too actually. I was tempted also to spend more time in The Real Camera Co also, but knew I'd be in there for ages if I wasn't careful, and was on the number 2 free city centre bus heading down Deansgate and getting off near Oxford Road station, walking from there to meet some of my former work colleagues for lunch.

I have to say it was nice to see a fair number of people, and we could talk about all sorts, and how things were with me as well as them. I must admit I do miss a lot of them, primarily because they're a good bunch of people who are professional and who get the job done. I think too that for them it's nice I spend time to see them also, and the lunch I had in the pub was decent actually, a chicken and mushroom chunk of pie with some chips and peas and gravy, and even a pint of Trooper to go with it, all is well. In fact they mentioned about one task which I'm pretty good at which they may look at outsourcing, so I've dropped a few hints!!

Anyway, I headed back to town and to the Virgin Money Lounge: not been in there for ages and certainly of course well relaxing, especially also as the snooker was on as well as access to the iMacs for Internet. In fact I booked myself a ticket for next Saturday's Manchester City FA Cup tie away at Crystal Palace, and as that ground is the closest to mine, it made sense. In fact, I can remember one away day there in April 1991 when Niall Quinn scored a hat trick and City won 3-1, so a repeat scoreline of that would be rather nice.

It was back to The Love's place, and we got ourselves changed and ready, and headed back off to the city centre, and with 50% off the food, it was back to Rosylee for us, and with good reason. The food is always lovely in there, and we decided to have a main and a nice drink each - I had the Shed Head pint, The Love had the rather nice white zinfandel which she loves in there. She had the steak, I had the sea bass and with a side order of chips, and that was stunningly nice. Not to mention the sticky toffee pudding was of course bang on form, but then of course you suspected that!

We got to The Ruby Lounge, and The Love wasn't impressed with plastic cups for everything, and the plastic wine glasses. However, the support act was on, Sukh, and he wasn't too bad. He played some of his songs acoustic and then went to the keyboards for some other ones, even attempting to get the audience singing along in parts. I think he had a nice little following as well, and the crowd seemed supportive too. Having listened to some of the songs on his website later, I could see he had promise too.

After the interval, on came Beth Rowley, and I have to say it was a very brave set for her to try virtually the whole set with new songs from a forthcoming album. Her voice was of course in fine form, but it definitely was a more bluesy feel than her Little Dreamer album, which took some getting used to. The closer "Bronze" was particularly stunning and that was tune of the day for me, with suitable nods to "Nobody's Fault But Mine" and "Only One Cloud" given a more rootsy working too. In fact, the musicians that played with her were all very talented indeed and showed that they were a good unit. The Love wasn't so convinced but admitted that Beth's voice was still on song and in fine form.

We headed home through the cold night and was back just in time for a chunk of Graham Norton, with Josh Widdicombe having a good giggle with Ed Sheeran (Josh has been mistaken for Ed sometimes) - and with Matthew McConaughey as well. It was always a laugh but then when it went to the big red chair, it was actually one of Ed's old school friends whom he hadn't seen in years, so they had a reunion, which was actually really charming. Sometimes it's not about the laughs, it's about the moments. Something which a certain world event earlier clearly was not.

Thursday 19th January - Under The Surface

So after sorting out the driver package for both the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 tablets, I set to work about getting them imaged with SCCM. It transpired that we didn't have a Microsoft USB to Ethernet adapter that you can get for the Surface, which gave its own problem - in that you can't necessarily PXE boot from the device. This is due to Microsoft only supporting the Surface adapters in its UEFI firmware, and no other, so if you have a third party USB to Ethernet adapter, no PXE boot for you.

However, I worked on an alternative, which was to effectively get a Windows 10 x64 driver for the USB to Ethernet adapter, upload that to the SCCM driver packages as a separate driver package but also integrated that driver into our boot image, and so when I created a USB stick with the SCCM boot media, the driver was on there and would be loaded in the WinPE phase, hence it would then allow you to load that driver and be able to access the SCCM task sequence. I added the driver packages with WMI queries, made sure the USB to Ethernet adapter was also added, and then set about seeing if it would image but also do all its MBAM encryption.

Well, it got so far, and then went, no. In fact it had installed the MBAM client and got all the way to doing the encryption Powershell script so it would send the information off to the MBAM Server, but it didn't play ball and quit out. I'll investigate that more on Monday when I get back in, but it was good to be able to sort out some of the task sequence and show that you could bring down an image. Ideally of course I'd like to get a fair bit of the stuff all working as we want to, but there's a fair number of ways we could possibly do that.

I got home and had some tea, and then with case packed it was off to East Croydon station, and one train and tube journey later and I was at London Euston in good time for the 1940 train to Manchester Piccadilly to spend a longer weekend with The Love In My Heart. As I left Euston, the iPod on random selected the title track to Kraftwerk's seminal "Trans-Europe Express" which somehow seemed apt as the train headed off, so tune of the day was an easy decision really.

It took its time through the dark, and at Wilmslow diverted around Styal and Heald Green, following the airport line and Kingsway back towards the centre of Manchester, and I was so pleased to see The Love there for me. We got back to her place, I handed her the box with her order from House of Fraser in (which I picked up from my local store for her) and then unpacked, with the two cats Jô and Brian in tow and all happy, and surprisingly snuggly when we both decided to head off to bed, all chatty and catching up together. I must admit it was really nice to have an extra day off...

Wednesday 18th January - Preparation

Another day of getting things tested, and one of the nice things I was able to look at was getting some driver packages prepared and ready for some of the tablets that we have, with a view to getting those re-imaged with Windows 10 at some point. In fact the HP 1000 G2 tablet had a native Windows 10 64-bit driver pack, so using the HP tools that was fairly easy to get a driver pack sorted and integrated ready to go, and because Microsoft also provided all the drivers for the Surface 3 tablet, there's a driver package ready to sort as well, so that was pretty good.

One new feature that the SCCM 1610 update provides, which will be massively useful, is the fact that you can choose devices with MAC addresses that you'll be using again when imaging. So for example with a Surface 3 tablet, you'll have purchased a Microsoft USB to Ethernet adapter for it. This adapter may be used more than once for imaging, but second time around, because the MAC address is already associated with a PC, it won't let you bring another image down. What the new feature does is to add the MAC address of the adapter, and only the SMBIOS GUID of the actual device is used to identify it in future, not the MAC address, so you can PXE boot as many times as you need and be good to go.

Some of the HP tablets also have a docking station which offers Ethernet plus extra USB ports, and so the tablet docks into that and again, you'd be using that more than once too. It's a nice feature to have and I can see it on the test server which I upgraded yesterday, and so when the live upgrade happens it'll be a case of getting that all sorted. It's always good to get stuff prepared and ready and then at least it's one less thing to worry about, on top of everything else on at the moment. Busy, but good.

I spent some time tonight watching the snooker on the BBC Red Button and I have to say that Barry Hawkins was on considerable form, thrashing Shaun Murphy 6-1 with some consummate ease. I know that The Hawk can play a bit of course, but I was expecting it to be a closer match, especially as all the afternoon matches (all four of them) had gone to a final frame decider, including today with Mark Selby narrowly getting past Mark Williams after a kick for Williams was partly the reason. It was epic stuff again mind you.

In the meantime, tune of the day is "Numbers" by Kraftwerk, a rather under-rated track from their Computer World album. It makes more sense when that's actually segued into the title track, as the band play it live these days, instead of "Computerworld 2", and more so with the three dimensional numbers coming at you too, a real sense of electronica gone rather mad and mental. Still one of the yardsticks by which other electronic bands should be judged in my view.

Tuesday 17th January - Working It All Out

And so back to work. I must admit after working from home on the Friday and being off yesterday, it took me a few minutes to get into the swing of things, but then it was a case of cracking on with the day's work. This included a test upgrade of SCCM to version 1610 on our test SCCM server. It's proved to be very useful indeed to have a test environment to be able to work on things, primarily because it's meant that you can then ensure everything works before you do go live.

It appeared to go pretty well too, with a nice time taken to get everything up and running, including once the update had completed a fresh update to the administration console as well. Interestingly some new features appear to be abound too - such as being able to have a configuration profile for Android 7.x mobile phone devices, and also a nice feature to use the same USB network card for PXE booting as you can add this as a duplicate piece of hardware so that when imaging, you are allowed different names with the same MAC address - which is rather nifty actually.

I also spent some time as well investigating how we'd actually use the shutdown tool utility in Group Policy via a scheduled task instead of it being deployed via SCCM. I suspect as well that it may be that we'd need to see how the task works, not least because of the fact that if run as a different user, there's no way of interacting with the user interface, whereas via SCCM it does allow you to do this. I will have to experiement with the tasks and see what happens with that.

I also had a bit of a diversion on the way home as I needed to pick up something for The Love In My Heart. She had ordered herself a nice Biba top from House of Fraser, but it was easier for me to collect it from my local branch than hers, so she arranged for the collection for me and I headed up to the store after work (a short walk from home) - the staff were really helpful as ever and I was soon heading home with the package that I'll take back up North with me later in the week.

I did watch the snooker as well tonight and saw Neil Robertson win 6-3 over Ali Carter, making a century in the final frame of the match and showing he still had it at the top level. In fact, Ali has been the only one of twelve players so far not to make a century, such is the high quality of play we've had this week. And yet again I think that tune of the day needs to be the original Drag Racer by the Doug Wood Band, the proper snooker theme. I keep hearing it in my head as I watch!

Monday 16th January - Masters At Ally Pally

I was to fulfil another of my little ambitions today by heading to the Masters snooker at Alexandra Palace, colloquially known as Ally Pally to the masses. I had of course wanted to go see the tournament at Wembley many years ago, and each January it always seemed a busy place to go to. When it was moved, the atmosphere seemed to remain nicely and now it's more easier to get to for me, I thought it a good idea to get a ticket - not least with a half price deal meaning I was seeing both sessions for £11. So all good there I reckon.

I was going to head via Victoria and get the Victoria Line, only for the fact that the line was out of action near Euston due to signalling and track problems, and so came up with an alternative route: go via London Bridge, Northern Line to Moorgate and then Great Northern train to Alexandra Palace from there, instead of picking it up at Highbury and Islington as I would have done the other way. All was well up to Moorgate, and I then headed up one escalator to the platforms for Great Northern. And I just shook my head in disbelief.

Unsurprisingly, Great Northern is another part of Govia Thameslink Railway (yes, the one that runs Southern Fail) - and here the remnants of the 1980s are all present. The underground stations from Moorgate to Highbury and Islington all have the old Network SouthEast branding, the trains are horrid 3 carriage class 313s that were outmoded in the 1980s. Worst still was that the train was rather dirty and took me some time to find a reasonably clean seat - and as I passed the likes of Old Street and Essex Road, the stations were just awful - I'd had to get on / get off there - and Moorgate was bad enough. I got to Alexandra Palace, but kept thinking of a different way back to avoid their horrid service..

I followed the road up the hill to Alexandra Palace, and the far end (the Palm Court entrance) is where the entrance to the snooker is. You have a foyer with a large table set up similar to the Cue Zone in Sheffield, plenty of food and drink stalls, television screens, and an additional marquee with a massive bar and toilets, which certainly would get well used over the course of the day. I got myself a pastie and a drink and that'd do me nicelt for lunch. I even had a go on the Cue Zone challenge of sinking 10 reds in 60 seconds. I got 1 the first time, but vowed to give it another go later.

I found my seat for the day and had a good view of the table and the commentary pods. What you probably can't see from the television coverage is that the two studio pods (one for BBC, one for Eurosport) are curved and face the table, and the commentary booths are just beside that, complete with overhead camera to get the shot of the table. Also the seating does go into the bottom corners a bit, so you've got 270 degree coverage of the table. I was actually sat not too far from where Hazel Irvine was doing the intro bit for BBC with Steve Davis and John Parrott (and for those of you who do love her, I have to say that Hazel was as brilliant as ever and the consummate professional when presenting.)

So to John Higgins v Mark Allen. Some match that was - the frames went by at a really fast pace for most of them, they had a century each and a respotted black as well, which you'd think Higgins would have been gutted to lose, especially coming back from 67-0 down. However the way he won the next one showed masses of character. For me the final frame turning point was a tricky yellow Higgins attempted to take on. He should have gone for the safety instead to put Allen in all sorts of trouble, but the missed pot let Allen in, and although it did get a little tense and scrappy, he got over the line and won 6-5. And when he smiled and got the audience geed up after he won that respotted black frame, Higgins had a smile on his face and did similar with the crowd when he won the next one!

As I had plenty of time between sessions, I headed on the bus to Wood Green and found a pub there, and had some well earned fish and chips plus a pint, and a quality pint of Jennings Red Breast, a lovely winter ale, at that. In my head I had the proper snooker theme "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band and that has to be tune of the day - now only if the BBC could bring it back properly rather than the naff remixed effort and we'd all be massively happy let me tell you.

The evening session may have seemed one sided in terms of scoreline with Joe Perry winning 6-1, but the second frame respotted black was for me a huge turning point. Stuart Bingham had tried to play the right shots, but then went for one and left a half chance, which Perry did well to pot under some pressure. That said, Bingham did make a century, and was unlucky in a couple of other frames to get out of position and let Perry in. It's those very fine margins at the top level though.

Joe Perry did look on form though, knocking in two centuries, two 70+ breaks as well and really seeming much more calm about the way he played. I think too that he was enjoying the atmosphere a lot - and the table seemed to be set up spot on. Every single player thus far has made a century - all eight of them, which must be some sort of record possibly. And the atmosphere generally was good natured all round - no shouty out idiots either.

So it was out of the venue and on to the W3 bus, which one way takes you all the way to Finsbury Park. This meant I could get on the Victoria Line (as it was now fixed) and no having to go on Great Northern, hurrah. And so from there on to Victoria, and yet again a delay on Southern Fail, just to make the day complete as ever. Mind you, I did manage to get a bus straight home from East Croydon, so the delay actually ironically helped me get that. It was a long but a cracking day, wish I'd be going to more of the snooker now!

Sunday 15th January - Sunday Roasting

We did have a lie in this morning, but I think that The Love In My Heart needed it more than me after being awoken by some noise at 4am this morning. As it turned out, someone had decided to act all drunk and wreck part of the fence that protects her patio and decking, and it looked a mess. Naturally she's going to put a complaint in to the property management company about it as clearly someone wasn't acting like a responsible resident, and that's quite frankly not on. Whatsoever.

With the two cats Jô and Brian all in tow and snuggly too, it was quite nice actually to be all snuggled up, but of course as the weather was rubbish, we didn't feel the need to get up and go anywhere just yet. A walk would have been nice, but when tipping it down it's not exactly the nicest thing to do to be honest, so I can understand. We did have some nice breakfast though and settled in with some telly, before then later on I was watching the first couple of frames of the Masters Snooker (I will be there tomorrow) and so it looked an exciting match between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Liang Wenbo in the end (in fact it ended up being a 6-5 thriller)

We headed off around 3pm and off to the Elizabethan in Heaton Moor for Sunday lunch, as we always like it in there and they do look after their ale properly. I must admit that having the radio on for the football wasn't such a good idea though: Manchester City were crumbling at Everton and a 4-0 defeat was very hard to swallow. Granted, it's all very well having shed loads of possession, but doing nothing with it was the key - Everton took their chances well, we didn't, and defensively we looked a complete mess. I can't be the only one thinking what a big mistake it was a) getting rid of Joe Hart and b) not playing Willy Caballero in Hart's absence.

So on to the Sunday Roast which we both had, and wow, that was rather lovely all round. The Love had the lamb, I had the beef, and both had plenty of meat, thick sliced and nice and tender, complete with giant Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and a side plate of vegetables plus some stunningly nice gravy. Oh yes. It was gorgeous, best roast we've had in ages in fact. I even had enough room for the treacle tart and clotted cream too, and that was just as good.

Later on The Love and I headed back to Piccadilly, where hugs and kisses were in order as I left, and soon on the train back to London Euston, with the rather excellent Slayer album Seasons in the Abyss playing, and from that "Spirit In Black" is tune of the day - it rocked nicely as the train sped towards London. I did then have to divert to London Bridge as no trains running from Victoria to home, and then get the train to East Croydon, where I got home and watched the final episode of Sherlock. It was rather lengthy and impressive, but I'm not going to spoil it for you...

Saturday 14th January - Reunited

It was an early start for me this morning, about the same sort of start I have heading to work, but with a difference. I was on the 0820 train from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly, and so once at East Croydon I noted a 4 coach train to Victoria which everyone attempted to pile on to. Except me. As I knew two minutes later a 10 coach train was coming. And it was empty. Awesomeness. That and the tube were straightforward, and I was soon heading on my train back up North with iPod on playing some classic Kraftwerk (make "Computer Love" tune of the day) and speeding past the snow around Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield before arriving at a slightly wet Manchester Piccadilly.

It was so lovely to see The Love In My Heart, and hugs and kisses were hers as we headed back to her place. And lots of fussing over the two cats Jô and Brian too, and surprisingly Jô was receptive and didn't do his usual miaowing at me either, so that was a nice surprise. Once we had a cuppa we headed over to her father's, as it was his birthday and so it was nice for all three daughters plus nephew and niece to be there, and spend some time with him. As it turned out, they'd got him a lovely chocolate cake which he rather enjoyed, and it was nice to be able to see his happy smiling face with family there.

Later on we headed to my Mum's, who had mentioned to me earlier that my brother was unable to fly back to Japan early next week, and so was staying for another three weeks or so. It made her happy but she was a bit concerned about the flight costs. I did mention to them both not to re-book anywhere near Valentine's Day as the prices might take a hike. It was good to catch up with Mum and have a good natter as well, and both my brothers were restoring a BMX bike and it looked like they were doing a good job too.

We then headed off to MediaCity, primarily to have a mooch in the Lowry Outlet Mall, but also to get some food as well. We noted that the Dockyard pub, which we both liked, had a food offer on, and so it was worthy of note. In the Outlet Mall, The Love went into a bag shop and managed to get herself a gorgeous brown leather bag, which she's going to use a fair bit I think, and it was reduced all the way down to £18. It looked stylish and The Love spotted it straight off, and considering what it did retail for, she was a very happy bunny. Isn't it nice when bargains are just that?

We then headed over to the Dockyard, which was busy but we got a table. As it was 50% off food on every day except Friday, we got ourselves a drink and then perused the menu. In the end The Love had the beef cobb, which was stunning, and I had the chicken and mushroom pie, which is a proper pie at that, also very nice indeed. Total cost with discount? £6.74. Awesome. I half wished that we could head back tomorrow and do the Sunday roast deal there too as that is rather gorgeous, but still, well worth it. And of course on top of that the staff are really friendly and nice, which does make a massive difference.

We headed back to The Love's place, and from there she settled in to watch the likes of Let It Shine (she does adore Gary Barlow, but then I've got Dannii Minogue to swoon over so I'm happy!) - it does seem a bit of a different concept with the stars being scored for each (and Dannii being particularly hard on everyone) but seems okay, but naturally as the winners will be in a musical being directed by Gary himself, then they have to be really up for it all round.

I have to say though (and I think The Love agrees) that The Voice on ITV just isn't the same now. It seems that Emma Willis isn't even allowed to talk in between or give the contestants any moral support (or that's edited out) which is pointless her being host for to be honest. Also, if no one turns, the contestant now has to walk off rather than the judges give some feedback and try to be nice (which is what used to separate it from other shows - Ricky Wilson and Sir Tom Jones were always quite positive.) And.. Jennifer Hudson. I can understand why she was cast, but the words "up her own backside" seem seriously appropriate. Gavin Rossdale of Bush is fine, bit of a rocker and all, but people probably don't remember their huge hit "Machine Head" back in the day, The Love certainly had to ask me about him. So bit of a fail all round I'm afraid.

Friday 13th January - Home and Happy

As it was another strike day on Southern Rail, I had already made the decision to work from home today, and this meant I could not only get up a little later, but also be warmer. In fact when I looked out of the window this morning, the snow from the night before had still settled on the roofs a little, and it was a case of most of it on the pavements had melted away and just become a little wet if anything. I suppose too that the flurry of snow a little later in the day was just that - and it didn't stick.

In fact working from home proved to be a good move, as it meant I could get plenty done without distractions. In fact I spent time today having to create another application package for a new version of PowerBI, as the one Microsoft released last week which we were deploying out was found to have a bug or two in it, and so I spent some time checking that over, and then testing the deployment to be perfectly fine before scheduling it for later this evening, meaning most of them should catch the deployment first thing on the Monday morning at the latest, hopefully. All good there anyway.

I did also write a bit more documentation with regards to shutdown and how it could be deployed over SCCM if needed. In fact it was a good example to show the beauty of having collection membership rules and how you can include and exclude collections. So, for example, if you have an AD group with your exceptions in, make a collection based on that, and then if you wanted a collection with all the other desktops, you'd want to include all desktops but then exclude your exclusion group. And it works. Really well. Always good when you're able to show proof of concept in a more simple to understand way. Granted, we may not yet use it this way in terms of how we'd be running the tool, but it demonstrates that it's easy to get an accurate membership sorted.

I also spent some time listening to music whilst working, and so played Kraftwerk's "Computer World" album at that. Of course it's rather telling that it fits in with the day job nicely, and really does give you that sense of being at a home computer. I do love the title track, even more so when I've seen it live, and so that's tune of the day really. It always fascinates me that the German language versions are often better sounding, with the wonderfully originally titled "Taschenrechner" for pocket calculator for example. Ace.

Once work was done, I settled in and saw some of the BDO World Darts Championship from Frimley Green on Channel 4, with Rob Walker doing his usual excellent hosting job. In fact I saw the last part of an epic scrap between Darryl Fitton and Geert de Vos, then saw Lisa Ashton cruise through to the women's final before Martin "Wolfie" Adams lost an epic match to Jamie Hughes, which could easily have gone the other way. There's something about the place which breeds that tension and nerves, much like the Crucible does for snooker in Sheffield..

Thursday 12th January - Snow in Surrey

I had seen the weather forecast in the morning, which said that there could be snow on the way. I did expect it maybe on higher ground, but normally when it falls in a larger town or city, it just means that it doesn't stick due to the proximity of buildings, the heat from them and traffic, that sort of thing. In fact as I looked out of the office window during the day, I could mainly see some icy wind come across, and a little bit of rain, but nothing out of the ordinary.

In fact when I left for home the biggest concern was rain, as it was hammering it down, and for some reason some of the trains had been delayed and so it was a case of seeing how that would work out. In fact the train I got had been delayed by some fifty minutes due to an issue further up the track at West Hampstead, and so wasn't as busy as it could be - but because it arrived at a time that another train would have done, it was rather busy anyway and so soon filled up by the time it left Blackfriars, and it was just the rain hammering down.

However, by the time we hit East Croydon, the rain had changed to sleet, and then by the time I got home, to snow. It was snowing and because of the incessant rain before, which would have washed the salt grit away, no gritters out, and within around an hour or so you could see that the snow was starting to stick and hit the floor and stay there. The roofs close to me were all showing the white stuff resting there and it did look fairly nice in the weather. However of course it was nice to be inside - and in the warm!

I spent some time listening to some classic vinyl tonight, and amongst that, Rush's epic 2112 album with the title track, which takes up the whole of side one, being tune of the day. It was a classic of its day and still is now, with the seven parts making for a whole story, complete with some gorgeous rock guitars. It's testament to its strength that the first two parts ("Overture" and "The Temples of Syrinx") are still massively popular when played live today.

I think too for me that it shows just how good vinyl can be when you listen to it - one of the things for me when I got my AV receiver a few years back was that I wanted one with a turntable input so I could still play the vinyl albums on the format that it was intended on - and to get that nice analogue feel as the tracks play. Always a nice feeling to hit a record shop, find something I've been after for a while and play it lots - and give that warm feeling inside.

Wednesday 11th January - Salvation on the Ginger Line

So it was up early again and off to West Croydon station to head on the 0620 departure for Highbury and Islington. The plan was the same as yesterday, so change at Whitechapel. In fact I did notice it seemed a little less busy than yesterday, but still plenty of people. In fact later that morning there were queues out of the station so people might have cottoned on to a possible alternative route that this is. Unfortunately of course that means everyone piling in around 0830, by which time I was at the desk and cracking on with work, always a good thing in my book.

It's certainly salvation on "the ginger line" as one of my recent Twitter followers calls it, primarily as the orange used to denote London Overground is a ginger shade of orange (and the seating too, all orange and brown, reminds me of the old Greater Manchester transport and GM Buses back in the day) but it does the job, runs on time and is well used - even more so than normal today of course, but the usual rush off at Canada Water was avoided by me and instead a nice relaxed sense as I entered Whitechapel and straight on to a Hammersmith and City line train.

On the way back home later, the same route - well almost. I had to get the Metropolitan line to Aldgate, walk the short way to Aldgate East, then head on the District Line to Whitechapel. Still, I was glad I was already on the Overground by the time it hit Canada Water - packed out. Mind you by Penge West it was a fair bit quieter and it was good to head off at West Croydon, nip in the shops and get a birthday card and present, then head home. I didn't actually do so badly for time either to be honest.

When you hear the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan state that he'd really like to further expand suburban rail services going to Transport for London, it's easy to see why. Almost every single time I've travelled on Overground, it works. It's that simple. Staff at every station (even at 0620 this morning plenty of them too), reliable trains and on time. Ironically of course the previous mayor wanted more suburban control too, but that's all changed with the likes of Chris Grayling stating that he wouldn't want the services to go to a Labour mayor, prompting the likes of Bob Neill (MP for Bromley) stating Grayling is out of order and should resign. And fair play to Bob, he's thinking of his constituents first, as all MPs should actually do. Take note, messrs Gavin Barwell and Chris Philip (two Croydon MPs)

It was another good day of sorts, plenty to get the teeth into, and found that for some reason one of the servers used for Citrix wasn't applying the Group Policy correctly, so in effect some of the applications that needed some preferences etc wasn't playing ball the same way. I was able to work that out because a file that is normally copied as part of that wasn't doing so, but on other servers it tended to be fine, so we've at least narrowed it out to one of them.

In the meantime, tune of the day is the excellent "Another Bath With You" by Gavin Osborn, which is a hilarious piece of storytelling - it details how an attempt to spice up the love life by being in the bath together, and having the likes of jojoba oil, Sade on the iPod etc and reading Cosmopolitan for ideas is just in fact a recipe for disaster. It's delivered with such gusto that you can't help but like it, and gave me a big smile after a long day..

Tuesday 10th January - One Year

Hard to believe that very late at night on this day last year, the great David Bowie was taken away from us. Most of us in the UK got to hear the breaking news as we woke up the next day, that late in the night it was, but certainly it was a wide sense of feeling of "we didn't expect that." In fact it was only when seeing the excellent The Last Five Years documentary on BBC Two the other night (an absolute must watch on iPlayer if you get the chance) that it was revealed that he only knew he was going to go with a few months left, and trusted his fellow band members and confidantes to keep it all quiet.

In fact, it's testament to them as well that the whole release of The Next Day was kept seriously quiet too, no leaks, no press footage, nothing. I can remember when Where Are We Now was released (make that tune of the day) as the single, and I was like "wow, this is rather emotional" and perhaps that was the first clue to him not being 100% anymore. I still do occasionally have a teary eye listening to that, there's something so emotional and intense in that track and it makes me think about people I know no longer with us that are close to my heart too, so there you go.

It was a pleasure to be with my friend at Brixton Academy on Sunday night, and seeing those musicians and some guests really pay tribute with some excellent renditions of classic songs said it all, and a real sense of celebrating the life rather than focussing on the darkness of death. That for me was something too - the legend will always live on and be there, and the vast array of music and eras are ones to consider - the glam rock phase, the moodiness of the Berlin albums, the 80s (forget that bit) and then coming back all Industrial and drum and bass, followed by experimentation, not least near the end with jazz too.

Going back to today and the Southern strike, my plan was to leave a fair bit earlier, head to West Croydon station and get the London Overground to Whitechapel and change there for the Hammersmith and City Line tube to Farringdon. And actually, it worked. The train was busy and at least I got a seat as it started at West Croydon, but by Forest Hill it was packed, and the usual mass pile off at Canada Water happened, as I'd expect. It was relatively calm at Whitechapel though, so that's something at least.

I also had a productive day of sorts at work, mainly testing out a utility and seeing how that performed. And so far, so good, it did all the things I wanted it to do and seemed remarkably stable. Even better might be that we may be able to do some deployment wizardry with it so we can effectively time a run each night and then be able to let it do what it needs to be done. I think overall it might be working well, so I'll do some more testing tomorrow and crack on.

Monday 9th January - Coffee and Strikes

I didn't get that much sleep all told, but did manage to head up and out in good time to get to work. My train journey was okay although the train was packed, but at least my station is close to work and didn't have to face the absolute carnage that was the tube strike today. A couple of my second line colleagues took around four hours to get in just from West London, absolutely nightmarish. It also goes to show just how easily the capital city can grind to a standstill when one strike is involved, the roads were going 2mph so even on a bus you weren't necessarily getting far.

In fact, talking of strikes, there was a debate which had been recorded last night in East Grinstead and was then televised on BBC1 and BBC News Channel in which four panel members including Charles Horton, CEO of GTR, Mick Lynch from the RMT union, Caroline Pidgeon of the London Assembly and Huw Merriman MP all debated the crisis on Southern Rail and took the questions from the audience. In fact, it ended up being a blow to blow stand off between Horton and Lynch, not really what the audience wanted. In fact the host Jo Coburn was attempting to have none of it and rein them in whenever she could.

It was perhaps most telling that the audience were cheering most when hearing other passengers' stories of how the service was bad every single day, not just a strike day, which hopefully was one key fact that might have come across if you ignore all the industrial lack of relations and clear bad blood between Southern/GTR and the unions. It did make me wonder why either Chris Grayling or Paul Maynard weren't there representing the Department for Transport to at least have their say, but of course leaving the two protagonists to slug it out meant they could watch and then apportion blame anyway.

I must admit a fair bit of coffee kept me going during the day and so I could also look into some different possibilities when coming to shutdown. One such tool I've checked with the vendor, and we can use it in a corporate setting, so all good there, and so some testing of it first for robustness, and once that's done, I can then see how it interacts with SCCM and be able to utilise it in a way that we see fit. I suspect we may have to look into possibilities of how we could also work a plan to force it too, so interesting times ahead.

I spent some time listening understandably to some David Bowie tonight. As you can imagine, tomorrow is the first anniversary of the death, and there's lots of songs I could play. However, tune of the day is one of the songs which didn't get played last night due to time restrictions, and because of its inherent future links with Life on Mars and a certain character played by Philip Glenister, "The Jean Genie" is just that. It's the man Bowie at the height of his 1970s glam rock era, with a real sense of swagger. Awesomeness.

Sunday 8th January - Celebrating Bowie in Brixton

I had a bit of a lie in this morning, and then set about doing a few things around the flat, watching some of the Big Bash League cricket on Channel 5, and generally just taking it easy, before then getting myself ready and leaving the flat around 1.30pm to head off to East Croydon and get to Euston via Victoria to a) get there before the tube strikes kick in and b) meet my friend and his wife, who were coming down for an overnight stay, and also with good reason - my friend and I were off to Brixton Academy later to see the Celebrating David Bowie gig there, with a host of guests planned.

Once I met the two of them, it was the very short distance to the Euston Travelodge, and got everything there all checked in and sorted. Once done, we headed off along Euston Road and to The Rocket pub, where we all did lunch. The hunter's chicken I had did the job, as did the cod and chips for them both, and it wasn't too busy so meant we could all have a natter and chat too, which was good. In fact the time was going by way too quickly and so we made our way back to Euston, and then with his wife all safely back at base, my friend and I headed off on the 59 bus for Brixton Academy, thus avoiding any tube strike.

All was well apart from the incessant rain coming down, and checking with the box office, we couldn't go in yet anyway, so with the rain teaming down we headed off to the Costa Coffee close to Brixton station, and had a well earned latte in there with my friend having a tea. More to the point, it was nice and dry, so that was a bonus. I was just pleased to be able to have a sit down and chat, and once all good to go, we headed back, the staff sorted us out and got us to the position for my friend, and all was well.

My friend had said it was going to be around a three hour set with many of those who played with David Bowie on studio albums and live tours being the band - so having seen documentaries before and indeed one last night, the likes of Mike Garson, Gail Ann Dorsey, Earl Slick et al were all present and correct. Indeed, Mike did a piano overture of some of the classic songs to start things off, as did the actor Gary Oldman who had the duty to sing the first song, and he actually didn't do a bad job of it really. Oh, and Adrian Belew on guitar. Yes, that Adrian Belew. Those who know, know just how special this was going to be with him doing his stuff.

The band members had their opportunity to sing the vocals, Gail Ann in particular delivering a storming version of "Space Oddity" for example and Adrian Belew belting out "Fame" with massive gusto. La Roux came and did "Golden Years" but that didn't cut it for us both, shame that. Tom Chaplin from Keane gave it a good go on "Life on Mars" but the other guests were completely outdone by Joe Elliot from Def Leppard absolutely smashing it, getting the London Community Gospel Choir with him and telling the audience "let's take this to church" and did "All The Young Dudes" a superb bit of justice, tune of the day for me as he nailed it with just as much passion as the fans had in the audience.

Other nice treats of the set, of which there were many, were Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet doing "Changes" and his smooth delivery was really good, and during the encore Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran did the most 80s style dance and moves to "Let's Dance" which worked really well - he looked cool too. The two and three quarter hours or so went by way too quickly, and you could easily pick different highlights. For me, seeing the likes of Belew completely play out of his skin, Mike Garson underpinning it on piano etc was just brilliant too, in fact it was a classic Bowie gig which I'm sure the man himself would have looked down on witha massive sense of pride.

We headed out of the Academy later, and got the 59 back to Euston which went pretty quickly, but from there once I'd dropped my friend off it was still on the 68, change just past Elephant and Castle and then get the N68 home to Croydon, so it was a late night - 1.30am to be precise. However I was still buzzing off many of the classic songs played tonight, and it was an absolute privelege to be there with my friend enjoying so many wonderful memories of the legendary David Bowie, delivered by those who were closest to him. Immense stuff, it really was.

Saturday 7th January - Walking in the Murkiness

I did have a lie in this morning, as I had got home and was watching some of the game again on BBC iPlayer (as you do!) and so it meant a late night overall. It was good to have some quality sleep, and for me it was especially lovely to be able to then rest up. I had a shower, got myself changed and ready and after a coffee was all ready to head out, as I'd reserved today for another walk along the Capital Ring - and I've now got three sections left to go.

So it was from East Croydon to Victoria, taking the Victoria line tube to Seven Sisters, and changing there for the service to Stoke Newington and to start the walk. I noticed that the roads leading to Springfield Park were all full of Jewish people making their way to and from their synagogues during the early afternoon, and that it was also full of really nice large houses that were well looked after. It was nice to head into Springfield Park and see the small lake, the tennis courts and the path downhill towards the River Lea and to join the Lea Valley Walk for a considerable distance.

In fact, it was nice walking alongside the water for some time, passing Walthamstow Marsh on the left hand side, going underneath the Greater Anglia railway line, and then seeing a team out rowing as I approached the black horse bridge, and headed over and followed the new housing developments to Lea Bridge. Beyond that, the River Lee Navigation takes over, the man made canal, as the River Lea itself actually swoops off on a curve instead of going straight. It was nice to see so many canal boats though as the towpath made its way towards Hackney Wick.

In fact right near the end of the walk, it skirts around the back of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and so I was able to see the likes of the London Stadium and the Orbit from a distance as well as have a view of the Copper Box as well. In fact the walk ends close to a former energy centre and on streets which are full of modern graffiti art, notably one of the Bertie Bassett character to mark the spot where a former pub used to be not far from Hackney Wick station.

I then got the train from there to Highbury and Islington, and stopped by a pub not far from there for lunch, not least as the Chestnut Ale from the Portobello Brewery was pretty spot on all round, and the lunch I had was also very nice. It was a good way to have a relaxed early Saturday afternoon, and once that was all done, I headed on the Victoria line tube from Highbury and Islington and on to Victoria, getting the train back to East Croydon and then home. So all in all, a good walk, even if at four miles one of the shorter legs of the whole Capital Ring, and two more to go, which I may yet tackle in one weekend, it'd be nice to finish it off and then look at some sections of the Green Chain Walk too. Tune of the day in the meantime is "Getting Away With It" by Electronic, not least the line of "I've been walking in the rain, just to get wet on purpose" which is how it might have felt had I left earlier to do the walk...

Friday 6th January - Hammering The Hammers

After work, I was heading off to the London Stadium (the former Olympic Stadium) to see West Ham take on my beloved Manchester City in the FA Cup third round. Of course, a Friday night game on telly isn't ideal for most fans to get there, but of course for me it was a lot easier to be able to get there, and so of course cheering on the lads would be a good start to the year. So it was off from Farringdon to Stepney Green first, and stopping off at the same pub I'd had tea at when I saw Kristin Hersh, and so having food there was a good move, it just meant that I wasn't having to try and battle my way through to get to somewhere either in Westfield or close to the ground.

It was on with the tube and a quick change of line at Mile End meant a straight run to Stratford, so it meant that I'd be exiting with the masses close to Westfield. It was a case of following the exits that didn't take you to the shopping centre, and instead the roads around the outside, and along towards the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and to the London Stadium via the entrance to Orbit. I headed around the ground following the signs to Entrance D where the City fans would be, and the barcode scanned and ticket all valid, I entered and headed up to the seat I had in the Trevor Brooking Stand. Admittedly, all seats are far from the pitch due to its layout but the rake meant I could see.

The City fans were in fine voice, singing along to "Oh What A Night" (make the original tune of the day) but with slightly alternative words, sort of like this: "Oh what a night, watching City on a Friday, should be Saturday but the FA's s***e, what a feeling what a night.." which worked well. In fact the City fans would have plenty of reasons to be in full singing voice as the game went on, and as the teams came out with the rain pouring down, I was just hoping we'd played well and be able to at least show the travelling fans some of what we could do. Especially as we were on telly.

The first half hour or so was fairly even, but we'd made a few chances and were attempting to shoot on sight with the likes of David Silva having an effort. Indeed he helped in useful one two with Pablo Zabaleta playing in midfield, and Zaba was fouled inside the box - admittedly soft, but a penalty it was. Yaya Touré stepped up and buried it past Adrián for 1-0, and the City fans did the whole Kolo/Yaya Touré chant as well as the one inspired by "Delilah" - with the line "Oh Yaya Touré I think we should pay him some more.." and he looked well up for it tonight.

1-0 became 2-0 as an excellent break and Bacary Sagna cross was attempted to be met by Raheem Sterling, but the West Ham defender put it into his own net, and this after Sofiane Feghouli had missed an open net to equalise. Mind you, another cracking move a couple of minutes later saw Sergio Agüero team up with Raheem Sterling, and he then squared it for the easiest finish you like from Silva, and 3-0 it was before half time, prompting Guy Mowbray on Match of the Day to claim it was already all over. He was not wrong.

Five minutes into the second half and after a good build up following a corner, a Yaya Touré shot was heading nowhere until Agüero flicked it past Adrián and scored for 4-0. In fact the West Ham fans were then leaving the stadium en masse and with ten minutes left there were pretty much the same number of City fans in the ground! We had time for another goal too as a corner was headed in by John Stones, the referee's goal line technology watch beeped and as the replays showed when I got home later, it clearly was over the line. 5-0. Just absolutely awesome. The City fans did the Poznan and all was very well indeed.

A few things to consider: it was West Ham's heaviest ever FA Cup home defeat, Agüero had overtaken Colin Bell in the all time City top scorers, and for me personally the largest margin of victory I've seen in an away game. I had seen us score six on the road before in a 6-2 win at Sheffield Wednesday back in 2001, but that's only a four goal margin, so seeing the demolition job was ace. Even the travel back worked out - the away fans get herded towards the coaches but also pass Pudding Mill Lane DLR, so got on that towards Canary Wharf, changed at Poplar for a service to Shadwell, then got the Overground back to West Croydon. Result, pretty much. As had the whole night been! Get in there City!

Thursday 5th January - Windows of Opportunity

I spent some time today writing a draft document for the team I work with explaining the use of maintenance windows in SCCM 2012, and how they can be used to best effect to look at scheduling deployments of software and such like at a time when it's most likely that users won't be logged in and PCs will be switched on. It makes perfect sense therefore to look at that as an option, so that for example we could have a window between 4am and 7am where software would be brought down and installed on client workstations silently and meaning less interruptions during the day for the user.

It's also part of something myself and the team lead are looking at in terms of honing and refining our existing process so that when we need to deploy an application update, particularly a piece of software which is considered a part of the core build, then we know we are able to at least have people involved in testing so that the deployment works, the software works and it doesn't clash with anything that it needs to clash with. The idea behind that is that we then are able to exhaustively make sure it all works before mass deploying which is pretty nifty.

I did feel positive with the meeting this afternon and also finalised the documentation for the maintenance window, which may end up being a part of that in terms of how we'd also look at that too. I think for me it's not just about working with existing processes, it's evaluating how those work best and making them better in the longer term as well, meaning we become more process and ITIL based (in fact that might be a training request to put in to be ITIL certified as well, so need to carefully consider that also)

Once home I spent some more time listening to the Reformation Discs 1 and 2 from Matt Gray, and again some excellent tracks across those two discs' worth of downloads. Another one I keep coming back to is the loading theme from the game Hunter's Moon, which I really enjoyed listening to back in the day. Here it's been remade in a different key, with a really atmospheric and dark mood to, so definitely tune of the day there as well.

I must admit that it's getting back to the daily work and getting home, and getting used to being without The Love In My Heart during the week that's proving pretty hard. I think because we'd spent so much time together and because we'd also been able to be back in my spiritual home of Manchester, it felt a whole world away from the reality of being in work really - and that reality is hitting - notably with the minus four temperature that greeted me as I left for work..

Wednesday 4th January - Back To Work

So, it was back to being up at around 6am, and back to work. And you'd think that the trains would have been running okay, right? Nope. Not at all. In fact the usual 0658 departure I get was delayed by around twenty minutes, and so I took one of my diversionary routes, so got the slightly delayed 0702 train to London Bridge. However, it was short formed, and so although I got on, it was standing room all the way, and then a case of doing what I'd normally do from there - take the 141 bus to Moorgate, and a tube hop to Farringdon. This is when not having a season ticket for the one train journey but having a Zone 1-5 travelcard comes in really handy it has to be said, so I can use those alternative routes.

During the morning I found out that the planned six days of strikes on Southern Rail were to become two lots of three, so eventually it'd be 10th, 11th, 13th January first of all, then 24th, 25th and 27th January. That does at least mean on Saturday 14th I can head up to Manchester without the need to get up stupidly early which is a good thing, but at the same time does mean more disruption during the week. I've already made plans to work from home on the Friday 13th and will probably do the same on the 27th as well to be honest.

The whole issue with Southern Rail is really getting me down to be perfectly honest. Granted, a chunk of my journeys are via Thameslink, another part of the Govia Thameslink Railway that Southern is also part of, but seeing the way it's all unfolded so disastrously in front of my eyes is a massive concern - not least because it could happen to any franchise anywhere, and really show that in the wrong hands, it can be as just as bad as was British Rail back in the early 1980s when that was on its last legs in the publicly owned era. Onwards and upwards is all I can keep thinking to be positive.

And talking of positive, a few things I'd been checking on today at work all seemed to go according to plan, and I also spotted that a fair number of our VDI machines appeared to be set to network boot first. This meant that the SMS PXE log for SCCM 2012 was spotting that when those VDIs were rebooted on a schedule (around 1am every Sunday, meaning some log entries first thing on New Year's Day) it was attempting to go fetch an advertisement, but as they're set to available, unless someone pressed F12 to continue, it'd give up. To be on the absolute safe side though, always best to set the boot order the right way.

I headed home later on and finally got the chance to download the Disc 1 and 2 downloads for Matt Gray's "Reformation" albums, which I'd been informed of just before Christmas but had headed up to Manchester already. In essence, lots of his classic Commodore 64 tracks re-done by himself, and with some degree of excellence too it has to be said. I keep going back to the Village theme from the game Tusker, which has a kicking beat and a really nice set of instruments to drive the tune on wonderfully well, having a smidge of the SID drums as well. It just for me is a superb rendition and really sounds perfect listening to on the train also I imagine, so tune of the day it is.

Tuesday 3rd January - Homeward Bound

I had a shower, got myself dressed and ready, and ensured that everything was packed in to the case that I could pack. One of my sets of Christmas presents also came in a little jute bag, and that was solid and the right size enough to fit the remainder of the presents in, plus on top of that tie nicely around the top of the case and so be able to wheel it all neatly in one go without having to faff around. Excellent. I gave the cats Jô and Brian one last snuggle and kiss goodbye for a while, and then The Love In My Heart and I headed off to Manchester Piccadilly station, where hugs and kisses were shared before I left. I felt really sad actually.

I headed up to the First Class Lounge and had a coffee and croissant in there, as I had managed to take advantage of the Virgin Trains offer and get a £28 first class advance ticket - and as my train was 0915, that meant breakfast as well, the proper full cooked one. The word: result! It was soon time for me to head to the train, and my seat in coach H was there, with no one sat opposite on the table and even better, the carriage virtually empty! All good.

The journey went smoothly, the staff were lovely as ever, and the breakfast gorgeous, really nice herby sausage and the black pudding was stunning too. And three slices of toast, orange juice and coffee. Couldn't argue with that really, and it was just a nice feeling to be able to sit back and relax, and take the time to watch the countryside speed by as I passed through Stoke-on-Trent, Tamworth, Nuneaton and Milton Keynes before arriving at London Euston on time, which was all good.

In fact all went well thereafter too - I'd purchased my travelcard online and it flash beeped at Euston to show me it was now active, and the tube was quiet to Victoria, and on top of that the Southern train I boarded to East Croydon was massively quiet - and on time. It was as if everyone had taken this week off work almost. Still, that allowed me to get back home nicely, and start to wash the clothes I needed to, plus sort all the presents out and have them all where they need to be.

In fact, one of them is the rather gorgeous W Scrabble cushion that The Love In My Heart got me as a present, and it looks the part on the sofa now. Thing is I really would also like another lettered cushion to go with that, and so I approached the company that The Love ordered from for me. They responded and stated who made it, and where I could possibly go to track it down. Excellent customer service all round. Why can't everything be this good eh?

I took the tree down, and it did feel a little bit emptier because of it. I also found one of the sets of lights (the one of 40) had given up the ghost when testing them, so had to bin them off. I may just get an LED set of 200 for next Christmas anyway, the ones that The Love got were ace and really added to the tree. I must admit it was nice to get everywhere sorted out and feel ready to head back to work, although of course that in itself means lots of fun and games with trains over the next week or two. However, tune of the day is the rather lovely "So Sublime" by Beth Rowley, which made me feel all lovely and think of The Love as I headed home..

Monday 2nd January - Ten Men Against Twelve

So a Bank Holiday Monday as an extra day off (or else I may have been facing an attempt to get home yesterday which wouldn't have been good) and also of course that means another round of football fixtures. For me as a Manchester City fan this has been the first time we've actually been at home over the festive period, rather unusually. Still, it does mean that a win to start the New Year would be pretty nice, and after a good breakfast and a fuss over the cats Jô and Brian with The Love In My Heart, I headed over to the Etihad to meet my friend there.

The game started and the sunlight was creeping through the corner of the South Stand as the sun set, so a good idea to go the other way and attack the North Stand first, with the premise it'd be dark later on. It was all going okay despite a few daft refereeing decisions, and then Fernandinho went in for a tackle, got the ball cleanly, but then the Burnley midfielder stayed down as he had collided afterwards. The referee had no hesitation and sent Fernandinho off, which was not appreciated by the fans. Looking at it later, I could see why it may have been given, but it wasn't malicious, nor was it two footed either.

Still, the wrath of the fans meant that the referee was going to take some stick for the rest of the game and came up with some shocking offside decisions for both teams, and it made you wonder just how much he was controlling the game really. Certainly at half time a chicken balti pie was much needed, so downed that nicely and warmed up for the second half as well. It was good to be able to at least have some form of tradition carry on with the occasional pie now and then, and my friend said that we needed to improve second half too.

And improve we did. On came Sergio Agüero and David Silva, and the game transformed despite the two man deficit (ten versus twelve due to the refereeing decisions!) and the plan was to hit Burnley on the break. On one such break the ball fell to Gaël Clichy outside the box, and he slotted it right footed off the post and into the corner, and a really good finish. 1-0 and all good. Even better really was that we broke again, Raheem Sterling collided with the Burnley keeper Tom Heaton, and Agüero pounced from a very tight angle to make it 2-0. Excellent stuff really.

Even a goalmouth scramble with Claudio Bravo panicking and then Ben Mee forcing the ball over the line to make it 2-1 didn't dampen the spirits, although Bravo at least did make a good save to deny Andre Gray late on. I had predicted 2-1 before the kick off, although I didn't expect it to be like this somehow. Still, three points for us and with Liverpool drawing 2-2 at Sunderland, that worked out pretty well, we only lost a point on them overall during the Christmas period, although we now need Tottenham to look at beating Chelsea on Wednesday night to keep it interesting...

Later on The Love In My Heart made a lovely tea - some chicken with carrots and potatoes in a hot pot, complete with a creamy sauce that she had made herself from scratch! I seriously think she's good enough for Masterchef to be honest, her skills are really good and it was a nice way to share something together and have one last evening meal before I headed back. In fact we snuggled on the sofa for most of the evening, with The Love watching the soaps and then both of us watching the first part of Silent Witness, which was excellent (Emilia Fox is ace in it, as is the theme tune, tune of the day it has to be said) - and with everything all packed, it was one last bedtime snuggle with the cats too.

I must admit I don't want to go home tomorrow. Not because I know I have to go back to work or anything like that, but because I've really enjoyed being with The Love In My Heart all this time and being back in Manchester, my spiritual home. I have a feeling that there'll be plenty of visits back up North over the course of 2017, and we do have a holiday to Cornwall on as well as being able to go to the World Athletics Championship later this year too. I think what it showed was that as much as I love the job and my nice new flat, I do miss Manchester tons and there's a feeling of belonging there. I'm just thankful that my love, my family and friends are up there and give me lots of happy moments when I head up, and that keeps me going.

Sunday 1st January – Start of the Year

It was nice to carry on with the remainder of the Robbie Williams gig for The Love In My Heart, with the proviso we then turn over and watch the rest of Jools Holland's Hootenanny afterwards. Of course for The Love having Robbie play some of his classics after midnight, together with prosecco and chocolates, just gave her a taster for when she and her sister go to see him this June at the Etihad. He did eke out the encore as well, primarily putting in some swear words for the hell of it too.

The rest of Hootenanny was brilliant actually, having Ali Campbell and his daughter sing “I Got You Babe” in the style of how Ali would have done so in UB40, then Chaka Khan with orchestra tearing it up massively for the 80s classic “Ain't Nobody” - it was ace, so tune of the day all round there. It was a case of being all good and enjoying the atmosphere that was there – shame that the recording is just too far away for me to get to during the week at Maidstone Studios really.

After a good night's sleep, we woke up, had a light breakfast, and then headed over later to Mum's as she was cooking some lovely lamb. In fact my brother and his girlfriend was there, as was my brother and nephew as well as Mum, so she was cooking for seven. She'd had a friend stay over the night before so was worried about being behind schedule, but we didn't mind, just gave us more time to chat and catch up, as you do. In fact it was also good because it meant my brother could head off and get some orange juice for him and me, keep the Vitamin C dosed up was the plan.

The lunch was rather lovely, the lamb spot on, and the lemon meringue pie for dessert was also rather lovely as well. In fact we had a coffee and a chat with Mum afterwards whilst my brother and his girlfriend was heading to their house to start some more work on that (wallpaper stripper armed in tow too) and Mum was showing us a potential house she liked the look of, and The Love and I agreed that it looked rather lovely all round, and so would be potentially a good one to move to should she decide to.

We headed off home later and it was a bit of a film night for us, with watching ET in the afternoon and almost getting teary eyed as the kids on their bikes headed off into the air (classic moment) and ET himself getting all cute and saying “phone home” a lot too. It was the first film I ever saw at the cinema (fact) so always have fond memories of that. Later on it was also Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which of course The Love adores (guess why) and I like too as it's a pretty good film all round. Simon Pegg admittedly helps make it quite good too with little funny moments, and the addition of Jeremy Renner really adds to it (so much so he got the same role in the sequel)

However, the final of World's Strongest Man was on, and that had to be watched. I was gutted for Laurence Shahlaei who had to pull out after the first event, and Eddie Hall pulled it back rather well with joint wins in the circus barbell and the deadlift, and then coming third in the plane pull behind Brian Shaw and Hafthor Bjornsson (you know, Mountain off Game of Thrones) – and it was looking like a four way battle with the Georgian strongman Konstantine Janashia also performing consistently well.

The kettlebell throw was where it came apart for Thor though, he had thrown the first five quickly, but rushed the sixth one, had the second attempt almost land on his head, and then cleared the third attempt, but the seventh was too much for him. Brian Shaw saw the time for sixth and methodically did the first six in a winning time, and barring a disaster on the atlas stones would win. Eddie Hall won the stones, Thor second and Shaw third, so a case of the American winning for a fourth time, getting him level with Jon Pall Sigmarsson, Magnus ver Magnusson and Zydrunas Savickas. Awesome stuff, and I might have to keep an eye on where the final is for 2017!