Dear Diary... March 2007

Saturday 31st March - What's This?

Had a pretty quiet today as such, but did spend some time catching up with the washing that had been piling up, so the new machine saw a couple of loads in and done. It was really simple though, and although I do miss the flashing "End" that the old one had, I can still tell pretty easily when the new one's done, and it's not that much different from the old one in terms of ease of use. Of course it stands to reason I went for an A rated one in terms of energy efficiency, the only real way to go if possible. Just nice to have some form of normality back to be honest.

I was up early and did a bit of shopping, first things first get the food shopping done. Because of me having to get the new washer last night, it left me no time to head out to get food, so it was up early and I was in Tesco by 8.10am, and whizzed round getting what I need. I had to also get the washing powder I use (I normally get the 3kg size to save hassle) as well as the fabric conditioner, as Sod's Law dictated I ran out of both. If anyone knows why this always happens, let me know, it just seems to be fate. I also treated myself a bit today and got one of those one litre cartons of Innocent smoothies - the blueberry and blackcurrant one was on offer and I thought "sod it, I'm gonna get it" and when I tried it later on it was rather luscious.

I had to nip into town to get a couple of birthday cards for people, and so it was first into WH Smith to get that all sorted out, and needed to get a couple of presents too, which I sorted out with minimum of fuss. Then I thought "you know what? I'm gonna get myself some CDs" so first stop Fopp. On the off chance I went to the soundtracks section to see if they had a copy of the Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack CD in, and they did! That was immediately grabbed by me as it was the last one and it's not been that easy to find, even with the CD being reissued at the back end of last year. Near the counter there were a lot of cheap CDs too and out of the corner of my eye I spotted Gary Numan's "Pure" for a mere pound. Thing is, I went with a friend when Numan toured around the time of that album and I really liked the new darker Industrial stuff he was doing. So I thought for a quid it was well worth a punt and got that too, and sat downstairs with a latte admiring my new purchases and feeling relatively chilled out.

I also went into Vinyl Exchange after my successes in there last week, just to see if there was anything else I could pick up. I did have a quick check for any Throwing Muses stuff I spotted last week and a few of the rarities they had already went (the ones I already had) - and it was a good job I picked up the Firepile part 1 CD single as the part 2 one went during this week (already got that, phew). Anyway, flicking through the US indie section I managed to locate Juliette and the Licks' "Four On The Floor" for a fiver. Now I've liked the occasional track I've heard and I thought "this is supposed to rock pretty hard, so let's give it a go" and that was purchased without any hassle. Felt rather chuffed with all the purchases and that I hadn't spent that much money on them all either - which was a good job really considering.

Tune of the day therefore is something from one of my new purchases, namely the fantastic Danny Elfman-penned track "What's This?" from The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. It's just absolutely fantastically uplifting and reminds me of happier times at Christmas, not to mention the rather jolly feel to the whole thing. Elfman is a genius and it's high time that he gained more recognition for his fantastic soundtrack work.

Friday 30th March - Out With The Old Washer, In With The New

First things first: mission accomplished. Knowing I needed to get a new washing machine, my uncle very kindly offered to take me to the electrical retail outlets after work. And so with that in mind, I first of all contacted the local council to arrange a time to collect the old machine from the house. Thankfully their online form for bulky items of refuse really works, and all in all I was really surprised when a couple of hours later I got an email back from them stating that collection of the old machine would take place on Monday. Now that's service that is, and when it's good I don't begrudge paying the Council Tax.

Anyway, that done, I reserved my machine of choice online at Currys, and then my uncle and I went down to the one in Stockport to pick it up. Considering I'd reserved it about an hour beforehand, it was great to see things work efficiently and before you know it, we'd got to my place, disconnected the old one, connected the new one up and set it on an initial cycle as recommended in the manual. All well and good, and all working as intended. I'm just relieved really as the washing I need to do was piling up a little and I'd wanted to get everything done before Easter so I can enjoy my time away from home, as you do.

I also had our technical group meeting today where I was able to report my findings about Office XP and 2007 together. In fact I got a reply from one of the Microsoft Office MVPs about getting Access to run together, and he said that he and several others were waiting for Microsoft to fix the same problem. Say no more really. In fact I was quite forthright at the meeting and said that categorically even if we could get them both working together, there cold be knock on effects and that realistically we'd run one or the other. As it turns out the Office 2007 converter for Excel, Powerpoint and Word does actually work fine on our builds, so if nothing else the plan B would be to roll that out so at least we could open the latest versions with what we have now. Shouldn't be too difficult to roll that out to be honest.

Watched the remainder of the England-Ireland cricket when I got home, and to be honest it wasn't the best England cricketing performance ever. Ireland fought quite well and it was only when Panesar and Vaughan bowled spin in tandem that the Irish struggled. And Flintoff also showed the likes of Mahmood and Anderson that if you want to finish off an innings, bowl straight and full, don't give a batsman a chance to move. The proof was that Flintoff ended up with four wickets for 43 runs. End of. And indeed Paul Collingwood's superb innings of 90 helped rather enormously to say the least. We need to improve if we're going to beat Sri Lanka.

Tune of the day is something that I've not got out of my head all day for some reason, you know it happens to me sometimes. What was a surprise was the choice of song though, namely Jean Michel Jarre's epic title track to his "Waiting For Cousteau" album. When I originally had the vinyl release, I never realised it was only half the track until I got the CD and listened to the some forty six minutes of it. I think also considering Jarre's new stuff is, well, pretty poor actually, it hankers back to the days when he actually just got on with the music..

Thursday 29th March - Still Want McClaren Out..

Well what an absolutely pathetic performance the England football team did against Andorra last night. Words simply to be quite honest fail me. If Steven Gerrard wasn't playing it could have well been an embarassing 0-0 draw. As it was, the first half was extremely dull and lifeless with no passion, pride or determination from anyone except Gerrard, and the game suffered as a result. If the likes of John Terry say that the England fans have no right to boo, then in my eyes he should immediately be dropped as captain. It was a lousy first half and the fans who have paid lots of money to see the team have every right to be voiceferous. And let's be brutally honest here: Steve McClaren had no ideas, no real grip on the game, and should have taken Rooney off at half time. The fact he hasn't scored for three years at International level should tell you he's been sussed out and opposition players know they can wind him up and get him booked or sent off.

Even after the first goal went in, there were no real celebrations here at the Towers with some of the family. It was just almost expected that we'd score. Gerrard to be fair though was the only one from the start who actually looked bothered, and it was no surprise when he scored his second with an excellently placed pass into the corner. It takes a lot of skill to pass the ball into the net, and he had it with aplomb to be honest. The only other bright spark was that Preston's David Nugent came on, looked lively and got the easiest goal he will ever score, following in Jermain Defoe's shot, like all good strikers should to be honest.

The chants continued through the game and rightly so. McClaren has to go. Now. He clearly is not up to the job, is too afraid to drop so-called big name players (Lampard's convenient hand injury meant Gerrard could play in the middle, and he proved just why he is the best England player), and he has faith in players who clearly can't do the job. Stewart Downing anyone? He's just not good enough and if we had any half decent left sided players, Downing would be out like a shot, simple as. Also what's frustrating is that there are players who would actually care about playing for England - you know, they'd sing the anthem, the fire would be in the belly, the raw emotion would show that it would actually mean something to put on the famous white shirt. Too many of them are counting their £50k+ salaries and acting if they own the team. They don't. Rooney's suspension gives someone else a go against Estonia, thankfully, and someone who won't put himself about and think he's invincible from a sending off. Rooney certainly isn't - the World Cup proved that he's more of a liability than reliability.

Anyway, rant over. Today saw me make some interesting headway in the mission almost impossible to get Office 2007 and Office XP running on the same PC. This time around, it was Access causing the foibles. In the end I cleverly used Novell SnAppshot to document the registry differences before and after each version was run. What was clear was that Access 2007 deletes an Access XP registry key called "NoRepairNeeded". Put that key back and run Access XP and no Windows Installer errors will occur. However, even though that registry key exists for Access 2007, when Access runs it still insists on running the configuration and re-registering all the file types. In the end, I used the SnAppShot registry differences and made a 50K registry file. Now, if I ran Access XP, then the reg file and the Access 2007, no installation configuration rubbish. But I'll be honest, it's a kludge and not a fix.

Unfortunately my washing machine has had it as well - my theory about the water pressure was a false alarm. Turns out the electronics are scrambled to hell meaning that it's not doing what the programme says and constantly flashes the H20 error. Time to get a new one methinks - and it turns out the model I have is notorious for the electronics going. Damn, I'd wished I knew that when I purchased it, but I got around two years' worth out of it so I can't complain that much - although in comparison my first tumble dryer lasted me nearly five years. Make of that what you will.

Tune of the day is a simple tune and something I really enjoy: the Buzzcocks' "Orgasm Addict". Yes, it's bit rude lyrically. Yes, it's the spirit of punk. And yes, it's something that is just a classic song. It's all over in two minutes but in that time gives you more feeling of pure unadulterated enjoyment than a lot of things out there.

Wednesday 28th March - Catch Me If You Can Cos I'm The England Man

Well at the time of writing it's a couple of hours to kick off between England and Andorra, and my had England better perform this time. If we don't beat this lot, then Steve McClaren should be immediately sacked, the Andorrans are rated really really low by UEFA and FIFA, and a nice 5-0 win would be good to boost the goal difference. Mind you, they are the dirtiest team in Europe and their cheating dives make the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba look absolute saints in comparison, so I guess what Andorra will do is wind up Wayne Rooney, hope he loses it and gets sent off, and that's us stifled. I hope not.

Anyway, with poetic timing, as me and my colleagues were at lunch, over came the jukebox with the subtle strains of Kenneth Wolstenholme, which in musical terms meant one thing. Tune of the day therefore is the best England football song ever - and no it isn't Three Lions. It's of course "World In Motion" by New Order. It's got the great New Order hook lines, Hooky's superb bass, words that actually make sense and of course who can forget the rather hilarious but yet addictive John Barnes rap near the end? When I used to listen to this before every England game during the 1990 World Cup (it was a pre-match ritual) it got me psyched up to watch the game. Ah, yes, the days of the proper England Umbro shirt and those World in Motion t-shirts, wish I could still get one of the latter. If you have one spare, let me know.

As I was making my way home from work, I noticed that the complete revamp of Manchester Academy (or Academy 1 if you must) was really starting in earnest. All the insides have been completely ripped out and there's bulldozers everywhere. Whilst I see the need for the venue revamp as t's apparently going to harness solar power where possible as well as re-use rain water for the loos etc, a good move in my eyes for environmental reasons, I'm also going to miss the old place in a way.

I've seen so many concerts there over the years that I really enjoyed, such as the Pop Will Eat Itself 1994 Amalgamation Tour which had four bands on including PWEI and the excellent Dub War (sorely missed), seeing Kristin Hersh live there in 1995 when Throwing Muses did a great show, seeing some then unknown band called Muse blow everyone away as support act to Skunk Anansie in 1999, watching Henry Rollins do his wonderful spoken word 3 hour marathons in there quite a few times, and seeing Moby in 2000 when Play was just about to get massive, but being one of only a few people in the audience to spot that he was playing Joy Division's "Shadowplay" whilst tuning his guitar (and Moby's a massive JD fan!), and many more that I could mention over the years.

At least when it reopens, if all the facilities have been improved (and let's face it, the loos were dire, the stage view wasn't that great) then that's good. What's really nice is that they've actually gone beyond the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act and will be ensuring a proper disabled viewing area too, which is just the job so that everyone can enjoy their favourite live acts. It'll be interesting to see who becomes the first band to play the new venue or if they just have some opening club night there - either way, as much as I'll miss the old place if it's improved and better and becomes a great gig venue, I'll try to look at the positives. Now, where's that Throwing Muses t-shirt?

Tuesday 27th March - Water Polava!

Felt a bit odd going back to work today, particularly as there were hardly any students in. Of course with it being their Easter break I would have imagined some of them to be in to try and finish off any work that they need to hand in after Easter, and sure enough there were quite a few people using the facilities. In a reassuring way that's actually good to see, because it justifies opening the rooms during the break. And I guess too that it also gives them an incentive to try and get work done before the manic month of May (and believe me, it gets completely manic)

Bit of a problem though at home - the washing machine has started playing up! It keeps coming up with this H20 message, which sounds water related. It's at times like this I'm glad I keep all my instruction manuals to hand to make sure they're all available when I need them. A quick read of the manual states that it's either the hoses that go from the pipes to the machine, or the water pressure. Oddly enough there were some workmen working around the streets near me Monday, but I don't think they mucked up the water supply or else I wouldn't have been able to have a shower or do the dishes.

Anyway, after I went to see a friend last night and got back home, I checked in the cupboards under the sink, and as luck would have it, I still have the spare hoses. If I remember, when my father fitted the machine a few years back the old hoses from the old machine were fine, so he used those. The ones I dug out are like brand new and haven't been touched whatsoever. As my uncle's coming over to watch the football, I'm going to see if he can swap them over and see if it makes a difference - you never know, it might just work then. If not, it's time to get a new machine as it could be an internal mechanism that's causing the error, not so good. I did scope the prices of replacements just in case.

Watched Life on Mars pretty late last night as I recorded it (thank heavens for Sky+ eh?) but it was well worth it. In fact, the record shop location was actually a little shop not that far from where I live, and round the corner from where my uncle lives. It was spooky to see somewhere I've walked past many a time actually feature on the telly, and if only I'd timed things better I could have accidentally walked onto the set during filming and bumped into the cast. It was excellent stuff though and although the plot seemed a little contrived, it all made sense in the end, setting things up nicely for the final two episodes. And that's going to be it - but in a good way, all the best shows don't drag themselves out. And I have to agree entirely with Philip Glenister about the state of a lot of telly at the moment - read his words and respect them cos he's so right! You dont mess with the Gene Genie.

I had a tune in my head for most of the day and when I got home I incessantly started to hum it. I then had to play it and sort of sing along. Why the song was in my head I had no idea, maybe because I was doing some research on Tanya Donnelly and realised she was married to the drummer who used to be part of the Juliana Hatfield Three. And it's a Hatfield song I had in my head: tune of the day is the cute "My Sister" which has three distinct verses of hate, love and missing the sister in the song. And it's delivered with such a punchy guitar in between verses and nice soft parts during the verses that it just works. And any song that has an opening line of "I hate my sister, she's such a bitch" just makes you giggle because you know it's not really meant in that bad way. Well, I hope not anyway.

Monday 26th March - A Tale Of Two Films

After I typed yesterday's entry, I thought to myself "I need to get out there and see Hot Fuzz before it doesn't get shown at the cinema anymore" and so promptly left the house around 3.30pm yesterday and then went off to AMC Cinemas. As it turns out any film you see before 6pm is a bit cheaper, which always helps, and I knew full well my friends had seen it already and probably liked it, so time for me to go and see it. Got the bus into town and did my now pre-cinema ritual, snacks and a bottle of mineral water from the Sainsbury Local round the corner from the cinema. Why, you may ask? Simple answer, it's absolutely lots cheaper than paying the ripoff prices for soft drinks and popcorn when you're in there and you can also pick what you want.

There were only around ten people in the 4.15pm showing but no annoying kids around (lots of people in the queue were seeing Amazing Grace though which says something I suppose) and as a result I really enjoyed the film a lot more. I would have done anyway, of course, as I loved Shaun of the Dead to bits. So what did I think of Hot Fuzz? Well, it's pretty funny, the chemistry between all the characters works pretty well, and the plot eventually made some form of sense - even with the constant references to Point Break and Bad Boys II throughout. Lots of comical moments that made me giggle, but I won't spoil the plot for you. Suffice to say that the sight of seeing Nick Frost attempt to clamber over garden fences is only the tip of the iceberg - there's also a great gag with ketchup (continuing the "You've got red on you" theme in Shaun of the Dead, although that phrase isn't uttered here). One thing I did also spot was when Nick Frost is browsing the DVDs, and puts the Supercop one back on the shelf, in the bin of DVDs lies a copy of Shaun of the Dead. My eagle eyes spotted that straight away.

And today, time to spend some quality time with a good friend seeing that I had the day off work and that I could chill out and relax. Spent most of the morning pottering around the house and doing some household chores before my friend came over. Good to bang the world to rights over a cup of tea before heading over to the Cineworld cinema and catching the 3.45pm showing of Premonition. I wasn't sure what to make of that film, on the one hand Sandra Bullock is rather good in it (then again I'm biased, I like her anyway) but I think the plot tried too hard to be too clever with what has happening in a supernatural sense. You almost figured you knew what was going to happen right at the end, it was one of two scenarios, but it was the one that fate had sort of determined that was the second one. It wasn't bad, it wasn't the best thing ever, but it was decent enough.

Tune of the day is something I was playing a couple of times this morning and it just seemed quite apt considering my state of mind at the moment, namely Tenacious D's "The Government Totally Sucks". Well their Pick of Destiny DVD is out today and I guess this song's more of a j'accuse thrown at the Bush administration, but I guess it actually works as a little protest number. Mind you, our Government isn't much better. Okay so the normal rate of income tax was lowered from 2008, but.. the lower 10% rate has gone. I think that makes me about breakeven in terms of taxation and not better off. You give with one hand, you take with the other...

Sunday 25th March - A Tale Of Two Performances

After I typed yesterday's entry, I settled back and relaxed with a few relations and cups of tea and coffee (as is our want) as England played Israel in Tel Aviv in the European Championship qualifiers. All I can say is that we all felt like two hours of our lives had been completely wasted by the complete dross that was served up. It was just farcical, no one knew what they were doing, and it was a performance completely lacking in pride, passion, determination and professionalism. Call it what you want, but there was no hunger there to want to win, and that all stems from Steve McClaren the manager.

It's pretty clear to me that the Football Association shouldn't have appointed him in the first place - he had too much to do with that other idiot Eriksson, and also there just doesn't seem to be that admittance that we actually played pretty badly. Yes, we could and should have won, but could and should are words I don't want to hear. I want to hear "regardless of whether we should have won, we weren't good enough and didn't deserve to win". Honesty, as they say, is the best policy. They need to look at the former England rugby union captain Martin Johnson. After England scraped past Samoa, the interviewer asked him what he thought, and his response gained the respect of all England fans straight away - he said we weren't good enough and we were lucky to get away with a win, and needed to play better. England won the World Cup with pride and passion. Enough said.

I think if a swear box was in operation at my place, then suffice to say it'd have been pretty full of coins pretty quickly. It was frustrating to say the least to see such a woeful performance. On the other hand, although not the best display ever, the cricket team were much more professional against Kenya in the cricket. They bowled decently enough, got three run outs and limited the Kenyans to 177 from their reduced 43 overs. Once England got started, particularly with Ed Joyce and Kevin Pietersen's third wicket stand, it was an easy total to achieve and Pietersen hit the winning run with seven wickets and ten overs to spare. Not the best ever performance, but professional and solid, and played in most part with a bit of pride to qualify for the last eight. And this is where it all really starts in earnest.

Anyway, not much happening today really - did some bits around the house and listened to some music, like you do. I suddenly remembered though that there's lots of Cabaret Voltaire stuff that I'd not chucked on for a while, so straight away I went for the jugular and went for one of their early classics and hence my tune of the day, the seminal "Nag Nag Nag". There's just something about it that sounds odd yet in tune, that sounds angry yet passionate, and the fact that the line "Nag Nag Naaaaaaaag" is said with such monotone yet a feeling of injustice just seems to work for me. Well worth a listen though if you get chance.

Saturday 24th March - Unexpected Bonuses

Decided to get up, have breakfast and then head into town. Realistically, I needed a couple of bath sponges and some shampoo for my hair, but while I was in town I thought "let's just take a trip into Vinyl Exchange and see what they've got". As it turned out for me this was a very very inspired move. Not only did I manage to locate Frank Black's "Honeycomb" CD for £4, thereby filling in one gap in my collection, but then I kept on looking through the US indie section and located something I'd been after for a while - the part 2 CD single of Throwing Muses' "Firepile" single. I'd missed out buying it years ago when it came out and never managed to locate a copy until today. As you can imagine, that was mine, and I also noted lots of other Muses stuff that I already had that was quite rare. I'm sure they'll find a good home.

Anyway, I thought that I'd check out the experimental section just to see if I could fill any Cabaret Voltaire collection gaps, and as I was browsing I noticed a CD that I had but one of my friends didn't - namely "The Covenant The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord". It's been deleted for years, and it's ridiculously hard to get hold of now. Anyway, as I knew he'd been after it for ages, I took a quick look at the price, a mere £6. I had to literally contain myself because that was an absolute bargain for what it was, and swiftly purchased that and the other two CDs. As ever, Vinyl Exchange is just such a good place, it is like manna from heaven for me sometimes and it proved it today.

With the CDs in hand and the rest of the shopping done, headed home and tested out all the CDs. And because the Cabaret Voltaire CD happens to be one of my favourite releases of theirs, I had no complaints about checking the CD to make sure it worked. Hence, tune of the day is "Whip Blow" from that album. It's dark, brooding, electronic and it just so happens to be covered by C64 musician Rob Hubbard in the game "I, Ball". True, you know. But the original still has it for me - it's so edgy, and even has that "doish!" noise which became so popular in late 1980s music. Except this was 1985. Ha.

The England cricket and football teams play later and both of the games are an absolute must win to be brutally honest. It looks like at the time of writing that the cricket team might have a rain delay - not what they need, although if the game gets rained out we'd qualify on net run rate at least so that has to be something. But the football on the other hand is really desparate - we don't seem to perform under Steve McClaren and if we lose tonight, we may as well kiss goodbye to qualification for Euro 2008 to be brutally honest. I've got a few relations coming over later so hopefully we can all cheer them on, just have to see what happens.

As I went into town this morning I went past the Apollo theatre and there were massive queues outside the place. At first I thought tickets were going on sale for some one off gig and fans were attempting to make sure that they got their tickets, but no. It wasn't that. It was for yet another reality TV type talent contest. For crying out loud, we don't need any more. Britain's Got Talent, indeed! Well judging by the people queuing up outside they may as well audition for that slot on The Word, called The Hopefuls. If you've seen that then you'll know what I mean - desparate is the word that I'm looking for. There's so many other things you could do than try and appear on some cheap telly. Like do something worthwhile with your lives, damn it.

Friday 23rd March - Doing Exactly What It Says On The Tin

A day off for me today (using my leave up today and Monday, I may as well take it off instead of lose it, right?) and so a time for action around the house so as not to waste the day off to be honest. First off, after clearing out most of the weeds from the bit at the front of the house last week, I decided that now would be a good time to actually get some weed killer and sort out the messy weeds, to make sure that they don't come back too quickly - also making things rather neat and tidy. Second, after getting my new dining table and chairs from Ikea the other night, I mulled over a bit whether I should just varnish them all for a bit of extra protection - I mean I'll still probably get the nice table cloth anyway to be honest, but it'll mean that it'll hard wear a bit and last. Doing the varnishing of the bathroom ceiling a couple of years back proved a sound investment, and I think it wouldn't be that bad to do it.

So, what to get? Thought I'd check out B&Q, but alas, no information on their site. So I went the other way and went to Ronseal, those of the adverts that tell you that it does exactly what is says on the tin! As the dining table and chairs are natural pine, it made sense to try and get a clear varnish so it keeps the light colour intact and also makes them have a bit of a satin finish as well. Found just the thing for a non-DIY expert like me - this quick drying stuff that also has this pad for application which gives you a great finish, apparently. It's called Perfect Finish Varnish. Thought to myself "that looks easy enough" and so left the house to get to B&Q.

Got there, and of course they've only gone and re-arranged everything over the last few months, so the last time I was there getting a replacement front door lock (it needed changing) I knew where stuff was, not now. Thankfully all the garden products were as I walked in, and I soon found the weedkiller, and a bottle of Weedol was mine for the taking. I liked the fact it suposedly resists light showers as well, something well worth noting with the Manchester weather of course. Then after a bit of searching, and stopping in the art canvas print section to see what they had there (nice canvas of Audrey Hepburn too..) it was time to hunt down the varnish. I found it, but saw every single colour except the clear. However, soon located the clear one and it was the exact one I needed. Got that and polythene dust sheet, cos knowing me I'd spill the stuff, and that was me done, and all for under £20. Not too bad I guess.

Once I got home I had a cunning plan. What I'd do was apply the first coat of varnish, then do the weedkiller whle waiting for the first coat to dry, then have lunch and apply the second coat. In practice this actually didn't work out that bad, as the finishing pad actually did the job very nicely on the whole, applying a good even coat throughout, took me around 40 minutes to do the table and the four chairs, and I even did the undersides of the table as well so that has to be something I guess. And sure enough, an hour after I applied the weedkiller and had lunch, there came a very light shower. Phew! I made the right decision to do it then, thankfully.

Did the second coat of varnish and allowed it to try for a while before taking up the polythene dust sheet and putting everything back to normal. And I have to say I'm pretty impressed with the results, if I say so myself. It just looks a whole lot nicer and has a nice reflective shine and sheen when the light shines on it, showing off the satin finish. Everything's now pretty much back to normal and I'm really chuffed to bits that I took the time to do it as it should be. Feel proper chuffed, me. Okay, it's not 100% perfect as I may have overdone it a little on a couple of the undersides of the chairs but on the whole I'm really pleased that I did it all by myself. I feel like that bloke on the Ronseal ads now - the one that shouts "it does exactly what it says on the tin!"

Anyway, been watching more cricket while waiting for the varnish to dry off - seems like the Irish weren't doing too bad against the West Indies early on, as I type this they're 144 for 6 off 40 overs, certainly not too bad considering the Windies are at home and will be used to the pitches that they're playing on. I don't expect Ireland to win, but they know they're in the last eight and deservedly so. Just hope England can do the business tomorrow against Kenya, although I'll be missing part of that game to watch the footy - and some of my relatives are coming over to join me, which will be nice.

Tune of the day just had to be this one because it reminded me of happier days: "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" by the Buzzcocks. It's just three solid minutes of pure unadulterated joy and if anything's going to make you bounce round the room like a loon or air guitar punk style, then this is your baby.

Thursday 22nd March - Focus Pocus

Discovered something that's great fun late last night, and I just had to tell you about it. You know how those new PG Tips adverts in the UK feature the return of the characters Al and Monkey, that used to be on the ITV Digital adverts? Well, due to the success of the free monkey with boxes of PG Tips and the limited edition ones from PG Tips' website in order to raise money for comic relief, they've now come up with a game show featuring Monkey as your host, where you have to get through three observation rounds in order to enter a prize draw for a top of the range LCD television. Wooooo! indeed. Anyway, because most tea has theanine in it, which is supposed to relax you yet make you alert, that's why they made the game Focus Pocus. Remember folks, "it's the theanine in it that helps you win it!" or something. Play Focus Pocus now and get winning! "Tell them what they can win, cheesy voiceover guy!"

Anyway, bit of a mixed bag today. Work was immensely busy due to it being the end of term tomorrow and lots of student deadlines in the offing for everyone. The plotters we have were on the constant go all day and I'd like to see just how many rolls of plotter paper we went through - bearing in mind they're each some 45 metres long and do on average 54 A1 printouts per roll, we must have been changing them pretty constantly to be honest. It did seem to get through the day pretty well though on the whole, and as I was on the Help Desk for most of the afternoon it did seem like there were a constant influx of people.

Escaped out with my manager (there was only the two of us in) and so we decided to head down to Kro for a pint, I don't usually have one at lunch time but I felt that a good pint of Landlord, proper real ale and all, might just be the thing to slowly wind down for the rest of the week. What I didn't expect was the expensive rip off prices in there though. How much do you think two pints should cost you? £4? £4.50 maybe? Nope. £5.20. What the hell? It's getting so expensive in the centre of Manchester in some places that you just have to wonder whether it's at an attempt to be pretentious or something. I suppose this is where Wetherspoons chains at least do something good and keep their real ale prices down to a sensible amount - usually around £1.60 a pint which is much more like it. Still, I made sure I savoured it though and just had a good general natter while watching the world go by.

Managed to sort something else out today - we had delivery of a HP Business Inkjet 2300 that needed rolling out to our postgraduate drop-in centre. Having registered the network address yesterday so that it would DHCP over our network to the right IP address, I just had to install all the printer cartridges and print heads (four of each, lucky me eh?) and then do some test prints. Once that was done and the network test was done, I just had to take it over, plug it into a nearby network socket, and then on the PCs that they use in that room add it as an IP only printer for their use. It seemed to work really well, and the students who were there at the time of installation were really chuffed to get it, which is always pleasing to see.

I had a bit of a relaxing evening watching the cricket, but I kept thinking of a tune in my head that wouldn't go away, and one I'd been humming all day. So, checked the CD collection and realised that I actually had it - so on it went Tune of the day is the rather good "Are You Blue Or Are You Blind?" by The Bluetones. You must remember them - their re-release of Slight Return got to number 2! They're actually still going and touring, and they're playing somewhere in St Helens next month. Part of me is tempted to go to see how they're doing these days, I have fond memories of their first album. And I have the original 12" single of "Are You Blue Or Are You Blind" which is still quite collectable even now. Wooooo!

Wednesday 21st March - I'm On A Roll!

I don't know if the long weekends are making my brain tick over, but I'm just on a roll at the moment. First off, I managed to wake up at 6.30am and do a fair bit of exercise before hitting the shower. I took a circular walk around where I live, taking in the main road and then doubling back on myself via another route. It felt really good to do about 30 minutes or so of power walking, and once I'd had my shower and breakfast, I felt ever so ready to face the day.

And face it I did. Yesterday it came to the attention of us in the office that Adobe Illustrator CS2 had some weird quirk when saving to network drives - it'd give the file name the old school 8.3 character DOS file name instead of the correct long file name like it should really have. After a bit of investigation on Adobe's forum, it turns out that an update to 12.0.1 fixed the issue. It really shouldn't have been there in the first place and for me that smacks of sloppiness to be brutally honest.

The fun really starts though when you want to silently install an update in the background. Basically to achieve this, you need to do three steps. Firstly, you have to extract the Installshield executable Adobe use for the update, using the -extract_all:<foldername> switch, so that the files within the compressed executable are extracted. Then you'll see the setup.exe plus all the other gubbins. Now, on a PC that actually has Illustrator CS2 installed, you then run setup.exe -r so that it "records" what steps you did when doing the update - ie: pressing next, selecting target folder etc. Once this is complete, the update is done, and the setup.exe file drops a file in the root of your Windows directory called setup.iss. Then, you need to copy this file to the same folder as where your setup.exe is, and indeed the setup.log file to. What Adobe forget to also tell you is that users (or workstations if using Zenworks) need modify rights to the setup.log file - if the log doesn't get written, the update doesn't happen. Finally, this means you can place the whole folder on a server, create an application object to run the setup.exe with the -s switch, and associate it accordingly. What fun - not...

Anyway, did all that and now the update is rolling out silently when a PC gets switched on. I call that a result. No interruption to the user, no need to go round oodles of PCs doing an install - it's taken care of automatically now with a bit of effort. It also means that from my own point of view I can check which PCs have actually had that rollout done, so if any are missing they can be caught up on manually if required. Mind you at this time of year with so much happening in terms of deadlines, it's pretty much a catch 22 situation anyway... damn or be damned, so to speak.

I'm now relaxing relatively speaking having just watched the Pakistan innings against Zimbabwe. The fact Pakistan amassed 349 all out is going to really help Ireland, as if Zimbabwe don't win, Ireland are through to the last eight. And to be honest, that's a good thing for cricket that one of the smaller nations has worked hard and made it through: Ireland fought back superbly to draw with Zimbabwe, getting the last 5 wickets for 19 runs, and their win against Pakistan was unexpected, but highly deserved. And I have a feeling their game against the West Indies on Friday may turn out to be a right party and a half in the crowds. It's great when the underdog has their day isn't it?

Tune of the day is a real no-brainer, it's "The Big Battle" by Lalo Schifrin from the Enter The Dragon soundtrack. I love the atmosphere generated, and sometimes it's how work has felt occasionally even though I'm really on top of things at the present time. Plus of course the scene in the film where there's just a mass battle on Han's island with many of the freed prisoners coming up from the dungeon to kick Han's army's ass, and of course Bruce Lee and John Saxon giving it some is just absolutely rivetting stuff. I tend to always add Lee's speech which in the film occurs at the end of the tune: "You have offended my family, and you have offended the Shaolin temple."

Tuesday 20th March - Analytical Eyes

Back to work today, and didn't I just know it! Not only was it very busy in terms of students everywhere, but also lots of things which needed my attention and needed a good sort out. One of them was quite intense as it was something that really high level management wanted us to do, not only did I offer some suggestions but a bit of a solution as well which meant you could associate lots of individual users to a Zenworks application object quite easily. Thank heavens then for the JRB Utility called "appadd" which does exactly what it says on the tin - it associates users or entities to an application object association, and you can have the list of users in a text file with the right eDirectory name.

Once I did some testing and got it all working, I posted a message to our technical group so that they could follow it and get everything up and running as soon as possible - there were time constraints on this and it was something that we had to do pretty quickly to be honest. Must admit though I felt pretty pleased because it was the case of picking up a problem and approaching it in an analytical method, something which really I should do more of if I get the chance.

I had one eye on the New Zealand v Kenya game tonight as I was watching the cricket, because a win for New Zealand would mean a Saturday showdown for England against Kenya to qualify for the last eight. As the game drew on and New Zealand amassed a good total and as the Kenyan wickets fell, it all bode well. With a few overs left it was realistic that it was an NZ win, and so time to switch over to BBC1 for Life on Mars, as you'd expect from me.

The episode was good last night on the whole, I liked the fact that the delusional Sam is really struggling to hold it together in parts but yet somehow he's managed to influence them all to get the case solved in the right way and in the right manner - really well written and plotted out. It also amazes me how much of Manchester they can find to film in which still resembles the 1970s for the most part, but it's also well filmed. Using the Council offices in Stockport for the police station exterior is a clever move, and it works because of the 1960s-esque concrete nightmare. There's only two episodes left (boo) and I'm still intrigued as to which ending they're going to use. Yes, two have been filmed and no one knows which one is going to be shown...

Anyway, as I was watching the cricket in parts I had the sound down and the music on, and with one eye on the 1970s soundtrack that Life on Mars uses, it was time to chuck on some Roxy Music. Their first two albums are by far and away the best, and for the fact that the song mentions a car registration and has a fantastic end full of electronic weirdness, tune of the day is therefore the first track, "Remake, Remodel". I just love the way it builds up near the end and then slows down to a climax, plus it is just so edgy and art rock all at the same time. They really weren't the same after Brian Eno left...

Monday 19th March - I'm Trying Not To Get Broody

Thankfully I had today off work, which meant that I was able to go and get some presents for the new arrival and also take my time and relax a bit, and why the hell not? First stop though was Decathlon in Stockport: one of my other cousins has a birthday this week and so I needed to make sure that I was able to get a gift card, they've just got a new bicycle and have seen all the accessories in there, so this way he can go and get what he likes and be able to enjoy riding a bit more safely. Practical I know, but sometimes it's better to get someone what you want and that way it's more valued.

Then off to Stockport centre and then Manchester centre to get some presents for the new baby. One slight snag: what I really wanted to get was this Forever Friends bear, which is in white with blue paws that say "baby bear". I got one for each of my sisters when they had their little one, but it turns out when I asked about them in Unit 7 that they're not being made any more - what an absolute shame that is to be honest. Still at least it meant that I wasn't going on a fruitless search, and so I managed to get Plan B done instead - and that was to get some clothes instead. Got all that sorted out, and then with the realisation I needed to wrap and pack them all off, got myself some Forever Friends gift wrap along with a box from the main post office which I could use to post off the presents and the all important card (got a good one thankfully) and so my cousin should get a nice package tomorrow with everything in.

Whilst I was in certain shops, most notably Boots, there were lots of parents wheeling their little ones out and seeing what outfits that they could get them. I was so trying not to get broody to be honest, I admire anyone who can take on the responsibility of parenting and actually enjoy it to the full - I know full well that it's not for me and it just makes me appreciate even more the effort you have to put in. There's so much cute stuff for them too - you just felt like going "awwww" every time you saw a nice little outfit or t-shirt for them. However, I did what I needed to do, got home and wrapped everything up, sorted the box out, addressed it and then to the Post Office near me to send it all off.

That done, time to watch some of the World Cup Cricket. After England were laughably bad against Canada yesterday and only just about scraping through that one, it was a bit of a mismatch between Bermuda and India thus far as I'm typing this. It wasn't that bad until Yuvraj Singh came to the crease, and once Sachin Tendulkar joined him, the two of them started thrashing it around the ground in the last ten overs. Put it this way, with ten overs left India weren't doing too bad, but then it was fours and sixes everywhere so that after a mammoth 83 from just 46 balls from Singh, India were in the box seat. Tendulkar ended up with 57 from 29 balls and India ended up scoring the highest ever total in the World Cup, 413-5. That will take some beating unless the Bangladeshis fancy their chances against the Bermudans...

Becuase I've been listening to a lot of old school electronica and Industrial lately, I think primarily because I've rediscovered some old loves, and finding the videos on YouTube, my tune of the day just has to be Bigod 20's "The Bog". There's several good mixes of this, but the album version on their release Steel Works! is just fantastic. Note as well that they managed to get Jean Luc de Meyer from Front 242 to guest on vocal duties for this one - and it is really dark electronic brooding in parts. I wonder if they realised when they wrote it what the bog actually means here in England? Still, I digress.

Sunday 18th March - (New) Mother's Day

Well, as it was Mother's Day, I went over to my Mum's this afternoon. Unusually Mum was making the Sunday dinner on this day - you'd think it'd be the other way around, right? However, Mum just fancied a Sunday roast, and I may be biased, but there's no one better in doing one, honestly. Got there and had a good chat with her whilst she was doing the last bits of the roast. And roast beef, lots of gravy, potatoes, bread sauce and all the trimmings including Yorkshire puddings? Now you're talking. And I have to say that I throughly enjoyed it.

As well as doing all those tapes for Mum (which she really appreciated - I even gift wrapped the tapes, what am I like?) I also got her the Shiney Happy People box from Lush, which includes the Happy Hippy shower gel. Knowing full well how much of a hippy my Mum was when she was younger, I thought that'd be a nice touch. She thought so too and is saving them for when she goes away to Cornwall on her holiday so she can pamper herself a bit along with a nice box of chocolates one of my sisters got her. She was also telling me about her weight loss and that it's going really well. I actually worked out for her that she'd lost 10% of her weight and I think Weight Watchers give some award out for doing that, so she should enquire next time she goes. Good for her though, I'm really pleased.

I was even more pleased later on when I got back from Mum's. I got an email from my aunt down in Salisbury saying that my cousin has had her first baby this morning. I knew that she was due but I realistically thought it was going to be sometime next weekend, but nonetheless that cheered me up no end because everything seemed to have gone smoothly. What surprised me the most was the mere 2 hour labour - now that has to be pretty quick and not so painless. I'm just really happy to be honest because it's someone else I can fuss over and then hand back, thus not making me broody about wanting one of my own.

With all the mothering in mind, it was an easy call for tune of the day - and no, it's not "Mother" by Danzig. That's too Beavis and Butthead-esque. No, it's Moby's "Love Song For My Mom" which is just simple yet beautiful, short and sweet, and it's really mellow at the same time. It seemed quite apt considering that it was a fairly relaxing day and that everything just happened so nicely.

Saturday 17th March - The Irish Eyes Are Sad and Then Smiling

What a contrast for St Patrick's Day if you were a follower of Irish sport, it has to be said. First off, the rugby union. Ireland did all they could against Italy, but conceding that try deep into stoppage time at the end of the game even then might have been costly, and I thought "This is going to bite them in the bum later on". And so it proved, as another very very late try for France meant that they beat Scotland by enough points to claim the Six Nations title by the virtue of having a greater points difference of just four points! Exciting stuff that was though, you could see both teams see-sawing with emotions through the day.

As I settled down to watch the England game against Wales, where England were frankly appalling and only a bit of genius from Mike Catt got us remotely back into the game to even start with, I kept flicking over to Sky as Ireland were playing Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup. I ended up watching that for most of the evening after the rugby had finished, and with good reason. Ireland did a very impressive bowling job, bowling out Pakistan for a mere 132, with some excellent bowling, catching and fielding to stop many more runs being conceded (could have done without the 29 extras mind you). And as Ireland started to bat, you just had the feeling that they might just do it.

The game went on and wickets did fall, but it was a tale of the O'Brien brothers for Ireland. First off, Niall scored a massive 72 and held the innings together with some wonderful shots and intelligent strokeplay. He realised if he stayed there with the runs ticking over, the target didn't require a fast chase and just patience was the order of the day. His brother Kevin stayed around till the end and scored a useful 18 which helped a fair bit, and before long the winning six was being hit and Ireland had won by three wickets. I can only imagine what the celebrations would be like over in Kingston, never mind Kilkenny! And you have to say Ireland richly deserved their win and the accolades. Unlike the disgraceful behaviour of some of the England cricket team's players (more on that in a future rant methinks)

For the record, I'm not Irish, or do I have any Irish blood. But it's always good to support the underdog at times, and Ireland winning meant that Pakistan are the first team to be knocked out of the Cricket World Cup which gives hope for some of the other teams too - like Bangladesh, who brilliantly beat India yesterday. I think the Cricket's come alive with a true carnival atmosphere, and the decision to add teams like Ireland this time around have been fully justified.

Did a little bit of shopping today as well, mainly just browsing as I've got to be a bit careful with the money and stuff, as you do. I went and had a look at what new albums were out and retired to Fopp to have a latte and a chill out. Of all things, a certain tune was playing and soon as I heard the opening "Chaka" I knew what it was: "I Feel For You" by Chaka Khan, and the extended 12" mix too. Bit of an odd choice unless it's from some 1980s 12" mixes compilation, but there you go. I really must brush up on the old music trivia somewhat as I have a feeling that might come in handy for any future pub quiz that I do.

But I knew what I needed, an A3 sized picture frame for the Kristin Hersh poster I picked up last week when I went to the Academy 3. Thankfully I went into the Art place in the Royal Exchange and they had an A3 clip frame (it's a different size from the 30x40cm ones so you have to get it right) and they were reduced to a mere £3.50. Excellent all round I thought, and so that was me pretty much sorted. Got that and got home, and then put up the poster inside the frame - which is now hanging up on my front room wall and looking the part. It looks so much better in a frame than being blu-tacked to the wall. Maybe I need to find a right sized frame for the Vonda Shepard one I have in the office room at the moment.

Anyway, what's my tune of the day? Well, I decided to mellow out in the morning before heading out to the shops and there was only really one weapon of choice for me and that was to have something blissfully ambient, so on went The Durutti Column's "Sketch For Summer". It still stands the test of time even now and it's just a really relaxing tune, and you just have to love the guitars on there.

Friday 16th March - Absolute Taping Nightmare

Because I was off work today, I was able to afford myself a little bit of a lie-in, and why not? I thought that I may as well use the time I've got left of my leave and give myself some me time. And that's what I did. For the most part in the background I was finishing off the stacks of recording stuff on to tape for my Mum that I mentioned in yesterday's entry. It's thankfully all done now, 7 TDK D90s worth of all sorts, mainly hits compilations from the likes of the Eagles, James Taylor et al, and it was while recording the James Taylor compilation that I heard something familiar to me - "Handy Man". Now why did it sound familiar? Well, for me it's because Frank Black did a Peel session with Teenage Fanclub and they did a version of the same song - albeit much rockier than Taylor's verison of it. Still, it was interesting to compare and contrast.

I spent some time whilst setting the tape deck to record the Simon and Garfunkel compilation doing the front bit of the house. Basically there's a little kind of rockery bit, but it's just overladen with a few weeds here and there. Soon dug them out, but my left hand became very very cold as it must have been raining the night before and it felt the rain all over the weeds. What I need to do now is wait for a dry day and get the weedkiller out to spray everywhere on the front just to be on the safe side, that might be best - and then it'll look neat and tidy. That's the plan, I guess, and I might do that when I'm off over Easter.

Anyway, had to do the food shopping as well so I paused the recording of stuff and nipped out to Tesco to get some essentials. In fact I really didn't need that much, just some stuff for lunch at work, some croissants and yoghurt for the weekend, and some of those mushroom and garlic burgers I got last week, cos they're really nice (and vegetarian too, even though I do eat meat some of the veggie stuff is actually really gorgeous these days) and there you have it. Got home, made something for lunch and then settled down to watch the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Not really a surprise Kauto Star won, but he did make his almost trademark faux pas at the final fence though. One day he'll come undone and then someone else will win. But not today, it seemed.

Whilst listening to other songs tonight (my own choices now) and also having next door's cat Pinky sleep by the fire in absolute relaxed mode (no point even trying to move him, believe me!) I went back catalogue again and decided to chuck on some good old Renegade Soundwave. I felt inspired as I needed some good choons (kind of hate that word normally) for the weekend, even if I'm not going out because of being out so much last weekend it's still nice to wind down and just enjoy the weekend anyway. So without further ado I whacked on their "Next Chapter of Dub" album and remembered the absolutely blistering "Nightmare" which I still love now. So that's got to be my tune of the day. Hey Gary, where's Danny? (etc).

Thursday 15th March - The Old Days of Doing Tapes..

I took a trip back in time tonight, and it's all for my Mum, bless. You see, what she wants me to do is to record her lots of her favourite stuff off CD on to tape so she can take her tapes with her and play them while she's on holiday later in the year. Now I know what you're thinking - why not just get an MP3 player and bung all the tunes on there? You see, my Mum and technology doesn't go together. She's got used to her tape player (okay, Walkman sort of, but you know what I mean) and it's something that she's comfortable with using and just playing with. And if that's what people are used to, that's what you do.

First off, had to actually find some blank tapes. Not an easy task anymore, as these days hardly anyone uses tape as such. Thankfully one of the local pound shops near me had a pretty good deal where it was 2 TDK D90s for £1. Can't argue with that, I used to swear by D90s in the day, they were the weapon of choice when recording stuff off my turntable onto tape, and they're still a quality blank even now. And dead easy to splice off excess tape if you need to. So I got a few of them, as I had rather a few CDs to record.

The other good thing is that I've still got my Marantz SD545 double tape deck, which is part of my rig - even has a microphone socket for recording yourself, if that's your karaoke style thing. In any case I thought it best to have a go at pressing the record button and setting the record volume. It works well as it doesn't actually commence recording, but you can monitor the volume level and get it just right to match the output of the CD or DVD player - in this case my trusty Pioneer DV646A (if only I could find a Denon DVD1930.. but alas.) Anyway, that all settled I set down to work and tried to see what CDs I could fit on to one side of a tape, and as it happened, two of them did fit - so it was those two first. Then on to the David Gates songbook and some Moody Blues to fill the other side with. That's my Mum for you - I'm just glad though that she didn't insist on me recording her whole Monkees collection - that would have driven me up the wall, proverbially speaking.

Anyway, it felt like the old days a bit - you know when you'd do mix tapes for people and fill up 90 minutes with tunes that meant stuff to you and so that the person you were sending it to actually got an idea of you? With the advent of mix CDs taking over, I kind of miss working on the tape and cramming so much into the hour and a half that would say so much for you. And with that in mind, only one choice for tune of the day - "Mix Tape" from the Avenue Q soundtrack. That song could have been written for anyone in mind who's done a tape and it's just so cheery, perfect for the rubbish weather outside.

Wednesday 14th March - Community, Spirit and Chelski

Well tonight a friend and I went along to a local special community meeting - which is basically about the area that we live in. Over the last few years, there has been a closure of quite a few shops and with the local Somerfield closing down, there's no supermarket in the area, which means lots of traipsing to other places. Also, the local community centre burned down a couple of years back and nothing has replaced it. The other problem too is that the local library and swimming baths have been constantly threatened with closure despite the locals' best interests to support both of those as much as possible. I mean, why go elsewhere if it's on the doorstep and a resource that people can and will use?

Anyway, for this special meeting they'd hired out a room in one of the local churches. However the turnout was massive (much more than anyone could have hoped for) and so they had to move to the main church itself, and it was literally standing room only in places. That I saw as a positive thing because enough people out there care about the community and what's happening to them. The council worker who was from some regeneration department explained that the vision the Council had for the whole of South Manchester was this whole "The Living City". In concept, this means improvement for areas, but to be honest it was so wrapped up in spin that people were just generally unhappy.

When the questions started being asked, it seemed like the questions were being avoided as much as possible, and that to be honest just wasn't the right thing to do. You could see the frustration and anger on people's faces as continually it went back to the same themes of "what's going to happen"? with no definite answer being given. Then, a defining moment. One of the Labour candidates for council went up to the front and tried for about 10 seconds to gain some political points scoring. However, he was very quickly booed off and the public had their wrath. Suffice to say that he actually blew any chances of Labour getting in around her in one fell swoop with his arrogance and attitude, the wanker.

My friend and I left with still plenty of questions peppering the regeneration bod, and clearly the strength of feeling was there for all to see. It made me feel positive about where I live and the community spirit is still in tact, even in big cities. I really like that. It makes you feel less along in a strange way and more part of something that actually wants to get stuff done. I'm keeping an open eye on what happens next. But it's good that there's so much strength in numbers.

Spent the rest of the evening with a few members of the family watching City versus Chelski live on Sky. And despite us losing 1-0 we played so much better. Why can't we do that all the time though? It's so frustrating it really is. But because of the fact that you should never give up anything without a fight, I'm thinking that my tune of the day is going to be "Mania" by Throwing Muses. I love the way that Kristin really goes for it (well you kind of knew that) but also because it really does get you going. Plus for many reasons she's a fighter, gives us all some inspiration.

Tuesday 13th March - Out With The Old, In With The New

Last night I finally decided to get my new dining table and chairs that I've been after. A friend of mine was going to IKEA and asked me if I wanted to come along - as I could always get the stuff and put it in their car. Plus there happened to be a double bed duvet cover set I've been after that was half price for this week in cotton satin, which would suit the bedroom down to a tee, so there were more than enough excuses for me to go. I ended up getting the Ingo dining table along with four Stefan chairs, a rug in blue to match the dining room decor (even got it cheaper as an IKEA Family Card member) and some placemats in blue too, along with the Emilia Satin duvet cover and a couple of other bits. Considering all I got it didn't work out that expensive, and a good trip out too.

However, got up this morning, and I'd assembled the table the night before, and thought I'd do a couple of chairs. One snag - despite the four chairs supposedly being Stefan, one of them on the box was labelled as an Ivar one. Darn! So I got home from work, rung up IKEA Customer Services just to check it was okay (I didn't open the box, I was sensible) and then got the 169 bus up to IKEA Ashton. Weird thing was, they couldn't just do an exchange. I had to be refunded on my debit card for the cost of the chair, and then I'd just go and buy another one. With correct chair in hand I managed to get back to the bus stop and get the 169 home and be back home for 7.20pm - which isn't that bad really.

Assembled all the chairs (which was actually really easy, much easier than I thought) and sorted the rug out. It looks really nice now. I'm actually considering the blue cotton tablecloth that IKEA do as well - just as a finishing touch but also to cover the wood a bit too. Okay, so I could varnish it differently, but.. to be honest I quite like the natural look, or if it was blue covered with the cloth, either would work rather well. It's certainly lightened up the room as well and really looks the part. Plus my old table and chairs isn't going to waste either - my little sister's going to have it for when she hopefully moves into her new rented place. I'm sure she'll get good use out of it and it saves her and her partner some money too.

Been listening again to some back catalogue stuff tonight once I'd got in and assembled everything - and I guess I'm in a reflective mood somewhat. I think more so because of the weekend just gone that I realised just how strong my musical passions are and that I really should do more in terms of getting out there and listening to cool tunes. Anyway, my weapon of choice and tune of the day for today is "Gouge Away" by the rather marvellous Pixies. A perfect album closer to Doolittle (which is in itself a superb album anyway) and it just really has so much going for it. Tons better than Debaser, and yet what gets played more at indie clubs. Go figure!

Monday 12th March - Capital of (Redevelopment) Culture

As my friend and I had stayed over, we had time to spend going round the shops and generally mooching around the place. One thing that will strike anyone who visits the city centre - there's so much redevelopment going on. Cranes dominate the skyline, particularly around the Paradise Street area as there's so much work going on to make a nice new shopping centre, Lord Street's also getting a big makeover and in general there's a real feeling of city pride. In case you didn't know, Liverpool is European City of Culture for 2008, something I'm pretty pleased about - and certainly the pride is spreading throughout the city.

Despite all the building work, we checked out of Travelodge and walked to Albert Dock to have a look around there. As the Tate Gallery closes on Mondays, a fair few of the other shops decided to do the same thing - which is fine to a point but it makes you wonder if they're losing out on business a bit - not least as the ferry cross the Mersey's only up the road and accessed by a riverside walkway which goes along the Dock too. But nonetheless it was good to see how even without the infamous Weather Map that they used to have within the dock itself how it's keeping its maritime tradition. The museum's well worth checking out - although I've been in there before so I didn't need to again.

Headed back towards the shops as my friend was thinking of getting her mother a Mother's Day present. As it happened, Lewis's was closing down and so they had a rather good sale on of all sorts of stuff. It was pretty busy in there as a result as people were having a good look at all the wares available and snapping up some good bargains. My friend was certainly managing on that score as she managed to get her Mum's present, and part of a collection that her Mum likes, and at 20% off the recommended price to boot. Excellent stuff, methinks.

Certainly a number of the shops have had a bit of a knock on effect in terms of trade due to the development work, but nonetheless at least this has meant that people are still shopping in the centre - which is a positive. It felt quite vibrant and as we were sat in Williamson Square munching a Boots Meal Deal (well, it had to be done) the water feature there enticed lots of kids to run through it in the hope of not getting wet. Not a chance! Soon it was time to leave though and we headed on the 1452 train back to Piccadilly, and made our own merry way home thereafter.

Tune of the day for me today is going to be an old classic, namely Half Man Half Biscuit's "All I Want For Christmas Is A Dukla Prague Away Kit". Why? Well HMHB are from Liverpool (that makes sense) and the title's fabulous. Not to mention it mentions old pastimes like Subbuteo and Skalextric and how it'd take ages to set up the track only to realise that the power transformer had broken down so it all failed to work. Ah, memories of that Trumpton Riots EP I used to love (and still have on 12" single...)

Sunday 11th March - It's Seanie's Show, La La La La

The last of my four gigs in four days, and this time off with a good friend of mine to Liverpool. Why there, you may ask? Well, Sean Hughes is playing at the Royal Court Theatre, and of course I just had to go - not seen him live for absolutely years. As the show was going to finish pretty late which meant travelling back to Manchester would be a pain, I booked a Travelodge as well so that it would keep the costs down - that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. And due to the time we could check in there, the plan was to watch the rugger, have some food, and then go and watch Sean do his stuff.

Got the train to Liverpool and got there around 2.30pm, and it wasn't that far to walk to the Travelodge and nice and easy to find - checked in, located the room and it was a good size with everything we needed. Plus as an added bonus the pull out sofa bed was actually pretty comfortable, which is what I was going to crash out on. Excellent stuff! Got all that sorted and managed to find a pub close by which was showing the England rugby game. I was hoping that England could turn around their nightmare performance against Ireland and actually do some good - but it'd be a case of wait and see.

The game started and it was pretty close for most of the first half, but we could both see a new determination about England - the changes made were for the right reasons and certainly Toby Flood was filling in rather well for a certain other number 10. They also looked far hungrier and with the experience of Mike Catt as captain, that seemed to work really well. And as the game went on, England went for it. An excellent bit of experienced play from Catt set up Flood for a rather good try. Flood went off injured, but his replacement Russ Geraghty did even better - a blistering run and quick thinking and in went Mike Tindall to score the vital second try, meaning a 26-18 lead with minutes left. It meant that France needed two scores and that a try wouldn't be enough. Thankfully England held on and did well to win - and it gives them a glimmer of hope to win the whole thing next Saturday against Wales.

The TV then was turned over for the second half of Blackburn against Man City in the FA Cup. And in truth, City were appalling. I'm not one to impulsively say "sack the manager" but I am really worried now that we're going in the wrong direction with Stuart Pearce. Our strike force are pathetic, and I think a lot of the problems stem from that and the fact that usually when we go behind we lose, and hardly ever fight back - which is pretty appalling really. And there was no fire, even with Blackburn down to ten men. And for them to score a second goal right at the end due to some lacklustre play was really the final straw for a lot of fans. It was hard to disagree with the 6,000 or so fans at Ewood Park who could clearly be heard singing "You're not fit to wear the shirts!" and although one of them was maybe a bit out of order running on the pitch, I could see the frustration. And for the record, I think if we do go down this season, Pearce will be out. Simple as.

Anyway, munched a very nice mixed grill for tea before heading just up the road to the Royal Court Theatre. It felt weird for me a little because I've been in the standing part downstairs for lots of gigs there such as Placebo and Morrissey, and it's always been a good atmosphere. Now that's been replaced by two levels of comedy club style seating with tables and chairs, which seems to work okay for the venue it's now become, but it just feels a little sad that great bands won't be playing here anymore. Anyway, got to our seats in the circle, at the front row so got an excellent view looking downwards towards Sean.

As for Sean, he was absolutely brilliant. There was so much to take in that he was talking about for the two hours or so he was on stage, but suffice to say that he really chatted about lots of stuff. When he started mentioning Richard and Judy, someone from the audience shouted out "Money con!" to him. Unfortunately it sounded more like "money c***" and that's then what Sean used to name drop for the rest of the show and told us "you'll all be trying not to say that work tomorrow but you know you want to use it at any opportunity possible". He also said that being independent allowed you to have the freedom to do what you wanted, and so he ended up going to his local shop and asking for 1,000 boxes of Tic Tacs and was shocked when the shop started filling carrier bags full of the stuff for him! Hence he was giving away a few boxes to some of the audience at the front.

The interval came and whilst getting my friend and I drinks, I spotted a fellow Seanie fan with the same "endangered species" t-shirt that I bought on the 1994 tour. It turned out she was too young to see him then but bought the shirt off eBay because she liked it so much. Good for her I say, and nice to see it's not just us thirty-somethings who adore the genius that Sean still is. The second half was really good observational stuff, and often just straight off the cuff - certainly it didn't feel like it was rehearsed anyway. At the end he kept mentioning a couple of songs by Kid Creole and the Coconuts, even singing along to Stool Pigeon - knowing full well that we wouldn't get the song out of our heads afterwards, the crafty devil. There was so much he chatted about in his own way and I really enjoyed it - so much so that I'm really tempted to go to the Lowry in September when he plays there.

Tune of the Day isn't going to be Kid Creole though. I think because I was having a bit of a Kristin Hersh/Throwing Muses back catalogue moment, I decided in the end to play Throwing Muses' rather good "Limbo" album. And for one really good reason. I love "Shark" - and hence that's my tune for today. I don't really know why I like it so much, but it just seems really catchy and punchy. Not to mention on the CD it also contains the hidden track "White Bikini Sand" at the end - which of course she happened to play in Manchester!

Saturday 10th March - When You're Head Over Heels At The Academy

At last - a Kristin Hersh gig in my own city. Now don't get me wrong, I've loved my trips out to Nottingham and Sheffield to see her live, and they were both enjoyable, but it's always a bit more special when you go to see someone on your own turf, where you know the venue, you know the sound rig's going to work well and that you also know the best place to stand to avoid either getting your ears blasted by the speakers or people trying to barge past you to the front, which actually I don't mind that much if they're dedicated fans so to speak.

I ventured into the city centre to do a bit of mooching round the record shops. Again, same situation as Sheffield - hardly any of them carrying Learn to Sing Like A Star, and as for the earlier releases - not a cat in hell's chance! In fact it was down to good old Vinyl Exchange - okay so they're second hand in there - which happened to have her Sky Motel and Sunny Border Blue albums, and the CD single of Your Ghost for two pounds - a very worthwhile purchase if you haven't already got it to be honest. I decided to have a bit of a break and just sit in Fopp with a latte and generally listen to the tunes playing - some kind of mash up thing which had bits of Kraftwerk's "Trans Europe Express" and Renegade Soundwave's "Renegade Soundwave" and "Biting My Nails" in there. It also made me realise how much I really miss RSW - they were ahead of their time and never got the credit that they really deserved.

Spent some time at my brother's shop in the craft centre to give him his birthday card (it's his birthday tomorrow, but I'm going to be seeing Sean Hughes) - and generally have a catch up and chat with him. It's so nice to see relations and take the time out for them, and I think my brother and most of the family have noticed how revamped I've been feeling in the last few months. Certainly I wouldn't have envisaged doing so many gigs again or for that matter being able to enjoy them like I have been doing. Went home and got myself some lunch sorted out, and did some stuff round the house in the afternoon and watched the horse racing.

Left the house around half six and picked up my friend who was coming with me to their first ever Kristin gig. As a bit of an ice-breaker, I decided we should head to Big Hands on Oxford Road and meet up with a few fellow fans who were having a pre-gig drink in there. It was good to see some faces from last night, but also some new people too. And generally relax with some good tunes over the jukebox and discuss how you'd always put on long tunes on your local jukebox to get value for your money - or nark people off by leaving and putting the Doors' "The End" on repeat play - hehe.

Got to the Academy 3 - and spotted the usual excellent merchandising thing. The position though was at the top of one set of stairs - fine if you came up that way, but if you take the spiral staircase at the front (which is pretty hairy actually) you'd miss the merch stand. A few people did that so I kindly pointed them in the right direction so that they could go and buy some stuff. Only fair. And again it seemed that the shopping bag was the weapon of choice for the ladies out there.

The McCarricks came on, with the projector screen taking up most of the stage and the two of them just to the left. Kimberlee's cold was getting worse, but that didn't matter - they still did a great set, and I think because they had longer, they were able to put in another song and change the running order a bit - which was nice. I still love "Letter From Nagoya" though - so much so that I'm actually going to make that my tune of the day. For people who hadn't seen them before, it was good to see so many of them watching and enjoying the visuals set to music and getting themselves nicely warmed up for Kristin a bit later on.

And boy, did she not disappoint! Call me biased if you will, but this was probably my favourite night of the three. Everyone sounded really tight and together, and the sound quality was up there in terms of performance, and despite her own cold, Kristin's voice was just mesmerisingly hypnotic. I rather cleverly thought to myself "rather than try and get a set list, I should just add it as a note in my phone and do it that way" - and it worked really well doing that. So basically I'll run through it track by track - as it'll refresh the memories for me and also give you an insight:

Day Glo - getting up is what hurts, and indeed Kristin sounded really powerfully emotional. I'm still not sure of the feedack thing at the end of the track but it certainly makes it sound claustrophobic, that's for sure. Under The Gun certainly sounded punchier as well and controlled at the same time. Nerve Endings sounded so beautifully sad, and the string arrangement here was rather beautiful, made it a bit more reflective than even on the album. Wild Vanilla is just sooo brilliant, it was blisteringly effective, and you couldn't help but want to jump up and down in time with Rob Ahlers' drums (not that I did that, mind) and really go for it. That for me was one of the highlights of the night.

Kristin then changed to her Collings acoustic guitar and so it was for her little tale about Gazebo Tree - she changed it slightly and said "this woman kept speaking to me on the bus and said - I'm 95" and someone from the audience replied "It was my nan!" as a witty riposte. That worked really well. Then, a rather more downbeat version of Your Ghost - a song I still love and cherish, and for those people who maybe didn't know all her stuff, something accessible to enjoy. And it sounded even more sad than normal. Awww. But then, Your Dirty Answer. And wow, that was absolutely fantastic. Kristin sounded incredibly angry when singing it and really putting the passion into that - and the string arrangements provided by the McCarricks make it sound even more edgy, it really does. And then, the rather lovely Winter.

Back to the electrics now, and Listerine really shimmered away with the initial guitar burst and then Kristin singing it like a star with Bernard's bass just giving her the background that was needed. Straight into a rather louder version of Sugar Baby with everyone really going for it - and then to slow things down a bit, a really gorgeous version of The Thin Man - just sounded so nice as the end just built up and built up to its crescendo in the ozone snow. And to end (it went so quickly) a rather nice version of White Bikini Sand. For those of you who don't know, it's the hidden track at the end of Throwing Muses' "Limbo" album. And with the extra strings, Rob doing his little shaker, it sounded so beautifully fragile. And that was it..

Well, okay, it wasn't. We got encores. Two of them. First off Kristin admitted she'd forgotten to write the single into the set list (that's using pink pen for you - there was a great inter-song banter about how using pink pen with pink lights makes you vanish and that the band would have to fight for space. Bernard said to Kristin: "that's not fair, Martin's got a cello to fight with!!" which made us all giggle. Rob did the merchandise announcement in his best radio style voice before launching into In Shock - which was really good. And then a beautiful version of The Letter which just sounded sooo sad. I loved that and it wasn't long before the band came back on stage for a second encore - and wow! Me and My Charms never sounded so darned good. It just really got the hairs tingling on the back of the neck feeling - that's how good it was. And for me, getting that and The Letter in the set was just a big bonus, although I did miss not hearing Vertigo - it was worth going to Nottingham just for that.

But that's me picking. When I have to make up my mind for the end of year poll as to favourite gig, any of the Kristin ones are going to be up there. Manchester's just about winning at the moment, but it's just been so nice to get out there, enjoy myself musically (my friend told me that Kristin was fantastic - that says a lot) and really make the most of it. And the weekend's not over yet, Sean Hughes here I come. And I can sit down this time around, woohoo!

Friday 9th March - The Letter At The Leadmill

Another day, another gig. But not just anyone, you know. It's Kristin Hersh at the Leadmill in Sheffield for me and suffice to say I was excited. I think in a nice way I was actually more excited than I was at Nottingham, primarily because I had a great time there and I have an idea of what's going to be played, but also because I can now just enjoy it more without having to cram everything in to one night. There's some odd logic in that somewhere which I'm sure will work itself out at some point.

Anyway, as I had the day off work, I decided to head into Sheffield early, do a bit of shopping, and then go up to Meadowhall to meet my friend there who was coming with me tonight. Originally, I was going to go straight to Meadowhall on the train from Manchester, but I thought I might as well have a chilled out afternoon. So, with the new t-shirt on over a black poloneck to keep the cold out (it was quite nippy when I left) it was in to Piccadilly and on the train over to Sheffield. It was so nice to be able to sit and watch the world go by armed with a decaf latte from Costa to keep me accompanied on the journey down.

Got to the train station and took a quick walk to the Leadmill. Partially the reason was that I wanted to see how far it'd be from there to work out if the 10.11pm train to Manchester was doable or not. And that was. I then walked into the centre of Sheffield up that new walkway that they've done from the train station. This took me right past the world famous Crucible Theatre (snooker fans will know why) and I thought "I'll enquire if there's any tickets for Steve Davis' first round game left" - and there wasn't. Wouldn't have minded going to that, but there you go.

Spent most of the afternoon mooching around the record shops, usually being appalled that hardly any of them even carried the new Kristin Hersh album, and as for her old stuff? Not a cat in hell's chance to be perfectly honest. That sort of thing really disappoints me, how is anyone going to discover her if they can't even find the stuff available for purchase? Not all of us want to download stuff, we'd much rather buy it and listen to it. Anyway, got myself sorted with a lemon chicken sandwich from Spar reduced to a mere £1, went in Fopp for a while and resisted temptation, and then headed back towards the Leadmill so I could have a coffee at the Showroom, where some fellow fans would be later on.

A weird occurrence happened in there - some guy thought I was someone he was meeting and interviewing, and it was only once he started talking he realised he'd got the wrong person. Very odd. Mind you, in a way it was also an omen for the fact that time was catching up and I might have a bit of time to spend with a few fans - and they duly turned up. Had a good chat with three of them before I realised I needed to get the train up to Meadowhall. Good to speak to them though nonetheless - real diehards that they are. Turns out they'd actually spotted my University tour t-shirt at Nottingham as they were at the same gig!

Met with my friend and she managed to get a car parking space right outside the Leadmill - excellent work there! We headed for a pre-gig drink and just chilled out and caught up, which was really good to do so actually. Always nice to hear how things go, and she was enthusing about Justin Rutledge who she saw earlier in the week - he's got a new album out now. Might have to try and check that out. Before we knew it, time to head over to the Leadmill and get ready for the evening's live entertainment.

Grabbed a drink in there, and checked out the merchandise (Graham and Ali who've been running it are doing a wonderful job - just thought I'd give it a mention) and perused over which colour of the "In Shock" t-shirt to get later on. The McCarricks came on, and although I'd seen them last week, they were still very good. The projector screen was to the right of the stage, but they had two other screens high above the left and right of the venue so you could look at them there too, which helped quite a bit. I spotted Bernard Georges (bassist) and Rob Ahlers (drummer) in the background standing with all of us enjoying the McCarricks, which was really lovely to see them do that.

Before we all knew it, it was time for Kristin to take the stage. This time in black pinstripe trousers and a white t-shirt, although she commented on Bernard's dress sense to which he explained that it was laundry day. Kristin responded "well, I've got guacamole on this outfit!" which made everyone giggle. The set list was different from Nottingham in terms of running order and tracks selected, so the likes of Gazebo Tree and Your Ghost made it into the set. Because the set list had been written in pink, and one of the Leadmill lights were pink, didn't make it all that easy to read and so she false started with Your Ghost (which was the next track on the list) before having a giggle with the band and then going straight into a blistering version of Winter, which did the business.

For the not-so-diehard fan like my friend, it was nice to hear some of the old stuff. Your Dirty Answer sounded even better than it did at Nottingham, and it really sounded emotionally powerful. Listerine really powered down at full blast, but a controlled full blast, which was thoroughly enjoyable. But what was a really lovely thing was during the first of the two songs of the encore, as Kristin explained a bit behind the song, before going into a really lovely rendition of "The Letter" full of emotion, strings and guitar. It worked wonderfully well, and for that reason said tune's just got to be my tune of the day. Finishing off with a rather sombre version of Ice, it was all over before we realised it. Fifteen songs in all, just under an hour or so and it just went so quickly.

We both got some merchandise (I got that In Shock t-shirt, she got the shopper bag that's been so popular with the ladies). Said my goodbyes to my friend and walked over to Sheffield station. A fellow fan was taking the same train back, so we bumped into each other at the station and got talking about all sorts of music on the way back. At last, someone agrees with me that Roxy Music's first two albums were groundbreaking at that they lost it once Brian Eno left. Honestly, forget the Brian Ferry insipid stuff that came out later on, the self-titled release and For Your Pleasure were just arthouse rock done with all sorts of electronic weirdness and stuff. I even own both the original releases on Island pink rim palm tree label, and the reissue CD of the first album (which got Virginia Plain tacked on to it.. bah!). Before we knew it, Piccadilly station greeted us and it was time to wend our ways home.

I really enjoyed it at the Leadmill though. Last time I was there I saw Rollins Band kick ass (they did no Manchester gig on that tour, it was the nearest one I could go to) and this time I saw Kristin pretty much kick ass, in a more refined way. I like that venue, and like it even more now I've seen Kristin there doing what she does best - playing wonderful tunes and captivating the audience. Roll on home turf at Manchester Academy 3 tomorrow night!

Thursday 8th March - It's A Low Low Low Low Happening

Tonight was the first of my four nights of gigs back to back. And the way to start was by seeing Howling Bells at the Academy 3. Their album was my favourite album of last year for so many reasons - it has wonderful guitars, pure emotion in Juanita's voice and it sounds like it was put together with so much love and care that you just have to admire its sweetness and light and rockiness, all at the same time. What was a nice surprise was that when I got to the University building that houses the Academy 2 and 3, a nice big sign to tell you that the gig was a sell-out. And more good news when I was given the flier with future ticket dates on it - Kristin Hersh's gig has also sold out too. And that makes me really pleased - for her - because it means a good atmosphere, hopefully.

Anyway, got up to the top of the building and into the Hop and Grape (much prefer that name than Academy 3 to be perfectly honest) and just in time for the first support band of the night, who were The Loungs. They seemed fairly tight in their set, had a guy playing a massive trombone but that added to their musical quality and blended in well, and three of them had those naff caps with bits of blue plastic in the rim and top part that were all the rage on the beach a few years ago. Eclectic, but I quite liked them actually. Some good tunes and also didn't muck around too much and got on with it. Liked the fact that they'd generally just seem to enjoy themselves at the same time. I'll have to see if I can track down their single!

Indigo Moss were on next. They were okay, but nothing that special. Part of my reasoning for this is that they had a lead singer who didn't basically cut it in the singing stakes. The bass player just looked completely cool in comparison and was just doing her stuff without any problems. They're all a family, and all seem to gel together well. Get the vocals sorted and you'd find a that I'd probably like them a bit more. The best of luck to them anyway, though.

But as the atmosphere got more tense waiting for Howling Bells to come on, the Hop and Grape was full and ready to go, and we weren't to be disappointed. Despite the fact that there was no encore, the band played a really solid and rocking set, and it's great credit to the engineers there that the sound came across loud, but clear, and not headache-inducing. And to the band, too, who really were going for it on several counts - not least as they really filled the stage with their sound.

So, The Bell Hit to start, and the guitars at the start resonated around the place and once Juanita Stein kicked in her lead vocal, it just all made it wonderful. For around the next hour it was a case of having most of the songs off their debut album (no complaints from me mind you), and Juanita told us of someone at Bristol who gave her a post-it note to ask her to read his proposal to her girlfriend and to do that just before Setting Sun was played. It was a nice little tale, and set the scene as she said "now this is our divorce track" before going into Blessed Night.

Across The Avenue was beautifully dreamy and wonderful, and Velvet Girl sounded loud but controlled, with plenty of feedback from Joel the guitarist along the way as yet. I think during The Night Is Young Juanita's voice sounded so bittersweet and emotional that you could feel it from a mile off - just the right amount without being too sickly sweet or overly done. Broken Bones was also one that sounded good for that reason - and even better than it does on record.

The last track of the set was the best - and it happens to be their new single. It sounded so absolutely brilliant live that I have no other option than to give it my tune of the day - "Low Happening" is my tune of choice. It just helter-skeltered along, with Juanita sounding absolutely lush vocally, and just the right amount of feedback from the guitars to make it all so wonderfully succinct and to the point. I knew there was going to be no encore as the guy at the mixing desk was cueing up the CD to play straight after that track, and once the lights came on - time to go home. But I still feel so happy - I've wanted to see them live, and didn't fancy going to MEN Arena in December when they were supporting Placebo (reason: I hate arena gigs, but if that had been at the Apollo I'd have been there) - and to see them in a relatively small venue was just the thing for me. Roll on the rest of the weekend!

Wednesday 7th March - Entering The Dragons' Den

I was manically running round the house trying to get some of the housework done after making my tea - and it was mainly because I knew that I was going to need everything clean and also lots of clothes up and ready for the forthcoming weekend's entertainment. That way I can really chill out and enjoy myself over the weekend, but also I don't have to rush around. Anyway, I was still ironing the remainder of my clothes when on came Dragons' Den on BBC2 - a show that I regularly watch. I really like the business ideas and inventions on there, as well as the fact that some of the people on there have a great idea but not necessarily the brains or the accounting.

The one that really surprised me was the bloke near the end recreating old smells as perfume and selling them on. Considering that there are people even now who miss the old perfumes they used to love as a child (it's true) then you could see the direction that he wanted things to go in. Anyway, this person called himself the Indiana Jones of perfume. Theo Paphitis at the end said "I just hope this doesn't end in the Temple of Doom" and just the deadpan way that he said it made me giggle. And to be fair, when they see a good idea, they are willing to back it up financially.

Talking of which, one of the earlier people in the series, Levi Roots, has finally seen his dream come true as his Reggae Reggae Sauce will shortly be found down your local Sainsbury's. Six hundred branches will initially be stocking the sauce as well as his song that he sings for the sauce (you may have even heard it on an earlier showing of Dragons' Den) and that just has to be applauded really. I'm sure the Dragons' help has been of use, but you can tell that Levi's enthusiasm is what's actually got the thing to the shelves too. Have a read more here if you like, and maybe try some if you get the chance?

Anyway, that done, I switched over for the last 20 minutes of so of the Champions League game. It was good timing as Arsenal were bringing Thierry Henry on, and they'd already got a goal against PSV Eindhoven. However, that just wasn't going to be enough for them. They needed to get another goal and even then the away goal, if PSV scored one, would prove crucial. And they did score one. The same guy who'd scored an own goal to give Arsenal the lead. And that pretty much was it - Arsenal out. Man U were already up 2-0 on aggregate against Lille so they were through. Thankfully Sky then showed the extra time between AC Milan and Celtic. Milan scored early in extra time with a brilliant draw from Kaka, and that was that, Celtic tried really hard but nothing happened for them. Still, pushing AC Milan to extra time after two legs is not something to be ashamed of whatsoever and they did really well to go that far. The draw's on Friday, and there's no country protection. I can see a Man U versus Liverpool quarter final for some reason...

Tune of the day is something that I was humming on the way home from work once I'd got off the bus, a song that for some reason wasn't leaving my head whatsoever. So much so that I had to grab the nearest CD with it on and go and play it - namely Front Line Assembly's "Millennium". I just had it in my head during the afternoon as I felt in the mood for some loud guitar-based Industrial stuff, and there it was. I resisted the temptation to "sing" along with the vocals though - didn't work somehow!!

Tuesday 6th March - I See You In A Crowded Room..

Another day, another task at the office, although this one was a bit more thought than normal. I basically had to do a bit of user conversion for "special" email addresses. Previously some of them used to have a legacy user ID - but those are being phased out. However, you can do a neato thing in GroupWise where you can make them external entities (it's how we do them now) so I spent a bit of time getting those users converted and then making sure that the appropriate users were given the right access as well. One of those tedious jobs that I thought "get it done and out of the way to save hassle later".

Mind you, I've been keeping an eye on the weekend to be honest. I'm off from Thursday afternoon and not back in until Tuesday and I've got those four gigs in four days. And you know what? I'm so looking forward to seeing Kristin Hersh again (and then again). It's the first time ever that I've seen someone more than once on the same tour, and I guess part of my mode of thinking is that life is too short and that I should just get on with things and do what I need to do. Plus depending on what her next project is (maybe a 50 Foot Wave album would be nice) it may be some time before she tours again - financially and all that sort of thing.

Anyway, as I've been trying to listen to other stuff this week in order to get me prepared for the weekend, I thought a blast of my favourite album of 2006 (Howling Bells' self-titles release) was in order. And it still sounds as good as it did the first time I heard it. And for that reason tune of the day is going to be "Across The Avenue". I love the chorus and how it swirls around in my consciousness, and you have to adore Juanita's vocals too.

Monday 5th March - Where Did You Get Those Eyes?

I thought about a few things at work today whilst working on updating a few things in relation to our databases - some for hardware, and keeping up an Excel sheet which shows us exactly how much printing we've done on each printer during the year along with a breakdown of how much we've spent on consumables. Not least handy because this morning came a rather large order with all the stuff we need to get us past the Easter deadlines. And because we organised the cupboards well with all our storage, it was easy to get things done and fit all the big cartridges in the right place. We're good, you know.

Anyway, got home from work and decided to do a bit of research into the celloist Martin McCarrick who's been playing with Kristin Hersh on her tour (as you probably noted). Of course the official website for him and Kimberlee details their work and releases as the two of them - and there's even a few free sound samples. Check out "Bend" - it's rather good and it was one that captivated me on Saturday evening. But of course Martin's been in plenty of other stuff - in Therapy? for years, and a fair few albums with Siouxsie and the Banshees. I knew he'd done a couple of string arrangements for Skunk Anansie too, so that was well worth remembering. It makes a lot of sense when I listened to Stoosh again.

Mind you, in an intrerview I found online, Martin recalls fondly making the Peekaboo video with Siouxsie and the Banshees - and with good reason! It's a rather classic video and song, and I think it won the Chart Show award for best video here in the UK for the year it got released. Just watched it again now and it just is fabulous. I can imagine it being a right blast making that video because of the weirdness, and indeed how the song was actually recorded. The semi-goth in me really loves that song anyway because of that.

I learnt late last night though that one of the really great computer game musicians, Richard Joseph, died of cancer. It's just not on. All the good guys get taken away from us early, and by the sound of what happened it was all very sudden as the chemo rejected, then coma and then death. No one deserves that. Not least the likes of him. His pioneering game soundtracks were an absolute joy, from the early stuff like Cauldron II, Barbarian I and II, and International 3D Tennis on the Commodore 64, to the brilliant Cannon Fodder tune on the Amiga ("War! Never been so much fun..!"). In fact check out the rare and not often seen music video to that game - absolutely classic. Not to mention numerous PC games as well over the last few years, and working for the likes of Bullfrog.

I can't really say enough as a tribute to be honest, but it has to be said that he went to some of the retro gaming events I've been at, and always had time for everyone and was enthusiastic about the whole thing - which was really really good. And of course he was a member of prog rock band CMU - whose Space Cabaret album is quite good and stands the test of time well. And so it's from that album that I've selected my tune of the day - namely the rather epic second track on there, "Archway 272" which just has a great hook and great ending. And it somehow seems a fitting tribute. Rest in peace Richard, we'll miss you.

Sunday 4th March - Through The Wind And The Rain

Woke up this morning in my hotel room in a daze. Had the events of yesterday really happened? Then I saw the carrier bag with my t-shirt inside, and it most definitely had. It just felt nice waking up having had such a wonderful time yesterday and although I knew I was going home this morning, it was just so good that I was able to have a wonderful weekend. I'm just so pleased with myself that I just thought on Friday night "you know what? I'm going and I don't care because I want to see someone I adore musically". And it meant a trip out too, always good to do.

I checked out of the Strathdon early so I could walk down to a McDonalds on the way to the bus station and grab some breakfast and a coffee. It was a bit odd too, because three people who looked like they'd been to some all night venue were there propping up some of the furniture almost falling asleep before kindly being asked to move on by some of the staff. The sights you see at 8.15am on a Sunday morning.. It felt rather empty and soulless walking through the city centre at that time, but at the same time peaceful, quiet and the church right in the centre of town looked that bit more medaeval and historic. Got to the bus station well in time for the 9.10am departure for the Transpeak bus.

This time around I'd grabbed a can of Coke Zero from one of the machines in the bus station, which gave me 80p change from a £1 coin so I'd only been charged 20p for it. Result! I was a bit dry throrated going down yesterday so I thought I could drink it around halfway back in Bakewell and keep myself refreshed. I also got myself a table seat on the bus, so I kicked back, chilled out with the MP3 player playing Morrissey and some moe Kristin Hersh, and gazed out of the window into the landscape. And it looked really nice on a clear still morning as it headed through Matlock.

The weather was fine until around half way in Bakewell, when all of a sudden the rain just came down in buckets full. It looked pretty windy too and as the bus headed towards Buxton you could see people with umbrellas being turned inside out - and at that point the battery in my MP3 player ran out, half way through "Listerine". Aaargh. Ah well, at least it'd got that far and all the way to Nottingham in the other direction, so it did a good job really. The rain and wind was getting worse though and after going through a bit of a jam in Hazel Grove, I soon got off the bus and towards home - and on schedule! It was very very windy when I got off, and I was glad to get back into the comfort of home, put the fire on and chill out with some tunes.

Tune of the day is therefore something I've played in the last hour, namely Lalo Schifrin's "Theme From Enter The Dragon". It's a fantastic film theme (I have the soundtrack CD) and it just sets the mood wonderfully well for the film. Also, the sampled Bruce Lee screams in the title theme is probably one of the very first examples of sampling used on record (bear in mind this was 1973!) and so it's kind of pioneering for that too. And the film's not that bad either...

Saturday 3rd March - In Shock At The Rescue Rooms

So it was a nice early start for me this morning as I got myself up and ready, overnight bag packed including my long sleeved Throwing Muses University tour t-shirt for tonight, and a short walk to the bus stop to get the Transpeak bus to Nottingham. I'd scoped out where I'm staying is in relation to the gig and the bus station, so that all done and dusted it was on the first bus available and with my £12 return fare paid, time to sit back, whack on my stick MP3 player (which I'd filled with Kristin Hersh, Morrissey and Pixies beforehand) and chill out and relax on the way there. I take a call at Nottingham from the very nice person selling me the ticket tonight and we arrange to meet outside the gig at 7 and get it all sorted. As it was the bus had stopped in Buxton so I was able to hear the call and not have the reception cut out.

The Transpeak route really is a ride of wonder and beauty for the most part, winding its way through the Peak District along the main A6 road for most of it, as you leave Buxton and head out through two small villages on the way to Bakewell, from there it's down past Haddon Hall and then to Matlock and Matlock Bath, which still looks picturesque, from there to Belper and Derby along the Derwent Valley, with some stunning views and gorgeous landscape. I had to giggle at the pub name in Ambergate - which I'd been told to look out for - The Hurt Arms. Isn't that just fantastic! Once the bus arrived in Derby it was pretty much along the main road from there to Nottingham, now subtitled Brian Clough Way in tribute to the great man himself. Eventually arrived in Nottingham just a few minutes behind schedule, but a really lovely journey. Lots of Kristin along the way on the player to get me all ready for tonight.

Walked from the bus station to the Strathdon Hotel, which was at the North West edge of the city centre, and pretty easy to find. I'd paid in advance with lastminute, and that proved a sensible idea. A lot of their rooms if you book through them directly are more expensive, so I saved money hands down. Checked in and checked out my room, and it was more than fine. Big single bed (almost a double but not quite), TV, hair dryer, ironing board and mini iron (bonus!), and ensuite with bath and shower with mixer taps. The room wasn't massive, but it was nice enough and I'd definitely stay there again if I couldn't get a £15 or £26 Travelodge room in advance. So I dropped off my stuff and walked into the centre of Nottingham.

First things first, find the venue so I could get there easier later. I managed to find its sister venue Rock City, and knew that the Rescue Rooms was close to that, and soon located it. It looked quite small and intimate with a separate bar open normally and a right hand side partition that was the place for the gig to happen. There only looked to be one entrance to that side too so meeting later wasn't going to prove a hassle. That done, I had a walk around some of the shops, including the Connaught House clearance place. I used to get quite a few of my Rosina Wachtmeister figures from there, and I had a peekie in to see what stuff they had - but no Rosina I could see. Boo. But there was some Classic Pooh figures which I've taken note of, as one of my family has a few of those and I could add to the collection getting one there fairly cheaply - that's the plan anyway. Went into Fopp as well and was tempted to buy a couple of CDs, but I was thinking ahead in that if I wanted any merchandise tonight I'd better be good and curtail the CD purchases - just in case. Mind you, I've got an idea of what album I want to get next as I noticed the new Jesse Malin one had come out. Made myself a mental note to check that out.

After a bit of mooching around, it was back to the Hotel just in time for the athletics on BBC1 with Britain doing well in the European Indoors, and then to Final Score. Sadly City lost 1-0 at home to Wigan - a black spot on the day, but in truth I thought "it'll be minor" - cos I somehow thought that it would be fabulous tonight. Got myself changed, showered and ready to get out there, and as I was keeping the budget down, it was simply a meatball marinara in Subway for me - no frills, but it'd keep me going and keep the costs to a reasonable amount. Besides which the other eateries all had queues outside which would have been pretty offputting if I was going to go in there anyway.

It got up to five to seven and I spotted the forum user "shelleyjane" who was selling me the ticket. Thankfully she'd told me what she'd look like, and I recognised her straight off. Did the transaction and bought the ticket (at face value of course, fellow fans are good like that) and headed into the left hand side of the Rescue Rooms to grab a drink and have a chat about things in general and Kristin. Her husband had very kindly dropped her off and was picking her up later (you know how I say the little things matter in relationships? There's a prime example) and she was just as excited as me about seeing Kristin - she'd even been down to the London gig in January but was a bit gutted to have missed the McCarricks doing the support. Well we weren't going to do that this time, and soon got in the queue to get in the right hand bit where the action was happening.

Got to the bar and got ourselves a drink, and got pretty near the front for the McCarricks coming on. And it was rather wonderful. A projector screen showed various film clips and footage with some background instrumentation playing, which the two of them then played their cello and violin to, making a wonderfully cinematic and dramatic soundscape. It reminded me of Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet's score from Requiem For A Dream, and also of Philip Glass' epic Koyaanisqatsi score, not least because of the orchestration to the images on screen which was absolutely key. They were very impressive, and the two of us were also intrigued by the footage of the couple bending their bodies in all sorts of impossible positions as the McCarricks played, and thinking "how the hell can they possibly do that?"

We'd already scanned the merchandise and she'd got some badges, but I thought I'd get a t-shirt later and she was tempted by possibly the best item for women I've seen at any gig - a tote type shopping bag in cream with the Kristin Hersh logo on the front. Imagine doing your shopping at Sainsburys/Tesco/Asda/wherever with one of those? That would just be the epitomy of coolness especially if someone happened to recognise the logo as you were doing the rounds of the aisles. Thankfully the McCarricks had told us Kristin would be on soon - around 8.20pm, as the curfew for the gig was at 10pm and obviously we all wanted a good set.

And did we get a good set? We got a great performance. Kristin was flanked on the left by the other members of 50 Foot Wave, namely her fellow Throwing Muse Bernard Georges on bass and Rob Ahlers on drums, with Martin and Kimberlee McCarrick doing their string thing on the right. This was the band for London back in January so hopes were high. Straight away Kristin kicked in to Day-Glo, and it just got better from there. Plenty of stuff for the new album for us to enjoy, so the likes of Wild Vanilla, The Thin Man, In Shock, and both our favourite from the new album Vertigo.

Half way through Kristin told us a tale of how once she was touring with Vic Chestnutt and Vic had got one of those Robin Hood hats. "It was funny for five minutes" she said, but then "he kept wearing it all the time, and it wasn't funny. But now it is. So Vic wins!". I love her anecdotes, they're so wonderful. And the set list although similar to January was still solid, we got a blistering Your Dirty Answer, a Listerine packed with barb, bite and anger, and to close White Bikini Sand, which was just beautifully played. It was over before we knew it, and the two of us were just really happy because it'd been a great gig - and she'd managed to get a good vantage point at the side which meant an angle of visibility and not stuck behind some tall blokey.

And then, the encore. And.. whoa! Some encore. First off, Gazebo Tree. Not only did Kristin tell the tale about it, which is still funny, but her and the McCarricks gave it such gentle love and affection it was really moving. And then Bernard and Rob rejoined them for Your Ghost. A song which is special to me. A song I love. And it was beautiful. And there was more - a rather blistering workout of Me and My Charms - again I love that cos it's off Hips and Makers. As I said to a fan stood near to me, that album has personal reasons why it's my favourite of hers - and certainly that to close the evening's work was rather brilliant.

So then with Billy getting the gig organisers to start playing normal tunes and cut out the lights, it was off for the two of us to the merchandising. Thankfully she got the second to last tote shopping bag, and I got the "learn to sing like a star" t-shirt. We both liked that one cos the front just has a star with "Sing" superimposed on to it, and it's only on the back you see the KH logo and you can work out what the t-shirt actually is for. And it's in black - my favourite colour. My cunning plan will be to wear that for Sheffield, then get the "In Shock" t-shirt with the lyrics on the back and wear that on the Saturday. And all the merchandise came in these cool carrier bags with the KH logo on. Credit to the two very very nice people who are looking after the merchandise sales for her UK section of the tour - they're doing a fantastic job.

I'd just like to thank the Throwing Music forum user "shelleyjane" for very kindly selling me on her spare ticket and being such lovely company and good conversation for the evening. Like she said, it was a change to chat to a fellow fan, and certainly that was a rather nice thing. Plus as we were waiting for her husband to pick her up, Kristin and Billy walk past us, she spots them and says "you were awesome" and Kristin replies back to her "Thank you" in her lovely Southern accent. I think that made both of our days just that little bit happier and I must admit it was ace seeing Kristin walk along looking so cool in her leather jacket. Needless to say, it was a wonderful time had by all and I'm so glad I decided to go!

No surprise then what tune of the day might be - yes, it's a Kristin Hersh number, and it will be "Vertigo". It just sounded so wonderful, even more than it does on the album, it sounded more emotive, the strings were fabulous and it just had that mixture of beauty tinged with a little bit of sadness thrown in. I'm getting goosebumps back in my hotel room imagining I was back there listening to it now :)

Friday 2nd March - Learn To Last-Minute It Like A Star

Well, today was a nice day at work, because we all were fairly relaxed and just got on with things in general, but we decided to head out at lunchtime and escape the hustle and bustle of students and staff asking us all sorts of questions. So we thought "let's go somewhere" and ended up with a nice walk to Ra!n Bar. Not that I was complaining about that - as of course it means real ale at not rip off prices, so I thought for once I'd have a lunchtime drink and have a pint of mild. And it went down very well, I can tell you. It was just the thing to relax with and we had plentiful conversation as well. Got back to the office and got really productive, as our new whizzo graphics card had arrived so I could put it into the Windows Vista test rig and see the Aero interface in all its Flip3D glory. Graphically that's very nice, be interesting to see how it performs with some 3D applications that use rendering though. I might try VIZ 4 on it at some point.

Anyway, things changed a fair bit for the day when I got home. All week I'd been wondering whether just to say "sod it" and go to see Kristin Hersh in Nottingham at the Rescue Rooms. I love the city, it's a great place, plus despite the trains not running so well because of engineering works, of course I can get the Transpeak bus thingy instead to Nottingham - plus it's cheaper, and there's a stop right near my house. All of a sudden I kept thinking "this is possible" and even more so when a fellow KH fan posted on the ThrowingMusic messageboard that she had a spare available because her friend decided to go to some dance night instead of Kristin (dear me, poor taste alert there!). So I posted back, exchanged a couple of emails and so we'll hook up tomorrow, I'll buy the ticket and then we go see Kristin. And of course being a fellow fan, face value's being charged.

I then thought "better get myself somewhere to stay though" so I had a quick peekie at Lastminute.com and Expedia, and in the end there was a decent enough hotel on Lastminute that wasn't that expensive. And indeed booking through them saved a fair bundle on the normal room rate charged by the hotel's official web site (well, I had to check didn't I?) so that was booked rather quickly so that at least if nothing else I'd be staying over and having a good time regardless. Now the plan will be to get the first Transpeak bus to Nottingham tomorrow so I get in around 12.30pm, get to the hotel and check in around 2ish (I think you can't check in till then), I can drop me stuff off, wander round Nottingham and do a bit of shopping if need be, and then get ready to see Kristin later on. The gig starts early and finishes early, cos I think the venue has a club night on straight after, but that actually works well - I might be dead tired with the travelling and so it could really be something that helps me out. I can't wait now.

With all that in mind, there could only be one choice for tune of the day - Kristin Hersh of course! And so I nominated the rather beautiful "Gazebo Tree". I have so many fond memories of seeing her play this live at London Kings Cross Scala (see my November 2005 diary for more on that) and listening to her perform it on the album sounds just as nice.

See you in Nottingham tomorrow!

Thursday 1st March - What Are Those Ides To Beware Of?

There used to be a phrase that was often written in the Adrian Mole diaries in that in March, you always had to "beware the Ides of March". Seems that realistically the only thing to beware at the moment though is the wind. My, it's a bit fresh today. I was almost blown to bits both on the way in this morning and making my return journey home tonight. When I got off the bus as well, the wind kind of howled a bit and brought with it a nice little downpour of rain that I just managed to avoid getting drenched in. Thankfully.

Anyway, I spent some time last night flicking between the latest episode of Dragons' Den and the Blackburn-Arsenal cup replay (of interest to me of course as the winners play my beloved Man City in the sixth round a week on Sunday). After seeing the first twenty minutes of footy and deciding it was pretty dire, I watched the rest of Dragons' Den. I have to say that the invention that did win some of the money (after very careful persuation to Deborah Meaden from Richard Farleigh) was a bit odd though: a sterlising machine that used nano-silver technology to get rid of horrible smells. I certainly wouldn't have liked to have been smelling those shoes and the cheese after it was in that machine. But there you go, what do I know?

That done, back to the second half. And it was dullsville. The only moment of excitement came when Benni McCarthy scored with four minutes left thus ensuring no extra time or penalties and doing pretty much everyone a huge favour. It was a very well taken goal and it just showed what you can do with a bit of class. Of course Arsenal were whinging as per usual that decisions hadn't gone their way, but to me it's just sour grapes. At the end of the day they didn't try hard enough and weren't good enough on the night to get through, whereas whilst Blackburn weren't much better they at least had the killer touch at the end. So, what now? Well, I have to say that I think City will definitely take a full capacity crowd they're allowed to Ewood Park, plus because Blackburn are reducing the ticket prices for the fixture, it'll be a lot cheaper too. I'll be watching it somewhere in Liverpool before I see Sean Hughes that evening!

Been playing a bit with the customisation wizard for Adobe Reader 8 today. Basically what this allows you to do is a streamlined installation across PCs with no prompting or user input, and functions like automatic updating and that stupid Beyond Adobe Reader thing completely disabled. In practice it actually works really well and allows you do get done what you need to do. I played with it for a while and got the settings nailed down pretty much as I wanted them - and then tested it on a test rig I'd quickly set up. It worked really well and, as a nice bonus, it even uninstalled the old version of Reader at the same time, so that has to be worth something too I guess. I'll have to do some more testing to be sure, but I think that you can do a completely silent install with no user prompting - which will be just what we want.

Anyway, as I've had my head down in a PC for most of the day, I got home and immediately decided to whack on some tunes and chill out - seemed the perfect thing to do to be honest. So with that in mind I wanted something blissfully peaceful that would just take me away from the day and there's sometimes nothing better than my tune of the day: Air's rather lovely "Kelly Watch The Stars". It's so simple but yet it works wonderfully well. As does the whole of Moon Safari, in fact.