Dear Diary... March 2008

Monday 31st March - End of the Month Blues

Woke up this morning, etc etc, as all the classic blues songs start, and of course knew that I had to be up and about for work today. Although I knew that the students wouldn't be back for another week, nonetheless I wanted to be sure that I could catch up on any back log of emails and work that I might have had, and go from there. And there were a lot of emails too, although less than I expected, probably because my vacation rule was kicking in very nicely and so had informed people that I was away and to contact someone else instead. Hurrah for delegation - that's what you need.

Got everything done pretty much fine, even had to take an old CRT monitor over to replace one that had been a bit poorly, and got to see people around after the break as well, so it was rather nice to be able to do all that. In a way it's getting myself back in the swing of things and getting the brain back into work mode. I was able to solve some problems and also plan ahead for the forthcoming term as well, doing some administrative work and sorting out when I need to be available in June to ensure certain databases are running nice and smoothly.

All in all, a gentle introduction back, and I was quite glad of that. It's been a busy sort of month really but one where I've really got out and travelled a bit, been to plenty of gigs, seen plenty of places and even met plenty of people along the way. I'm also thinking that there's a few defining moments in there which shall remain with me for the rest of the year, and possibly beyond too. I hope so at any rate, and if it also means that I'm becoming even more of a different person but still me, then that's good.

I got home from work and after a quick walk round one of the parks close to me, always good to do, something jumped out at me to hum along to. Not "Wuthering Heights" which was still in my head this morning, but during the afternoon one of my colleagues put on their iTunes library on their Mac and what came out? Only Led Zeppelin's classic "Black Dog" from their fourth album, a proper tune and no mistake. Always liked the fact that it really had a rocking out part during the verse and then almost silence as Robert Plant belts out the next line. Oh, and a great guitar hook of course, essential that. Tune of the day easily.

Sunday 30th March - Down in Lyme Park

Well, had a rather lovely day out today, and a perfect end to the two weeks off to be honest. I had thought about heading to Lyme Park at some point, and as it happened, there were some people from the Manchester Flickr group going too, so I thought to myself "well, combine the two, go along and have some fun along the way". Which to be honest is pretty much exactly what I did do. So with clocks gone forward and I reminded myself to make sure I was up in good time, I headed off to the train station to get the train up to Disley.

From there, it was a fair walk up the steps on the other side of the platform, along the road which takes you past some lovely houses, and then on to the park kiosk itself where those with cars pay. It was then a walk along the main path up to the entrance, with a couple of people whom I'd met on the train and were also here for the same reason, and then someone I recognised also gave us a lift the rest of the way to the meeting point, so all in all that worked out rather well. It also meant too that we were all in time for the 12 noon arranged meeting time, which is one thing I bear in mind - I always like to be on time, nothing worse than being late is there?

Anyway, first stop was to walk from the refreshment kiosk by the house and up Cage hill along to the Cage itself. With the trees branchless, it looked rather serenely beautiful for some reason and there were quite a few people flying a kite. Part of the reason for that was that there'd been a kite flying day for the kids the day before and so I think a couple of them wanted to have another go, which is all very well and all very sweet too. At the Cage itself, the views of Manchester, Stockport and the Peak District all around looked absolutely stunning, especially on a clear sunny day that we were having. Admittedly, the ground was a bit muddy underfoot in places, but mainly because the water had sunk quite deeply down and it was hard to really dry it off.

After a bit of a group shot at the Cage, we headed back down along another path and towards the house and gardens. I was tempted to go round the house, but plumped for the gardens only because I thought that going round a house with muddy shoes wouldn't really be a good idea - only seems sensible somehow. We walked around the pond, and the reflection of Lyme Hall in the water of the pond looked and was simply stunning. My digital camera admittedly paled into some insignifance with some people's digital SLR beasties, but that wasn't going to stop me anyway - the main thing is to capture an image you're happy with. And I felt I did. Indeed, walking around I spotted a tree where people had carved their names to show their love, and one of them from 1961 or so was still there! Kind of sweet, that.

Headed for lunch later at the Timber Yard café where the soup was absolutely gorgeous and the lemon drizzle cake was just soo moreish, to be honest I was half tempted to have another slice or two of it and take it home with me for later on, but wanted not to be overly greedy. But what I did have would keep me going for the rest of the day, which was the plan of things. Ended up walking along the lake by the Timber Yard then alongside the path at the back, and there are some lovely views up there as well looking back over the lake etc. Everyone also got trigger happy snapping each other (had much fun actually with that and a good giggle) and before we knew it, it was 5pm and time to head homewards.

I headed back up Cage Hill with the other two people taking the train, and going back up there just looked even more dramatic and like something out of a BBC period drama. In fact I kept thinking of Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" in my head and when I got home I had to whack on a Youtube clip of her epic performance of the song, which has to be tune of the day. And if you've never heard or seen it, then where the hell have you been? Kate is ace. Official.

The train was delayed twenty minutes or so, but nothing too untoward to be honest. And I was soon wending my merry way homeward, feeling rather pleased with myself that the day had gone well, I'd got to meet some people (as well as some that were down the pub the other day) and just had a good day regardless. I mean, had it been me on my own on a day out, I'd have still made the most of it, but to have like minded souls also there, that kind of made it even better really. I do feel rather tired now having walked for miles on end, but that's probably done me good. Back to the grind tomorrow then...

Saturday 29th March - I'd Do Anything Not To Watch...

I don't know if this month will be classed as the wettest and windiest on record here in Manchester, but it certainly feels like it. I was going to venture out with one of my friends, pick up a hard drive enclosure, and put his old hard drive inside it so he could use it as a portable drive beastie, but my friend was poorly so that didn't happen. At around the time we would have headed out, the rain looked a bit grim and depressing and within the hour it had started hammering it down, which of course wasn't what we wanted - and that's an understatement. Mind you, I had plenty to do around the house so got some chores done and then settled down in front of the telly for the racing and Gillette Soccer Saturday, where Man City's 3-1 loss to Birmingham came forth and to be honest, we deserved naff all.

I did also see parts of that "I'd Do Anything" talent show on BBC HD (yes, it was simulcast with BBC1 as well, so obviously I went for the HD option.) To be honest, the fact that the boys to play Oliver were pre-selected to a dozen made sense because of their age, but they're almost all from middle and upper class background and have clearly had some form of theatre training. And here's me thinking the shows were about giving the general public a chance. As for the women to play Nancy, none of them caught my eye too much and indeed the one who sang "I Love Rock and Roll" clearly had shorts on that were far too short for family consumption. The sad karaoke fans amongst you could even press the red button to sing along... no! In short I won't be watching this again.

I'm just worried that the BBC are relying far too much on things like reality and talent shows to draw in the viewers. Whilst on the one hand this may help people to go to the theatre (although some West End critics are still immensely snobbish which annoys me no end) on the other it's also somewhat making it tougher for those who've gone through their acting degrees etc to actually get where they want to be. The sad thing is that the BBC, when given the impetus, can do things so right. Look at the productions they've commissioned like Life on Mars and its recent sequel Ashes to Ashes, where excellent drama is the order of the day. And indeed the nature programmes and stuff like Coast, which are completely fascinating. Oh, and the trailer for the new series of Doctor Who, my that looks ace!

I still felt quite emotional after seeing Kristin Hersh earlier in the week, but what I needed was a bit of a release, and I found it in Kristin's band 50 Foot Wave. Simply because it's more rockier, more punchy and a fair bit more brutal. And in "Pneuma" it really shows. It sounds angry, and passionate, and Kristin's vocal sounds really husky and moody. Then there's the chorus of sorts.. "You know what.. you know what... you know what.. shut the [bleep] up!" The bleep is a swear word, but you get the idea that it culminates in anger, and I just found myself yelling that bit myself which worked wonders. So tune of the day is won.

Friday 28th March - Wet and Windy

It's been a right old day today, and the last weekday off of the two weeks break that I've had. In a way I'm quite sad it's come to an end but I know that during that time I've managed to have plenty of good times, go to places and gigs and generally catch up with people, which has been absolutely lovely to do. I think as well that I can truly say that I've made the most of the time and not wasted it, which is definitely a plus point for me - I hate being sat around at home doing bog all and really feeling like I've just lounged around.

It was a wet and windy day, but needed to head outwards. First stop was Tesco to do the food shopping, and that was a nice leisurely walk around - even bumped into one of our staff from work whilst I was in there who'd had the same idea as me to get the shopping done early before the big rush of people later in the day. I even managed to pick up a couple of little bargains too in terms of priobiotic yoghurt drinks and indeed garlic bread, and got some pasta and sauce as well which should work out rather lovely to have as a meal one night. I may as well give it a go eh?

That done and all packed up, and battling through the rain on the way home, the rain eased off and it was off to the Academy box office to get some tickets sorted out. The tickets for John Mayer at Academy 1 went on sale today and I really wanted to make sure that I went - it's very rare he tours the UK at all, and if it is, it's usually London, so as you can imagine it was a rather nice surprise to find out he's playing Manchester at the end of June. It was a bit steep at £25, but of course at least there was no booking fee as I went to the venue direct, always a plus. I also got a ticket for the Ladytron gig at Academy 3 at the end of April. I was going to get the Breeders one too but they'd sold out of tickets, and so had Ticketline. I eventually got one for that through Seetickets which did mean paying a rip off booking fee - that'll teach me to leave it late I suppose!!

I had Sky Plus recorded the last two episodes (7 and 8) of Ashes to Ashes. I was too emotionally tired to watch it last night, and as I hadn't seen the one from last week yet, I thought it good to watch them back to back. A lot of things tied up and made sense in the final episode especially, but there's clearly a second series to come, not least because of the announcer saying so at the end. Clearly though the way that it was set, it almost lent itself to there being a second series too, but I'm not quite sure if I've enjoyed it as much as Life on Mars. Philip Glenister has been fantastic as Gene Hunt again though, his speech in the final episode was a real rallying of the troops call, and as for the lines in Episode 7 that quoted boy bands from the current era, that was utterly hilarious - I don't know they all kept a straight face during filming!

Spent some time sorting a few things around the house, went over to see my relatives to help one of my relations with their web page, and as it turned out, it was also good as I got to see one of their younger relations, who was suitably enthralled by In The Night Garden, and rightfully so. It's so nice though to see family and relations anyway and if nothing else a good opportunity for me to keep up with what's going on too. Got home, munched food and settled in to watch the St Helens versus Leeds Super League game on Sky Sports HD1, which was a really intense game, but unfortunately for me the wrong outcome as Leeds won 14-10, but it was a really good game played in appalling conditions - hammering it with rain and wind, and the pitch was a mud bath, putting it mildly.

Tune of the day in the meantime is Nine Inch Nails' "All The Love in the World". I love the fact that for the main chorus Trent asks "Why do you get all the love in the world?" and that's something that I could ask plenty of people out there who clearly have that, and I don't. It's just a great song though, and the piano parts are well played with Industrial backing, which gets stronger as the song goes on. It also tells me just how under rated as a song writer Trent Reznor actually is, and for me is the highlight of the "With Teeth" album, which although weak in parts does have its moments.

Thursday 27th March - The Day After The Night Before

Woke up still in shock from last night, but knew that I needed to get myself together and make sure I got the train back to Manchester from Euston at 1135 and take the journey home. I just still felt so emotional inside and knew that the events of last night would live long in the memory. Certainly I could imagine just how everyone else felt and what a moving experience that it was. As I took a shower, perspective started to creep in somewhat but at least it felt somewhat comfortable too. I just felt really pleased in a way. Although staring at an orange room made me want to head out for a walk.

I took a quick walk and had some breakfast along the way as well, thought that'd keep me going for the rest of the day nicely. I even spotted a couple of small garden parks, such as Victoria Square, but even as public spaces they were closed off to the public by some padlocked gates. That was rather annoying, but nonetheless a good walk. I checked out of Easyhotel (you have to be out by 10am) and then headed on the bus to Oxford Street, where I took a look round HMV but then also a look at some of the record shops in Berwick Street. They're reducing by the number each time I go down there and I've got happy memories of being there and buying plenty of nice CDs and vinyl, so it saddens me to see so few left. At least Sister Ray still seems to be doing okay though.

It was soon time to head back to Euston and got there in plenty of time for the train, and as I had the same seat number for the journey back as well, it was an easy comfortable ride back, and I just had the mp3 stick player on - but I couldn't play any Kristin songs, I'd just feel too moved right now. So instead it was stuff like the Pixies B-sides compilation (and for the fact that "Make Believe" is just so darned good, let me give it tune of the day), the Philip Glass "Heroes" symphony and the Joy Division Substance compilation. That got me to Piccadilly nicely and I took the train home from there and arrived back feeling still emotional but at least homeward.

I had a work colleague come over and we had a good natter whilst trying to sort out a completely knackered couple of drives that had been part of a striped RAID 0 drive. Unfortunately because the external enclosure the drive was in had electronics failure, even attaching the drives to another RAID card and seeing if it'd see it failed - it wanted to rebuild, which meant data loss. Annoying, but thankfully nothing too mega important on there which was a relief. It was nonetheless though an experience to note: Iomega external drives have in fact two drives in, and the fan is cheap and nasty and goes, thus burning the controller inside. (it happened to someone else at work too although their drive was at least under warranty). Don't buy them - in other words.

Wednesday 26th March - Paradoxically In Shock

Well, I'm finding it very hard to put into words what I've just seen tonight. I feel intensely moved emotionally for some reason and I feel restless. I can't sleep. I just feel like I need to try and re-live the show I've just seen and try and pick up moments that stick in my head where I didn't want to put my head in my hands and weep absolute buckets. No more shall I feel the need to greatly complain about not being in love or feeling heartbroken, because I now feel perspective on the world. And the person I've got to thank for all this? Kristin Hersh and her rather wonderful "Paradoxical Undressing" show. It's so difficult to put into words just why, but I'll try to as I write this missive.

First things first, it was off to Piccadilly station and head on the 11.15 train to London Euston. Thankfully I'd booked in advance and indeed booked at the cheapest rate possible over the Easter period (ie: £13 each way) and when I got to my seat, even better news: I had a table seat! Now, if you're travelling on your own with Virgin, this is rare as hen's teeth, so with coffee and Boots meal deal with me, I could sit back, listen to some Kristin Hersh on the little stick mp3 player, and gradually have lunch as the train sped through the Midlands and on towards Euston, arriving spot on time. Now why can't ever journey be like this? I even had a charming woman sat opposite me who also works in education like me and even had Pantera's "Walk" blasting from her iPod, which I never got to tell her I really approved of. Darn!

But nonetheless it was time to head to Victoria and onwards to the Easyhotel I was staying at overnight. I figured a one night stay there should be okay despite all the orange, and I worked out there was a bus to take me close to the venue too. So, with Oyster card charged up, it was off on the bus to Victoria.. well it would have been had it not been for close to gridlock by Tottenham Court Road, as Oxford Street was closed westbound and diversions in place. No worries: I got off there and headed on the 24 to take me to where I was staying anyway, so that didn't end up being too bad. I checked in to the Easyhotel and was informed I was actually getting a room with a window (when I booked, it was a "no window" booking so that was nice.) Now, when the site says the rooms are 7-8 square metres, believe it. My room had a corridor with the bathroom and shower contained in a small but comfy space, with the bed at the end by the window. It was small, but functional. There were coathangers for coats, but no shelves or anytihing to store clothes on, so you'd be living out of the case. As such, you'd be fine with a short stay of 1 or possibly 2 nights, but anything longer than that and you might be climibing the walls, I have to admit.

With myself minus overnight bag, I walked down towards Pimlico, past a sight of four old red telephone boxes in the same place and on to Vauxhall Bridge, walked down Millbank past the Henry Moore "Locking Piece" sculpture and then past the Tate, over Lambeth Bridge to the Palace, and on the river bank one of the news reporters was doing a piece with the Houses of Parliament in full view over the Thames. From there, on the bus to Piccadilly and then through to the White Cube Gallery in Mason's Yard. I wanted to see the Antony Gormley sculpture "Firmament" and it was on there for only two more weeks, so it was well worth going to.

Photography was banned, fair enough, but it was an inspiring sight. For those of you who've seen his iconic piece on the beach, well that's nothing until you've seen this one. In fact the member of staff in there told me that the gallery had to have steel reinforced walls put in to be able to support the structures (some of which are at 90 degree angles protruding from the walls) and then plaster over it, just to ensure none of the walls caved in and no one got injured. It was an awe-inspiring sight to be honest, and well worth it. If you're in London before April 12th, do track it down and visit, you'll be glad. I had a quick mooch over at the Royal Academy of Art opposite.

Then, one of those magical moments. As I was waiting for a bus to Royal Albert Hall, as I wanted to see it for real, up comes the number 9 bus, but a Routemaster one! Well, I wasn't going to miss out on an opportunity like that, so on I went, had my Oyster card read by a hand held machine from the conductor, and it trundled its way along to the terminus, which, as it's the heritage route, is Royal Albert Hall! I was then able to appreciate the grandeur and size of the building, it truly is massive and you can't really describe what it's like without seeing it for yourself. I then took the bus back to Victoria and walked to the hotel to have a quick shower and change.

I was meeting up with a couple of fellow Kristin fans who had booked a hotel down the road, and we'd go to grab food and then to the venue. So, on the 24 bus, got off at Trafalgar Square and walked over the footbridge to the Festival Hall, where some other fans were likely to be - indeed we bumped into them at the first floor bar and it was good to see familiar faces that I remembered from Manchester, hurrah! Food was needed though, and so it was off to Wagamama downstairs for some ginger chicken udon goodness. In fact one of the fans had told me that Kristin and her husband Billy had eaten in there earlier and had been spotted! Well, small world and all that. So at least I can say that I ate in the same restaurant as K tonight.

Food digested, it was back up to meet everyone and it was a good gaggle of us fans having a drink pre-show and generally chilling out. In fact one of them only lives about a mile from me now, so that's good to know - very small world and all that. It was a sense of excitement and also nervousness, because none of us knew exactly what was going to happen or how it'd be. And indeed when I got to my seat, three rows from the front, I could see the large projection screen projecting some lovely images, Kristin's guitar and a lectern which she'd read the bits of the book from and also so that she could time the show to the right amount of time.

For the next two hours (an hour each half with a break in between) it was absolutely enthralling stuff. Kristin would gently play her acoustic guitar giving gentle backing to her readings of what is to be her book "Paradoxical Undressing", and then deliver her words in a really warm but deadpan way, so as not to convey any emotions or feelings, despite some of the subject matters being pretty intense, it has to be said. At certain points she'd perform one of either her solo songs or by her band Throwing Muses at certain parts of the story telling to interact with what's being told. It went down very nicely indeed, and not least her acoustic version of "Slippershell" which sounded so wonderful in the auditorium setting, so tune of the day has to be that.

As the night went on, I had to occasionally close my eyes to concentrate and take it all in. Not because I didn't want to see the gorgeous images painted by Molly Cliff Hilts that had been turned into a video projection by Jack Mckenna, because they looked lovely. It was simply that I was trying my hardest to take it all in and it was proving to be a bit much trying to really comprehend all that was going on around me - it just felt intense. There were moments that I wanted to let go and cry, but I felt that I couldn't do that without feeling a private moment all to myself, so to speak. Each time there was a moment that Kristin would break into song and it was almost like a spot of light relief from all that intensity.

I can't put it into words, but imagine having a story told where you feel every nuance of emotion of how it was written, and how the songs sung within are like the soundtrack to the author's life. You pretty much have a small inkling of what it was like, but in so many different ways it was completely not what I expected - I certainly didn't envisage being so cut up emotionally by the end of it. You really felt like being taken on a roller coaster of a journey with her. When it had all finished, several of fans were looking at each other thinking "did that just happen" and with a look of, to quote one of Kristin's songs, "in shock" at what had gone on. I know that several of us really felt it had taken hold emotionally and it was hard to comprehend really.

With two fellow fans in tow we headed across river, through Charing Cross station (it was dryer in there, the rain was completely lashing it down by the time the show had ended) and then back to the bus stop to get the 24 back to the hotels. I had a good discussion with one of the fans about how even local councils in Wales get the grammar of the langauge wrong and basically was having a good natter, but trying hard not to get too emotional about the show we'd all just seen. That done, headed back to the orange room and tried my utmost to sleep soundly.

Tuesday 25th March - Back To The Roadhouse

Indeed it was back to the Roadhouse tonight for another gig - the second one there in the matter of days and the second of three in four days, with Kristin Hersh's show in London tomorrow night, which I'm already getting rather excited about it has to be said. Those who know me know exactly what I'm like with Kristin, there's just something about her and her music that completely enthralls me no end. I'm hopefully going to meet up with some fellow fans pre-show as well which should just add to the sense of occasion.

But back to tonight, the main act was Sam Isaac, whom I'd heard of and listened to a couple of his songs, but that wasn't the main reason I'd got the ticket. Oh no. It was of course because I wanted to see Donna Marie do her live set, and with full band. I'd not seen her play live for quite some time and I felt that it was the right thing to do. It was also meant to be the night of the "This World" EP launch as well but it turns out that they're still at the duplicators because of the Bank Holiday weekend, so it'll be released later this week with a bit of luck. Can't wait to get my hands on that it has to be said.

So got to the Roadhouse and found a fair few fellow Donna Marie fans, one of which was very kindly filming the gig for her which was a great thing to do. I've seen him before at other DM gigs, so it made a lot of sense that he was doing it, and enjoying it too. Also bumped into quite a few people who were here back in August when Donna Marie played the Roadhouse supporting Amy Macdonald and it was a top top show, it really was. And so good to see them all again, you know who you are so hello from me and hope you all got home safe.

Settled in and ready to rock, Donna Marie (official site) (myspace) and her band did the business. It was the first time I'd seen her do a full band set, and I'm hoping it's not the last either. With Mon on the bass, Greg on the drums and Pete on the electric guitar, it all sounded spot on, coherent and tight. Certainly from my point of view and the numerous times I've seen her live, you can tell all the work on the new songs and indeed the old ones into a band type scenario is paying off absolutely great.

I didn't have the phone with me, so I didn't have chance to note down all of the set list, but she did play Paint The Sky from her EP which I still adore, great to see that rocking, but quite a few tracks from her new EP "This World" which you can buy from her Myspace page above (so please do) including the title track, "Shooting in the Dark" (and the lights were turned low to make it dark too, quite a nice touch), a more electric version of "Just Words" which Donna said that she'd hardly played acoustic live (in fact I've heard her do it, but not often), and to finish things nicely, a rocking version of "Goodtime Girl" with someone joining in the band on harmonica as well, how bloody ace was that? Make that tune of the day - and now!

In fact the night was three good bands and sets for a mere four quid, as up next was Nomad Jones (myspace) who sounded pretty good too. He did a band set with two members of his band, but minus the cello and violin players he normally has in the band. Nonetheless it was a nice tight set and his songs were full of melancholy but hope all at the same time, which is no bad thing. He was giving away a free 3 track sampler CD too, so I snagged one of those so I could have a listen a bit later on.

And then up was Sam Isaac (official site) (myspace) and he and his full band, including someone playing the xylophone on one number, and plenty of strings and things, sounded very decent. He played his last but one single Sideways and the new one out this week Fire Fire, and it was good stuff. Plenty of people seemed quite happy despite the sparse crowd (understatement, less than half full - who are these fools? as Sam and the band rattled their way through a tight good set. I was impressed enough and certainly if a recent NME review of his single is anything to go by, well you never know. He and band played some brand new material as well which gave even his diehard fans something to listen to, so all good.

It was all over before I knew it but I couldn't complain one bit, it was a nice atmosphere, nice people and even better for me I got to see Donna Marie again doing her stuff and it sounded absolutely fab - as ever. I sincerely hope that her new EP does well to be honest, it just frustrates me so much that there's so many good talents out there such as her, (hooker), MJ Hibbett and the Validators, and so on, that don't get the record sales or exposure they deserve!

Monday 24th March - Bucking The Trend in Aberystwyth

After yesterday's entry, it was time to head off to the Roadhouse to see Buck 65, and when I got there, there was a considerable queue of people. All was explained when I looked at the ticket: it said doors at 7pm, gig finished by 9pm. Thought that was a bit odd and when I checked the actual door times, it was a standard 8pm start and 11pm finish. But of course not everyone would know that or check, which resulted in a lot of people waiting outside and the door staff eventually letting everyone in at 7.30pm because it was simply the best thing to do and get us all out of the cold (plus of course more money at the bar, hehe.)

After a while on came Gabriel Minnikin (myspace). Now I'd seen him live as part of an all day thing at Night and Day a while back, and I wasn't sure to make of him then as he had a band of eleven or twelve with him, and it seemed way overblown. This time however it was just him singing in his Nova Scotian drawl along with a harmonica and guitar that he had. It worked a lot better and the crowd were on the whole appreciative of his efforts, and indeed Gabriel was actually putting up Buck 65 up at his place in Manchester overnight!

After that came C R Avery (official site) (myspace) - and he was really interesting! Not only did he basically do lots of the instruments himself via beatboxing (ie: where your voice does all the efforts of doing drums and stuff) but he actually had a killer line in poetry as well to go with that, combine that together with either a flat standing keyboard or one that he'd hold in his arm guitar like, and it was actually really good fun. Normally there's more of a band but just him on his own worked fine too. I guess bringing them all over from Canada might have proved to be a bit too expensive, but he should come back - and soon.

Soon it was time for Buck 65 (official site) (myspace), and it was just the man himself (real name Richard Telfry in case you wondered) doing his thing. As luck would have it, not only had I managed to snagglepuss the last bottle of Fruhli strawberry beer from the bar (yummy) but I made it back to the right side near the front just in time for the opening number, no less than the ace "Indestructable Sam" from his free to download "Dirty Work" EP. You can still download this for free - so do (scroll down) - which immediately got me in the right mood to really enjoy this one.

Basically, it was him, a deck which he could scratch, and Apple Mac set up with the tracks that he'd recorded so he could perform with them for you. Now I know what you're thinking: it surely wouldn't work! But actually it did: Richard is such an effervescent performer and really does bring his songs alive with his boundless energy, spot on sometimes spoken hip hop style vocal, and giving it some to enjoy themselves. Indeed a couple of women near me were getting it too and were happily dancing around and going for it, as I was I, it has to be said. Why crowds look on po-faced at gigs when there's stuff you can dance to is kind of beyond me - hey, if I'm almost 36 and can still give it some then I'm sure some of the young whippersnappers in the crowd could. In any case, you know who the two of you are, so thank you and say hello!

Indeed one of the songs near the end had bits of the traditional song "Cuckoo" mixed in, which of course I know the words to (because Kristin Hersh covered it) so that made a lot of sense. So I'm sure people were surprised as I was singing along but hey, there you go. It just made me think of seeing K on Wednesday, I am already so excited that you wouldn't believe (actually you probably would ;) It made a lot of sense for the new album "Situation" stuff to be played, so the set included "Dang" - which I'm sure would work well in an episode of The Sopranos for example, and "Way Back When" which really got everyone going too. Top stuff, and catch him while you can in a nice intimate venue, you'll love it. Hmm.. must see if I can get that album now.

But that was all last night, and I went home, straight to bed, and then up again for today's jaunt out. Now as I mentioned I fancied a bit of an escape, and did I get one? I certainly did. I booked the train yesterday and thankfully was able to still get a good discounted fare too, as some of Arriva Trains Wales' cheap fares can be booked till 6pm the day before. So I booked it all yesterday afternoon, and the fact Wales is in there should help you. I'd never been to the mid-Wales coast before, so I wondered if maybe Aberystwyth would be doable. A check of the times revealed that if I could get up early enough, there was a train from Piccadilly at 0728 with a change at Shrewsbury, getting to Aberystwyth around 1120, and going back 1727 with same change. That done, it was £15 on the way there and £10 on the way back, which considering the distance travelled is a right bargain and a half. I could have gone for £13 going, but that meant a later train and me losing two hours' time, didn't want to do that.

Up and out I was indeed, and got into Piccadilly no problem and collected my ticket from the Fast Ticket machine which printed all the tickets and reservations out - easy peasy. (of course with me booking just the day before posting it wasn't doable). Headed on the train and went via the rather intriguing village of Wem before heading to Shrewsbury on time. I had time to kill (around 40 minutes) so it was croissant and coffee in the little platform café for a quick breakfast and the arrival of the 0928 train at platform 4A - which was four carraiges long, and at first I thought "that's a bit much!"

However I soon realised why when I looked at the timetable and heard the train announcer. The train was actually going to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli along the Cambrian Coast, and what would happen was that the front two carraiges were for Aberystwyth and the back two for Pwllheli, and the train would decouple at Machynlleth (try spelling that without looking it up!) and go its separate ways via Dovey Junction (the most pointless train station ever to be honest). Thankfully I was already in the front two carraiages so it was iPod on, plenty of tunes to be played, including Roy Harper's "Me And My Woman" which sounded perfect as you went through the hills and trees etc, so tune of the day right there.

Now, because of the decoupling (and coupling on the way back which means two trains have to arrive on time) and the fact the track's pretty much single track with the odd passing place (such as the point at Talerddig) it has a reputation for being the least punctual train service in the UK. Not a jot of that today though as everything went according to plan and I arrived at Aberystwyth on time and feeling quite relaxed and refreshed, the journey was comfortable and all seemed well.

I walked out of the station, straight down the road opposite and headed for the beach. The tide seemed in and it was pretty windy, a perfect test of a new jacket I'd picked up from Tesco whilst shopping on Friday to face the great outdoors with. It did keep the wind away from me somewhat although my face was getting the full brunt of it, so it was a case of walk down the front, head to Royal Pier and have a peek around there, and then take a stroll along the promenade to the historic ancient ruins of the castle and then the South Beach. Now, I have a thing for history and old castles always fascinate me. As this one's pretty much in ruins with the main towers and some of the battlements still intact, it was free to look around and the local council's made it into a little park with public play area close by for the kids. What a good idea, I thought to myself.

The castle ruins were really well maintained and the towers that overlook the sea would have probably been very imposing to anyone who had dared to invade. There also seemed the remnants of old living quarters as well, which was good to note. After a bit of wandering around here, I headed along the South Beach via the harbour and to the furthest point I could do, where the tide was in and waves were crashing against the rocks. It seemed quite dramatic and so I thought I'd get some shots in whilst I could, mind you one of the waves splashed so high it even got me some 20ft up from the sea! That was refreshing to say the least.

Walked back via the harbour to the town centre and then along the beach underneath the pier and via the many pebbles along the beach. All was set fair for a nice day, even the donkeys were out for a walk as well, very quintessentially a UK seaside thing, that. I headed back into town for a nice lunch (gammon and chips and peas, filled the hole nicely) and then walked along the North Beach, but with good reason. Not only was the imposing cliffs of Constitution Hill there (called "Consti" by the locals, apparently) but a coastal path and walkway beyond, which just had to be checked out.

I thought about whether I should walk up the cliff path or take the cliff railway instead, a funicular one which went up very steeply indeed. As I didn't know if the weather was going to hold, I opted for the railway instead, and it wasn't that expensive. I soon boarded and went upwards to the top, which really showed its gradients as you went along. Impressive stuff, and even more so when you reached the top. On one side, you overlooked Aberystwyth and could see beyond the town over the hills. On the other, Clarach Bay was visible close by, but then further along you could see Aberdyfi and further west, Barmouth. And on a good day between two hills you're supposed to see Snowdon from here as well. It's an impressive view and well worth up.

I followed the coastal path from here, which hugged the cliffs and then went down to Clarach Bay, which was almost all caravan parks with a few shops to service those, and with good reason. The bay itself was spectacular with some lovely seas and the beach was clean, and good views all around. I could have walked on via the causeways of Wallog to Borth, but thought that the weather was closing in and didn't want to get too caught out in the rain. After spotting a game of crazy golf for a mere pound a round for fifteen holes, I couldn't resist and had a go, although the wind did make things a tad difficult to say the least - didn't stop me getting three holes in one, mind!

Walked back along the coastal path, almost all uphill of course, and the wind and rain did start to come in rather nastily. Thankfully the new jacket was a) waterproof and b) had a hood concealed in the top which I could use to also keep the rain off, and that worked ever so well. I stayed atop one of the buildings on Constitution Hill and overlooked the views while doing so, and then took the railway downhill and walked back along the beach front, via the pier and castle and then along back to the pier to try my hand at basketball in the arcade, and my top score of 44 was decent but nowhere near the best - where accuracy is rewarded as well, something to note I think for the future.

On the way back to the train station I thought about getting something to munch for a light evening snack on the way home, and in Spar it was a reduced section that did well - a pork and apple stuffing sandwich, giant sausage roll and scone with cream and jam, all at knockdown prices, so much so that I got all three for a couple of quid! That did me nicely and so I headed along to the station and took the train home, the sun setting over the hills as you passed through Caersws and towards Newtown was pretty inspiring it has to be said. I love it when a plan comes together, and certainly the day was grand. Even got trigger happy with the camera!

Sunday 23rd March - Happy Snowy Easter!

Well, what a surprise I got when I woke up this morning to find everywhere covered in a dusting of the white stuff. Yes, it had been quite cold overnight and so much so that there was actually snowfall and so it had remained cold enough to stay around. It certainly felt much more like Christmas than Easter to be honest and so it was intriguing stuff. It's now all melted away as the morning's gone on (it never seems to stay here in Manchester) but nonetheless, something to behold.

As I'd got up early enough it was on with ITV1 and on with the F1. After the eventful race in Australia this week, this was anything but, to be quite honest. The start had no collisions and only Nico Rosberg's lunge which put Timo Glock out was worthy of some note. The Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa dominated the race to say the least, whereas for the McLarens of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton it was damage limitation, not helped one bit by Lewis' first pit stop. Also, the only other bit of excitement was Massa dropping out after the car refused to turn in at turns 7 and 8 and he beached it in the gravel trap. It was a bit dull, but Raikkonen's win was well deserved, as was Robert Kubica in second and Jarno Trulli in fourth, an excellent position for him and he held off Hamilton for the last few laps too. For me Trulli was driver of the day, without question.

So with the F1 over I saw that there were cricket highlights on Sky Sports 1. Dare I watch and see England possibly be on the back foot? Well I caught it at the start of the afternoon session, and wow! What a turnaround that was. Ryan Sidebottom was on fire and every time he took a wicket he was going absolutely mental and really pumping up all the team mates around him. He just looked like he wanted it more than anyone on the field and if he doesn't get Man of the Series then I'll want to know why: a hat trick in the losing first test (losing not his fault!), and a brace of wickets in the second test, and he ended up with 7 wickets for 47 runs as New Zealand collapsed from 103 for 1 to 168 all out, Stuart Broad also chipping in admirably as Sidebottom's rear gunner and three wickets for him too. Which just shows: bowl accurate line and length, pressure the batsman into a mistake, and you have a chance.

Why the rest of the team couldn't be like Sidebottom is beyond me. His attitude is absolutely spot on. During the second test he was asked if he preferred bowling from one end or another, and he replied that he didn't care, he just felt proud to play for England and wanted to give 100%. In a day of overly paid sportsmen, his attitude is refreshing and he's getting his just rewards without a doubt. In this three test series, he has already taken 23 wickets conceding just 327 runs in the process: that's one wicket per 14.21 runs. And twice as much as any other bowler on both sides.

I don't know how the England team got so pumped up after lunch, but I reckon the hair dryer treatment came out. Either that or they listened to something as fist pumping as Nine Inch Nails' "Last" from their Broken EP. I still love that track, it just has plenty of power, emotion and passion and in many ways is underrated compared to the likes of "Wish" and "Happiness in Slavery" from the same EP. So I'll redress the balance a bit and give "Last" tune of the day. There, done.

I'm looking ahead to next week and I'm considering taking myself away for the day tomorrow. It might be a nice day out somewhere and as I haven't got a gig tomorrow night (it's Buck 65 at the Roadhouse tonight but it's an early start and finish for some reason, possibly as it's a Sunday night and there may also be a club night at the venue afterwards) so all doable. See what the mood is and where it takes me, but I feel like I need to have a bit of an escape...

Saturday 22nd March - A Grand Old Day Out

A fairly busy day really. Got up and flicked through the cricket highlights and at least England had recovered to 240 for 7 with Kevin Pietersen making a bit of a fight of it with his century, so that was good, and hopefully tonight something to build on. And as I'd recorded the F1 qualifying due to it being on pretty early in the morning, settled down to watch that too. As the last session ended with Felipe Massa claiming pole, lots of cars were on their slow down lap, not realising that both Fernando Alonso and Nick Heidfeld were still on a flyer. Both Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen were on the racing line and clearly Heidfeld had to dodge around them which must have compromised his lap to some degree. I wasn't surprised that the stewards later punished both the McLaren drivers by knocking them five places down the grid, in fact I thought that was too lenient, should have been a ten place penalty if the rules allow it. I can't condone cheating and every time Michael Schumacher did the odd stunt (such as his parking of the Ferrari to block Alonso in Monaco a while back) it made the blood boil, and because of what happened last year, reputation will precede McLaren for this year at least. Why the hell didn't their race engineers say "slow down and save fuel, but keep off the racing line!" is beyond me. Ferrari and everyone else had the knowhow to.

Anyway, I had a call from the roofer to say he'd be over later, and sure enough two of them turned up with the ladders and all the equipment needed to do the job. I have to say the job's a good one, and the roof now looks a heck of a lot more secure than it did, and I could hear them really working on it to make sure that the slates were right, and indeed it's been really well sorted now. One of the local neighbours looks like he wanted the roofer's number too - so if word of mouth gets passed on, then good - a lot of the smaller businesses work like that and it's only fair that if a job is done well that it's mentioned. We have this mentality over here to complain way too much at times and not give praise when it's due, so praise given. And out of all the quotes I got, he was by far and away the cheapest, most honest, and friendliest.

That done, pretty much a straight dash out on the bus to meet up with my friend. The two of us were heading over to Liverpool later to see my friend's team Everton hopefully do the business against West Ham. As I'd been unable to get a ticket for Man City's away game at Bolton (which would have been good) I thought it'd be good for my friend and I to head out. Did lunch in the centre of Manchester first and then headed on the train from Oxford Road. Of course there they have the new ticket barriers now, which confuses so many people when it clearly shouldn't. Made me giggle at any rate. But not for us - off we went, over to Lime Street and then the bus to the ground.

As I'd ordered the tickets online late in the day, we had to pick them up from the online collection box office, and that done, got in the ground when the turnstiles opened. Good job we did, as a hailstorm hit Liverpool and it looked pretty hairy and windy out there to say the least. It was therefore a rather good idea to grab a coffee a little while before kick off, and that's exactly the job - both the cup and drink keeping the hands warm and ready to get behind the folks for the game. Kick off was at 5.15 because of Sultana Sports which effectively meant that we could leave Manchester later, but would also mean getting home when it turned dark.

The game itself hinged on a couple of things: first Everton went ahead with a goal from Yakubu, which led the home supporters to chant "Feed The Yak and he will score". Oh how original, they obviously nicked that from the Man City Shaun Goater chant (hint: substitute yak for goat and you're there). But a few minutes after, Tim Cahill had to go off injured, and that definitely meant that the Everton midfield lost their momentum somewhat. It was a hairy first half and chances at both eneds, but still 1-0 to the home side at half time, and with other results going their way, a win would see them nine points clear of sixth spot, and with only fifth guaranteeing a UEFA Cup place, all was well with the world.

The second thing the game hinged on was West Ham's introduction of Freddie Sears. He looked very lively when he came on, tormented the Everton defence, almost scored right at the end of the game and made some of the defenders, particularly Phil Jagielka, look rubbish. I'm sure the Hammers fans were wondering why he wasn't playing from the start instead of the dirty fouling cheat that is Luis Boa Morte (he put in some horrendous tackles when West Ham played Man City earlier in the season and I wanted him sent off) because they certainly looked more lively, and when Dean Ashton headed the equaliser it was nothing more than they deserved. Aargh. And indeed the Everton midfield didn't have control of the game either, it was frustrating especially for my friend.

So, 1-1 at the end, but it could have been a heck of a lot worse with the chances West Ham had. My friend reluctantly admitted that it would be cheering for Man Utd tomorrow as they take on Liverpool at Old Trafford so that hopefully the gap to Liverpool remains at two points with the Mersey derby next Sunday afternoon to come. But we headed back on the train to Piccadilly and despite the not so good performance had had a good day out, and that's the sort of thing that makes friendships so worthwhile, spending quality time with them. And I've done a lot of that this week.

Got home for the cricket, and by the end of the morning session I was ready for bed to be honest. England had been bowled out for 253, and despite a nice early Ryan Sidebottom wicket, New Zealand were 93 for 1 and slogging England all over the place, not a pretty sight. I thought to get an early night to see if I could be up in time for the F1 in the morning so I could watch it live, and settled down to sleep in anticipation of either an England miracle or waking up and seeing just how bad the score actually got.

As for tune of the day - that's simply got to be the tune that Soccer AM on Sky Sports uses during the Crossbar Challenge, which I watched earlier. For those of you who don't know what it is, it's currently "Smiling" by The Beta Band, which just works well and is infectiously catchy. In fact also a bit of history was made yesterday, as Huddersfield manager and ex-Oldham Athletic legend Andy Ritchie became the first manager to hit the crossbar. They scored 2 in all, which is pretty good going!

Friday 21st March - The Not So Long Good Friday

Today of course is Good Friday and one of the traditions of such a day is that you're not supposed to eat meat whatsoever, and most people end up having fish for their evening meals. Now, I really loathe hot cross buns, so I won't have them, but that's I guess something of a tradition for people as well to be able to go out and do, such is the way things are. I decided to spend some time with family later on in the day but first was waiting in for the roofer. To be fair, I got a call in the morning to say that something had cropped up and could he arrive Saturday morning instead, so at least I knew what the state of play was.

Did my food shopping over lunch and I have to say the local Tesco was pretty busy - because of the trading laws over here all the shops are pretty much closed on Easter Sunday and there were constant reminders being given out that it would close at 10pm tomorrow night and that would be it till Easter Monday. You'd think that would just invoke people panicking wouldn't you? Not me. I just went about my normal shop as casually as possible and even picked up a light jacket with hood built into the collar, and it was also looking waterproof too - sort of perfect for a good walk when I don't want to wear the good coat, and reduced by 20% as well as all clothes were, excellent, a bit of a bargain there.

Headed home, wrapped up the present for one of my relations as it's their birthday tomorrow, and made three family stops: first to my auntie, her son (whose birthday it would be) and his girlfriend, and had a good natter there. It was good to see them at any rate, and we were talking about how fast time goes in that one of my relations turned one this week and it didn't seem like that long since they were born. I then went round the corner to see the elder of my two sisters, her husband and little one, who was being particularly cute and also watching lots of Doctor Who and doing Cybermen impressions. I couldn't resist the odd Dalek impression to amuse either and that worked out really well - "Exterminate! Exterminate!" which brought plenty of chuckles. To finish off, went to see my other sister, her boyfriend and little one - only the latter two were in, but we talked football and stuff ahead of Sunday's big game for his lot - he's a Man U fan and actually does go to the games - and he lives in Manchester. Such a rarity.

I got home in time for the cricket, and well, wish I didn't bother. At one stage England were 4 for 3, on a batting wicket! It was truly terrible stuff and I felt the need to actually go and do something else - which is exactly what I did. I went and listened to some music instead, and seeing as the Foster's ad keeps getting played left right and centre on every channel, and as it uses a very famous tune at indie discos, I felt playing the original version of Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" just had to be done - tune of the day right there. I wonder if the advertising execs at Foster's actually realise what the song is really about?

Oh and I was good with the food today - porridge for breakfast, Quorn burgers for lunch (no meat there) and fish and chips for my evening meal, so that was all spot on.

Thursday 20th March - The Lunch Bunch

Had a bit of an inspired day today all round really and got lots done. First things first, got the roofer all sorted out for tomorrow (yes, on Good Friday) to come and sort the tiles out that I mentioned on Monday, and so that's one less thing to worry about once it's all done and dusted. It does mean that I'll be staying in on Friday (I had planned a possible trip out to Edale) but to be honest if the weather's been anything like today up there it'll be horrid to walk around, maybe something to do when the weather is behaving itself again instead.

I then needed to go into town to get both a birthday card for one of my relations as it's their birthday on Saturday, and then pick up the ticket for Buck 65 on Sunday evening. When I went to Ticketline's box office they weren't in and so issued me with a ticket receipt so I could come and collect the proper ticket this week. So with that in mind I thought to myself that I could also head up around town anyway and do lunch with a few people from the Flickr! Manchester group, that was the plan.

As I was checking my emails this morning I got a lovely surprise - I went to the BBC web site and found, to joy of joys, that the BBC has grabbed the rights to broadcast the F1 from next year onwards! ITV were in a five year deal till (I think) 2011, so it was a major coup that it was going back to where it started on the telly. Bernie Ecclestone was pretty chuffed, Murray Walker almost fell off his chair in delight, and the reaction today has been one of positivity, and I can't blame them. As much as ITV's coverage has been good, with behind the scenes stuff, lots of interesting info, and Ted Kravitz being a bloody excellent pit reporter as is Martin Brundle as co-commentator, James Allen is not that good a commentator. And then there's the commercial breaks. Far too many of them and something exciting always happens during those breaks and it's a case of panning back to the previous minutes' coverage.

Many people are delighted too that the Beeb's got it back, but there's a few things that they need to ensure before the start of next season to ensure that it's not just The Lewis Hamilton and 21 others show:

1 - Use "The Chain" as the theme tune - one thing about the F1 coverage the BBC had was that the end minute or so of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" just invoked all the right emotions and passions, as the gradually louder guitars and riffs just mimicked an F1 car going faster, and especially as the guitar licks kick in, just perfect. If it isn't broke, don't fix it. And as much as I like Moby, "Lift Me Up" just isn't an F1 theme tune. In fact, sod it, "The Chain" is tune of the day - just played my DVD-Audio of "Rumours" and it sounds soooo good.

2 - Keep Martin Brundle at all costs - his co-commentary works really well, because he's someone who has been there and done it and generally has the respect of the fellow drivers and indeed those in the know. He is able to bring that knowledge to the viewer and his critique of Kimi Raikkonen last week as Kimi span off was spot on - "What is he doing out there?" - plus he knows when to pause and when to really go 100mph and go with the flow. His years of working with Murray proved invaluable for that.

3 - Keep the build up and grid walk - one of the things ITV have got right is the build up to the race itself, with qualifying highlights, interviews, behind the scenes looks and of course Martin Brundle's grid walk, where he catches some famous faces and even a word with some of the drivers if they wish to talk. As it proved on Sunday, a lot of them didn't want to and wanted to be focussed, and Martin respects that and gets on with it - which is something I'm sure the drivers do appreciate. Plus it also means that it becomes part of the pre-race stuff and something I do enjoy.

4 - Get a decent commentator - there are candidates for this, such as Ben Edwards who does an excellent job for Sky doing the A1 Grand Prix. It's a shame that Charlie Cox is heavily into motorbikes, as he and John Watson work well for BBC's MotoGP coverage. As much as I would absolutely love to see Murray back, realistically he's retired and enjoying that, plus would he necessarily want to be going round the world again? I think his wife might be having words. But do get Murray on as a summariser for some of the European rounds, that would be good. David Croft of BBC Radio Five Live is also excellent and he could make the transition from radio to TV easily, he's in the running. Anyone, but please, not James Allen!

Only a few pre-requisites really, but the first one seems to be very popular with a lot of people. As you know, I wish the BBC would just bring back the original snooker theme and not bloody remix it each year with an appallingly bad version! with big beats. No. "Drag Racer" as is, please.

That done and everything else sorted that I needed to get done, it was off into Manchester and first stop - the pub. Ended up having a relaxing hour and a half or so with some of the Flickr! Manchester lot, which was rather enjoyable. Good to see them and it just means I can put some faces to names now as well - which is always something that I'm self-conscious of. I mean, when I've gone to retro gaming gigs, I've known people there already and that helps, and you get to meet new people. This time around it was a case of getting to know people and it all worked rather well for me - and means that I'm increasing the social circle too. So thank you to those that came - you know who you are!

Ended up at Mum's later and she very kindly made me some IKEA meatballs, and with the proper sauce, and with some lovely chips as well. She was doing it for my other two brothers and as I was coming over anyway, there was enough for me too. I fussed over my nephew a bit as he was there playing with his toy cars, and indeed when the cat came in that resulted in more fussing as well which just had to be done, and rightfully so of course. I'm a bit worried about her though - the tail seemed a bit limp and I'm just wondering if she needs checking out at the vet's or not. But nonetheless she snuggled up to me and I fussed over her like mad, which was rather lovely. Awww. Roll on Easter!

Wednesday 19th March - Leaving Sheffield And Welcoming Friends

Got up this morning and headed with my friend into the centre of Sheffield on the tram - a good park and ride system in place and my friend uses it rather than try and drive into the centre - which is just madness to be honest. It's dead easy and of course as the tram do weekly tickets for a mere £10, it's actually good value as well so that all works as a positive. Indeed, some of the local buses are currently also charging a mere £1 for a journey, now that's what I call a bargain and it is getting people using public transport, so that has to be a plus in my eyes.

My friend was heading back into work so we said our goodbyes and I headed back down West Street and then over to a café to have some coffee and generally chill out in the morning. That worked quite well and once I'd had that and rested up, everywhere was open and so I walked around the centre, stopped off to admire the Winter Gardens and their many plants, and then over to the Millennium Galleries. I suppose because I work where art is a primary subject, I've become more interested in it for sure, and for me at least it allows me to explore my more creative and cultural side. I'm like that, you know.

Anyway, the Galleries had an exhibition on which seemed to be quite challenging, and amongst one of the images was a picture of Morrissey which was brilliant - he was sat there amongst the microphones and it was taken during the recording of You Are The Quarry. It was ace. As was the sculpture I saw just outside along the main gallery walkway - which was "Barking up the right tree", it was completely made of steel and cutlery, and it also had buttons to press to move the various parts and heads and for it to make noises. That was excellent all round.

Headed back to the train station with a hint of sadness - I really do love it here, and certainly if I was going to live anywhere else in the UK this would be very close to being top of the list. I headed over to the end platform to get the train back, which kept having announcements of being delayed. Eventually it was ten minutes late both leaving Sheffield and getting into Manchester Piccadilly, which will never do. I got home safe and sound, unpacked my stuff, had a quick check of mails and things and then headed on the bus over to see my friend and his wife for the afternoon and evening.

Lots of chat and PC sorting out followed, and my friend was having problems running this Ladbrokes poker thing that he'd gotten into. After much testing and even doing a system restore back to a previous time, we eventually found the answer. For some reason when the game had crashed before, it had taken Internet Explorer offline, and because it uses some ActiveX type plugins, it needed IE to be online for it all to work. Once we'd done that, the 2D version worked well and the 3D one also then downloaded and installed as my friend wanted it to. Bah. My friend even wrote an email to complain to them because like me he uses Firefox (and rightly so of course) and why should anyone these days write an application which is completely dependent on a non standards compliant web browser. Aha!

We spent most of the evening watching the Man U-Bolton game on the telly, followed by the Tottenham-Chelski highlights. It was an easy win for Man U, and my friend was chuffed cos it's his team doing the business. I do have Cristiano Ronaldo in my Fantasy League team and his two goals were welcome. It was all over by half time and even with the two bonkers people on Fanzone trying their best, it wasn't that exciting to be honest. But still, always good to watch the live game with a friend I reckon and always good to do.

Headed home, literally almost fell into bed after a quick burst of online inspiration and felt that the day was brilliant, again. I'm doing well here aren't I? As for tune of the day well seeing as I'd seen that Morrissey pic earlier, I whacked on some of the You Are The Quarry album, and no less than a great track that is "Irish Blood English Heart" was blasted out of the speakers. It's just so top tippety top and ace. Especially the line "sick to death of Labour and Tories" with such venom. Oh yes.

Tuesday 18th March - Let's Get Quizzical

Had a very enjoyable day today. First off, I was going to see one of my friends in Sheffield, which is always a good trip out and my friend is an absolute star. Second, there was a pub quiz later on that we were heading to which is usually good fun and rather than my friend ask me sneakily any sports questions by text, I would be there to answer them in the flesh, so to speak. Third, I'd allowed in some time to have a nice walk around Sheffield with the camera and take some pictures as well, I may as well make the most of the time off mightn't I?

My friend sent me a text in the morning to say that they were a bit under the weather and the docs had told them to rest at theirs, and so I aimed to head over there later on in the day, just made things a bit easier. Failing that I would have met up in the centre of Sheffield and taken the tram with them anyway, so no biggie. I had reserved the seats on the train in advance, so it meant a mere £4 each way, much cheaper than the Saver return of around £16 or so. Ouch. I headed on the 1220 train from Piccadilly, and got into Sheffield on schedule at just after ten past one. Hurrah for Transpennine Express!

I took the pretty well trodden walk from there up Sheaf Square and then would eventually go up the hill on Howard Street but I stopped off at the Leadmill and the Showroom first for a couple of pics, and walked up past the Millennium Galleries to Tudor Square. Of course the Winter Garden looked resplendent, and I could see the home of snooker - the Crucible Theatre! I did have a wander in there to see what tickets were left at the box office, and in truth it's hardly any at all - it's virtually all sold out. Glad I got mine when I did to be perfectly honest.

I walked past the Town Hall and the lovely Peace Gardens, stopped off at RSVP opposite City Hall to have some lunch (the surf and turf there was on top form) headed down Division Street and noticed to my sadness that what was once their branch of Fopp was now replaced by a Costa Coffee. Now don't get me wrong, I love Costa, but.. it just seems sad that one of the reasons I used to head over to Sheffield to buy CDs before the Manchester branch of Fopp opened has now gone by the wayside and didn't reopen. It was a thriving place to be honest and I do kind of miss it.

After walking back up West Street and round the back of the City Hall and to the Cathedral, it was then on to the Markets area and past the Boardwalk - I was last there at the Under The Boardwalk sister venue for an MJ Hibbett and the Validators gig a while back. It was a fair walk around and really gave you an idea of the ambience of the place as well, somewhere that I've always felt quite at home at. I have friends there and the people generally are very Northern and warm, which appeals to me no end it has to be said. So it was with a nice relaxed smile that I headed on the bus up to my friend's place.

My friend had warned me that the bus journey goes "around the world" and it wasn't that bad, although we did have a bit of a Top Gear moment as the bus headed through Firshill. It was kicking out time at the school, so all the cars were parked up on the road meaning that only one car or bus could go past one way. The bus pulled over on the grass verge to let the other bus through (something that seemed to have happened often!) and because of the wet grass, when it tried to pull away all it did was get bogged down in the grass until it was stuck. Oops. So nearly everyone piled off the bus, and the driver tried again, with several of us agreeing to push if need be. Eventually after ten minutes he managed to get out and was on his way again with us all hurrying back on the bus rather quickly!

Got to my friend's place and we had a leisurely quiet afternoon and early evening, nice and chilled out with lots of chatter, watching the telly (especially the quiz stuff like Eggheads and before that Countdown) and then it was time for food: my friend had kindly got some Pasta bake to heat up and made some garlic bread by hand to go with it - absolutely yummy and delicious. That certainly warmed me up nicely as the two of us headed out to the pub where the quiz was to take place later.

I'd been briefed by my friend on the quiz format and how it all worked, and with a few of my friend's friends also coming along, it was a team of five by the nice cosy fire in the pub that were ready for action. Apparently the pub also gives out free chips and sausages in a basket to each team during the mid quiz break which makes it quite a homely feeling and worth entering if nothing else. It does get the punters in and the pub was pretty choc full all round, always a good thing. The picture round was pretty good, and two of us immediately plumped for John Cusack as one of them which proved to be right. In fact, the last pic was of David Seaman being lobbed and you had to guess the scorer. Well it was World Cup 2002 and it was Ronaldinho, good of me to remember that.

The rounds went by, and the news round had a difficult question which I got wrong, to my shame. You had to name the only one of the four FA Cup semi finalists to have won the cup since World War II. I immediately knocked out Cardiff and Barnsley from the equation, as Cardiff had won in 1927 (only time it ever left England) and Barnsley in 1912 or earlier (mentioned in the cup coverage) which left Portsmouth or West Brom. I went for the former, which was incorrect. It transpired later when I looked it up that Portsmouth was 1939 (last one before the war) and West Brom 1968, they won in extra time through Jeff Astle. Aaargh.

As it all transpired throughout the night it seemed to go well, and then to the last round - wipe out. It does what it says - if you get all the answers right, 5 bonus points, but if you get any of them wrong, any scores you do get are wiped out and you get a big fat zero. Ouch. So if you don't know: don't put an answer down and just score the ones that you're sure of. The quiz can be won or lost here, and one of the questions came up about who played with Madonna during Live Aid? We all heard it as Live 8 (blame the presenter's accent) so immediately we racked our brains till we got Gogol Bordello, as they'd been hyped up last year a lot and my friend went to see them at the Beautiful Days festival (run by the Levellers). Turned out they wanted Live Aid, which was the Thompson Twins, and we wouldn't have put that to be honest. So we wiped out but still scored 35, and had we not wiped out we'd have had 40 and won it. Ah well.

It was great fun though, and reminded me of the time I was in Edinburgh and the team we had then (Quizteam Aguilera) won - so that was fab! Even not winning didn't matter to be honest, it was good fun and with good company as well. My friend's friends are all real stars and they were very warm and friendly with loads of Northern charm, so pleasing to see that was. Eventually it was time to head off back to my friend's place and then crash out in the spare room, but it had been a great day and I was really pleased to have made the effort.

The pub was playing quite a few tunes, and for my sins, I knew some of them, even the cheesy ones, which of course made me giggle inwardly if nothing else. But what made me smile was that my friend had Seth Lakeman on in the car, so heading to the pub with his album The Punch Bowl on was perfect listening to relax the brain and soul. And, because it sounds so good live as well, "How Much" is tune of the day.

Monday 17th March - Up On The Roof

Well the recent storms seem to have done some damage to the roof of the Towers, unfortunately. As you know, it was quite stormy a few days ago, and as a result, by looking at the house from the outside, several of the roof tiles have become slightly dislodged at the edge of the house, which isn't that great. To be fair, the wind was absolutely foul and indeed it was only a few tiles on the edge that had moved, the rest stayed wonderfully well and intact, so that pleased me no end that the old house was pretty much standing up to most of the bad weather.

I was able to ring the insurers today and a very nice lovely woman handled my phone call, was very professional and dealt with the call both in a calm and reassuring manner, and that's what you want to be perfectly honest. It also shows the added advantage of actually having a call centre based in the UK, where real people with real humanness deal with you. In my insurer's case, their home insurance call centre is in Birmingham, so I got a lovely Midlands accent as well speaking to me, which was fine. I was already getting some quotes from local firms anyway, so good to be able to get the wheels in motion. She even explained that if the costs were minimal, to think about the difference in the no claims bonus I'd lose and also the excess you have to pay, and weigh up if that was worth it. Very honest, that. Isn't it great when you deal with a proper normal person on the phone?

Anyway, had all the three people I rang up visit the house now, and on the whole they all were able to confirm that it was the storm damage that had caused the roof to be like it is. What was also good was that one of them gave me a written quote on the spot that seemed fairly competitive as well. I'll have to see what the other two written quotes come out with, but hopefully they won't be too bad, then I can weigh it up and get it done. In an age where a lot of bad press is said about builders and the like, the three company people I had were all very friendly and professional, and honest too. And there's nothing I like more than a good bit of honesty, makes the world a better place.

I spent some time today as well thinking about a possible reorganisation of the living space downstairs. I might even consider having to get another CD rack of some description, as the current ones are getting pretty full and there might not be that much more room to actually hold any more. One such solution I was considering was selling off CDs that I don't necessarily play that often: even though I would be absolutely loathe to part with them: they're a part of me. If I was to do that quite a few of the CD singles would be first to go, and I do know that there's specialist traders for that sort of thing. I do have some decent rarities in there which might mean I'd be able to get a good price for them - but we'll see. A trip to IKEA might prove worthwhile to maybe get another of those Billy bookcases and then some extra shelves, that could well be due some consideration if money and finances allow.

As I've been typing this and indeed a writing article for the site in between waiting for roofing contractor companies, my mode of choice of listening has mainly been Orbital's "The Altogether" album. To me, it's still the best thing that they've done and really does have a good cross section of musical styles and electronica contained within. What I like is the way that they did their own tribute to Ian Dury by sampling some of his tracks, notably "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" and "Reasons To Be Cheerful (part 3)" and blending it together with some near electronics to make "Oi!". It's a darned fine tune so it just has to be tune of the day for me.

Sunday 16th March - And It's GO GO GO GO!

I woke up this morning, and my cunning plan to have recorded the Australian Grand Prix on the Sky Plus box worked a treat. It meant that I could get up at a sensible time, avoid the news headlines on all the channels (and the web of course!) and then settle down with some breakfast to watch the race, a much more leisurely activity at any rate. And wow, what a race that turned out to be! It was excitement from the word go, and I could imagine just how mental Murray Walker would have been going in the commentary box, it was that sort of a race, it really was.

If you've not seen it yet, or are waiting for the highlights, I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say it was one of the most incident packed Grand Prix for some time, and the plan of the FIA to take away all the driving aids and traction control has definitely had its effect - the drivers definitely do now have to drive the car properly, take care of it and look after the tyres and everything. What this does mean in essence is much more careful thought about how you race, and working the best you can with what you have, and those with a pretty smooth driving style should in essence be rewarded. The highlights are on ITV1 later tonight and ITV4 tomorrow - catch them if you can!

After a fairly chilled out morning like that, I headed out to the Crown Point retail park in Denton, primarily cos I'd never been before, and a bit of window shopping is also good to get some ideas for myself - particularly if I wanted any new clothes or anything like that. A couple of ideas hit me, but I also noted some very nice framed pictures in the Tesco Home place that did look tempting, but they stayed where they were. Incidentally, Denton's railway station is one of a few that has one train journey a week - yes, one! It's pretty odd. Hence of course I took the bus up there and back home again.

Got home with plenty of time to spare to watch the football on Sky Sports HD1, and I have to say that the UEFA Cup exertions worked out well for all the opposing teams today. Fulham worked hard against Everton and got a pretty good 1-0 win, which really now does mean that the Merseyside derby at Anfield is a must win game for Everton to be honest if they want any possibilty of getting fourth slot. But of course, that was just a warm up for the game that I wanted to see, and with my uncle, one of his sons and my brother heading over to the Towers, it was City versus Tottenham. Now we don't always win against them in the league (understatement) so I was worried.

Those worries soon increased when Tottenham took the lead through a well worked goal from Robbie Keane, and despite a couple of close efforts and a possible handball shout, it was still 1-0 to them at half time. Sorted everyone with a drink out and the second half got underway, and whatever the half time team talk was from Sven seemed to have worked. Benjani raced down the left, his excellent cross wasn't finished by Nery Castillo, it broke to Elano to head goalwards and Stephen Ireland directed it in for 1-1. Yessss! Even better, and more mysteriously, Tottenham took off Robbie Keane, which we all thought was a daft move. My brother was wanting Darius Vassell on off the bench and was rewarded soon enough.

And so it proved - one of the first touches from Vassell won a corner, it was floated over from Elano and up popped Nedum Onouha to head home - his first ever goal for City and a real peach of a header too. He really enjoyed the celebrations afterwards and it was good to see some passion in there - excellent. We did hang on a bit too much for our liking though as Sven went a bit too defensive for my liking (killing them off at 3-1 would have been much better) but nonetheless a win is a win and it's at least kept us up there nicely, and 48 points at this stage of the season is very decent indeed.

As the teams went off for half time, the tannoy played something I didn't expect, and my brother and I picked up on it - no less than the superb "Black Night" by Deep Purple. In rock terms it's still a classic tune, and back in the day it was only ever a single too (it got tacked on at the end of their "In Rock" album on some of the CD reissues) but quite what it was doing being played during a half time slot in the football was a bit odd really, but nonetheless it was great to hear it, so tune of the day it most certainly is!

Saturday 15th March - Presents and Melbourne

Had a pretty leisurely day today to start the break off nicely. I was tempted to go and see a non league game, but all the local football teams were playing away this week, although a trip to Southport did sound tempting to see Stalybridge at their ground I decided against it as I wanted to get some other things done first. In any case, I had a bit of a task this morning, in that I needed to write a birthday card for my relation's birthday, wrap up their presents which I managed to get late last night, and then package it all in a bubble wrap envelope and get it to the post office by noon. As it turned out, I did fine, I had to make a quick pit stop at one of the local shops in order to get some sellotape, but apart from that it was good. I had chance to type up a letter as well and bung that in the package, and got to the post office with around forty five minutes to spare.

After seeing the rest of Soccer AM (what else?) I then whacked on my Sky Plus recording of the F1 qualifying from early this morning. I'd avoided all of the news bulletins and so on so I completely did not know who was to gain pole position. The qualifying definitely seemed more interesting the way that the sessions were split, and seeing Kimi Raikkonen limp into the pits with a fuel related issue meant he wouldn't be near the front whatsoever. And when Mark Webber went out as well in second qualifying, it meant other teams could possibly take advantage, and certainly Timo Glock in the Toyota did - if only it wasn't for an engine change penalty to be given post qually.

But the final session was reasonably exciting enough and Lewis Hamilton came out on top with a great time and started pole. For me though, the performance of the day was Robert Kubica in the BMW, not just because he finished second but was the only driver to get close to Hamilton and indeed really demonstrate some skill. It's already much more exciting now as traction control and other electronic aids are completely banned, so it's more about keeping it on the road, and even Hamilton's slight glitch in the first qualifying session showed how difficult that can be. Could be a very interesting race tomorrow for sure.

Headed around the local area and took some pics, which are now up in the Flickr! gallery as well. It was good to take a walk in the fresh air, and even in the local fields I could see some squirrels out and about by the trees, roaming around without a care in the world. What was also interesting was the sheer contrast of houses between roads at times, most of them terraced but just the way that some streets really took their civic pride seriously and looked very nice and homely, a good thing in my eyes. And you have to admire anyone who tries to say their cricket ground is actually Lords in disguise, that made me giggle.

Entered the Lottery for the first time in ages, but didn't win. I got one number and the bonus ball and that's yer lot, so I guess my usual methodology of not entering is working fine - I don't win, so what do I miss? Well there's also a lot of things I don't win with, but I could be writing a very long list and boring people to tears, so I'd better not really. Anyway, as I feel in slightly reflective mood tonight, it's a bit of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for me - not least "Nobody's Baby Now" which is still utterly brlliant and tune of the day. In fact, the whole "Let Love In" album is superb as it goes through a tide of emotions, not least both parts of "Do You Love Me?" Cave's still so bloody under rated over here to be brutally honest.

Friday 14th March - Time For Some Light Sport Relief

It was the last day at the office for me for two weeks, as I'm off using up my leave before the end of the Easter break - as that's when the holiday year is at an end. In a way it was a bit of a slower day today and although it was a little busy in parts, it generally allowed me to get things sorted out so I could really have a peaceful and quiet break and not think about work. Mind you, we did fire up a XServe that we'd acquired, and started not only to install OS X Server 10.5 on there but also see how it would work being set up as a podcasting server with the right software running. It seemed to work well and all the stuff tends to work nicely which is a good thing. Also because of the way the video capture works well in conjunction with the desktop software, you can have your podcast set up as a video one pretty quickly, which all seemed jolly good fun.

Set off for home via Tesco and had to spend a bit longer in there than normal as I was seeing if there was anything that I could get one of my younger relations for their 1st birthday early next week. I thought it would be nice to send something through the post and after all, birthdays should be a nice and special time for all concerned to be honest. And as it happens to be the sun of one of my favourite family members, I thought it would be nice. As it was, I had some good ideas and I found a good card too, yaay. A friend of mine had also told me about these new Kit Kat Senses bars, so thought I'd pick one of those up and give them a go. They're a bit like Kinder Bueno, but not as light and there's definitely more of a hazelnut taste in them. I'd still prefer the chunky Kit Kat, but it's not too bad.

Got home and watched Sport Relief for most of the evening, which was a veritable feast of fun. First off, they had Sport Relief does Strictly Come Dancing, and some the sports people who had competed on said show (well five of them anyway) came back with some new partners - meaning that the previous competitiors were the "professionals" as it were. What was nice to see was that so many of the proper dancers were in the audience watching and enjoying it, especially the rather lovely Lilia Kopylova and the even lovelier Karen Hardy, and with good reason - Mark Ramprakash, whom Karen had won Series 4 with, was one of the sports people here, and this time partnered with Kara Tointon from Eastenders. Mark of course chose the samba, he and Kara did an ace dance, and they did deserve to win. Indeed Mark did mention that Karen had given him a hand with the choreography, which must have been good!

Oh, and just to mention, all the themes that the dancers danced to were sports themes in their own right, so for example Denise Lewis and David Ginola did "You'll Never Walk Alone", Matt Dawson and Elaine Paige had "The Chain" (of course by Fleetwood Mac and the proper F1 theme tune, and considering of couse the F1 starts tomorrow quite apt!) and Mark and Kara had "Soul Limbo" by Booker T and the MGs, aka the proper cricket theme, and tune of the day for that reason. Doesn't seem the same now with whatever tune Sky have on, doesn't have the same effect.

And while I'm on the subject of sports themes, please please please BBC, bring back the proper snooker theme! Yes, we're talking about "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Group, in its original glory, not the overdriven remixed version that doesn't do justice to the original, just attempting to be modern but actually sounding like it was mixed on a 10p amplifier picked up from a dodgy car boot sale of some description. Just viewing a few clips of the old theme played with the intro to BBC's coverage of the World Championships from the Crucible Theatre (going there next month, go me!) proves that beyond all doubt to be perfectly honest.

Thursday 13th March - Mad Day And Mad Thoughts

A bit of a mad day today, to be honest. I don't know if it was the student deadlines, the fact everyone was wanting to do stuff like, well, yesterday or that we just seemed to get a lot of phone calls, but it was fairly mental today. Everyone just cracked on with it as best we could and did our bit to support each other where possible, but it was pretty hectic. I think what makes it the usually mad busy self is that everyone was waiting till the last minute to get things done, whereas the sensible ones had planned ahead, had printed all their work off and indeed were sat either in the refrectory or the local watering hole managing a smile on a job well and truly well done, so to speak.

It was certainly good to be home a bit later on, and I started thinking again back to the book that one day I will actually write and complete at some point in my life, just don't know when. I pretty much have the plot and several locations in my head. I also have the characters' names as well mapped out (particularly as one of them is going to appear in the book's proposed title) and indeed what may happen during that time. I do have plans for this in that it's going to be something that will make people laugh as well as cry at the right moments, and hopefully invoke feelings. Cos there's going to be tons of that. In essence I actually have the idea pretty much nailed now, it's getting to actually think of how I'm going to approach it and where I'll start from. Indeed I even thought how it'll end and I've pretty much got that visualised in my head too.

Sometimes it's good to have a brainstorm and think of how you'd do things and how you'd approach everything. In essence, everyone is a different person and how they tick and operate can be a completely different way from what you do, but that doesn't make them any less a person for doing so. It's just knowing that it's a part of how they are. That's what I have to instil into the characters for the book as well - in that they're intrinsically different and how they are should be a representative attribute of their persona, and therefore make them the rght sort of character. In reality though, we are all different and if there's one thing I like about any person, it's being who they are. Oh yes, and honesty is also something I value really highly.

With that brain storming over I needed to do something a bit more leisurely I reckoned to myself so spent a couple of hours before bed watching the cricket and England were actually doing half decent for once, posting a useful first innings of 342 and then doing decen enough with the ball. But Bolton did lose at Sporting Lisbon, which means all the English teams are now out of the UEFA Cup. Oops. Bang goes the plan for any of them going to my ground, but I suppose that may mean that tickets for the final are easier to get, but at a minimum of £55 per head (bah to UEFA for that) it's not going to be a cheap do at any rate.

I played some of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds new album as well tonight as I was doing a couple of domestic chores (my I have been busy haven't I?) but definitely for me it's growing on me nicely is this album. In essence it's quite like what the Grinderman album was last year, a bit more raw and to the point but really keeping all the good things that Cave does as well - which is mighty good. "Albert Goes West" is just really raucous and rocking and so tune of the day is that one, it simply has to be.

Wednesday 12th March - It Is Time For Stormy Weather

And wasn't it just?

I was awoken at around 3am this morning by the sound of howling winds and indeed a few gusts that were blowing the rain almost at a diagonal angle, hitting the front windows of the Towers with suitable aplomb to say the least. It felt quite comfortable knowing that the house was standing up well to the rigours of the weather and that the wind was at least being ferocious enough. There's a lot to be said about the older houses, they seem to be built of strong stuff and also tend to last pretty well, and it certainly felt the case here. I went back to sleep pretty quickly and felt quite calm about everything.

I did get blown a fair bit on the way to work though, and it was absolutely hammering it down with rain as well, and the combination of the two wasn't making travelling into work that pleasant. Indeed, one of my colleagues had driven in rather than take the usual train to be on the safe side, as the train journey in takes a couple of high level bridges that may have been a bit risky, so I can't say I blame him on that score. It was pretty hairy outside for most of the day and I guess that knowing how bad it was showed that it was probably much worse on the coast earlier in the week.

Settled back at home in the evening to watch the UEFA Cup games. I was torn as to which one to watch, but I went for the Everton against Fiorentina game and my, they gave it a bloody good go. An early goal from Andrew Johnson pulled it back to 2-1 on aggregate and then with twenty minutes left a stunner from Mikel Arteta to level the tie on aggregate, and it was a stunning goal. However, ITV4 should really sack Jim Beglin from their commentary team - he's so unbeliveably biased towards Liverpool it's untrue, and you could almost hear him feel happy when Fiorentina did well and had the cheek to call Arteta's goal "Steven Gerrard-like" which is pretty much tantamount to treachery for most Evertonians I know. As it happened, I switched over to Channel 5 to see how Tottenham were doing just as the cross came in for Dimitar Berbatov to score a good strike and level it 1-1 on aggregate in Eindhoven against PSV.

Both games went to extra time, and by now I was flicking between the two to catch the action and hoping not to miss anything. As it was, there were chances for both the English teams but it didn't happen, and so both of them went to penalties. Aaargh. As it was, I flicked over between each penalty and managed to see the lot. Everton's game was over first, with Yakubu hitting the post and then Phil Jagielka having his saved, Fiorentina scored their fourth and at 4-2 it was all over, so now to Tottenham. They were 4-4 on penalities after PSV had taken their five, with just Jermaine Jenas to take Tottenham's fifth and score a winner. So what does he do? Fluff it and let the keeper save it! It then went to sudden death and Pascal Chimbonda's miss meant that Tottenham had lost 6-5 on penalities an were out too. Now there was only Bolton with any chance of a trip to the City of Manchester Stadium for the final, and they were in Lisbon against Sporting tomorrow night.

With the weather being so bad today there was only one tune that I could possibly nominate as tune of the day and that's "Stormy Weather by the Pixies, from their "Bossanova" album. The one lyric throughout the whole song is "It is time for stormy weather" repeated on numerous occasions and I found myself singing that as I had my shower this morning and indeed later in the day - just the way I am I guess!

Tuesday 11th March - Memories Of A (West) Tip

It was my brother's birthday today - and as he's the next oldest apart from my good self, what this means that for approximately two months or so he's only two years younger than me, which I occasionally do try and milk to make me feel a bit younger. It was nice being over at my Mum's for tea though, as it was me, Mum, my brother and his girlfriend, and it was all very lovely indeed. Mum knocked up a massive lasagne and had baked this really lovely cherry cake with a taste of almonds in there, that just hit the spot wonderfully well with a cup of tea. Aren't mums great for that sort of thing?

I'd set the Sky box to record the first day of the Cheltenham Festival on Channel 4, and so I could watch the racing when I got home (crafty me you know) - what was quite good to see was that there was a feature on the horse West Tip, who had actually made nine successive Festival appearances in various chase races, and that horse had also launched the career of Richard Dunwoody. Indeed, Richard mentioned the Grand Nationals that West Tip had been in, how he'd fallen at Bechers Brook in 1985 second time around when leading, and then he came back the year later to win the thing. In fact, had I been old enough, I actually wanted to put a pound on him for the 1986 race as I had a feeling he'd learned from his mistake - and proved right I was, hurrah!

Anyway, it was good to see how the course was shaping up and indeed how it seemed pretty fast paced, all boding well for the Gold Cup showdown on Friday between Kauto Star and Denman - some race that is going to be for sure. And indeed later on I settled down to watch Liverpool take on Inter Milan away in the Champions League, and once Fernando Torres had scored a really well taken goal, it was game over - the away goal meant that Inter needed to score four in the last twenty five minutes, and with ten men. Somehow that wasn't going to happen, and it didn't!

Spent a bit time after the footy whacking on some Suicidal Tendencies - proper tunes that they do as well. I could rattle off lots that I like, and indeed the "Prime Cuts" compilation is a perfect introduction to the band and what they do best - rocking, and hard too. Even after all those years I still like "Institutionalized", purely because of the way that Mike Muir cranks out the lyrics in almost spoken word form but in the context of the song it works really well. The original release on their debut album was rough and ready, but when it got re-recorded for the 1993 album "Still Cyco After All These Years", it sounded harder, faster and much better produced too. That version went on the "Prime Cuts" compilation and with good reason - it works well, even so now. Tune of the day was an easy choice really, although I could have been tempted by several tunes on the same compilation, such as "Send Me Your Money", "Pledge Your Allegiance" and the uber classic "Possessed To Skate" (re-recorded here as "Go Skate! (Possessed To Skate 97)" to name but a few.

Monday 10th March - One Ticket At A Time

I'd had a contrast of days really from yesterday to today. Yesterday was all about sport, two games of football, the Australian V8 Supercars and then the MotoGP from Qatar, a night race as well. It was a very relaxed and chilled out day, which directly contrasted to today. It's the first day of the last week of term where I work and as a result there are several student deadlines which are due at the end of this week. This of course means one thing: lots of busy work going on and plenty of printing out. It also meant that because our Help Desk colleague had left us on Friday, and that one of our other staff was off, it was down to me to cover the Help Desk for the day. And believe me, it was a very busy day.

I'm glad though in a way as it certainly made the day go by quickly, and that I was certain that being able to assist people definitely helped along the way too. It's sometimes very hard to be patient, but learning that and using it to your advantage is a good skill to have - once you're able to be patient with someone and they're more comfortable with you, it also means that you have a good understanding of what people need, and similarly you can act accordingly and gain their trust and confidence. Gaining that trust is a pretty important thing to do I reckon, and is never estimated in my eyes.

That done, it was time to head into the centre of Manchester on the way home and to Ticketline (formerly Piccadilly Box Office), which has now moved back inside Zavvi (aka Virgin Megastore). It's gone full circle as it used to be inside the old Virgin on Market Street, then it moved inside the Easy Internet place on St Anne's Square, and now it's at the new Zavvi in the Arndale. I needed to pick up tickets for a couple of forthcoming gigs at the Roadhouse that I'm going to (namely Buck 65 on the 23rd and then Sam Isaac on the 25th - just so happens Donna Marie's supporting so that's the main reason I'm going to be there of course) and get all that sorted.

Now, really, in this day and age, you'd think that a box office would have a system in place that could handle the fact that you just might want to buy more than one gig ticket at a time wouldn't you? In the old days, you could, you just handed over the cash, got the tickets paid for and collected. Even at the Academy box office that's possible and all done manually, all done easy peasy and before now I've got tickets for 3-4 different gigs in one go. But now at Ticketline? Nope. Each gig has to be done as a separate transaction! How rubbish is that? I had already checked online and it was the same there - couldn't be done. Even worse of course was the fact I was going to get charged £1.85 postage per ticket because I'd have to do them in a separate transaction. So at least by going into there directly I saved that, so it was just ticket and their booking fees, which meant a £2.25 markup overall for the two tickets I was after. I blame whatever computer system they're using, it clearly isn't up to the job.

Spent a bit more time later listening to the new MJ Hibbett album "All Around My House" which arrived over the weekend. It's a really lovely package and well worth the mere fiver that it cost. My favourite track on there thus far and therefore tune of the day is "Gillette Soccer Saturday" which basically tells it like it is about said programme on Sky Sports News (and Sky Sports 1 if you have that) - it mentions the host Jeff Stelling, it mentions the fact that you never see the goals going in when you see the pitchside reporters, it mentions how it's the only place on Freeview that you get all of this (unless of course you count Score Interactive on BBCi, which is rubbish unless Lee Dixon is on there as one of the pundits) and indeed it's just a really good fun song. Why can't everything be so well written, I wonder?

Sunday 9th March - Happy Birthday To Nu

Had a darned fine time last night with my friend as the two of us headed off to Manchester Academy 1 to see Gary Numan. Now, I should mention that not only was this the "Replicas" tour, where the whole of that classic album would be played in its entirety, but it also just happened to coincide with Gary's 50th birthday. It reminded me of how it was when we saw Morrissey back in 2004 on his 45th birthday, and it was definitely that sort of atmosphere as everyone was absolutely crammed in to the Academy. And I do mean crammed in.

Anyway, first up were the support band, Daggers (myspace). They sounded nice and electronic and Industrial (no bad thing in my view) although the lead singer Theo clearly was a massive fan of Numan and even was trying to act like him on stage. Nonetheless they did a pretty solid set and sounded pretty decent. Also, Biz on the keyboards looked rather lovely in her black outfit, lots of leather in there and very 1980s electronic style. And with a smile too. They sounded very decent and the fact that Numan's had them as support for this tour speaks volumes. I have a hunch that they might just make it big, hopefully.

With them done, it was the excitement building up to Numan himself. Interestingly the sound engineers had on the Nine Inch Nails' "Things Falling Apart" remix album, which amongst other things includes a brilliant version of Gary Numan's "Metal". Of course, when it got to this track suddenly everyone in the crowd started singing along (as you'd expect.) The track got cut half way through though because it was time for Gary and the band to come on and do their thing, and the excitement built nicely. Someone had a massive banner which turned out to be double sided with different messages for Gary for his birthday, which was nice.

It all started off and it was basically a pretty kick ass show. No one was moshing but plenty of people were really getting into it a lot, and the album (plus B-sides etc) wasn't played in track order. There's a good reason: "Down In The Park" and "Are Friends Electric?" are early on in the album, and you wouldn't want to necessarily peak too early with the crowd pleasers. That said, everyone was on good form, the tracks were well arranged and slightly more Industrial and heavier, and "Me I Disconnect From You" particularly benefitted from that.

Of course, it was great to hear the whole album played and certainly for me, as I'm not as big as a Numan diehard as my friend is, also good to hear it live and sounding bloody good. Certainly for anyone who's been tempted by the 2CD "Redux" re-release of the album, hearing it like last night would definitely give you an incentive to go out and buy it. And the real favourites, such as "Down in The Park" sounded rather wonderful. Lots of the fans were giving it football chant style "Nuuuuuman! Nuuuuuuman!" between each track, which just added to the great atmosphere, and on top of all that, a kick ass version of "Are Friends Electric?" to finish things off well.

Well, not quite. On came Gary and the band for the encore, and unknown to him, the rest of the band and his wife had sorted out a 50th birthday cake for him, and the keyboard player then started playing "Happy Birthday" and the whole crowd sang along as well, which must have been rather lovely all round - certainly felt it. And it was also a pleasure that he gave up his birthday to play for us, star man! And what came next didn't disappoint, oh no. It was only an absolutely blistering version of "Cars" that reminded me of Fear Factory's version (which I should add, Numan sings on!) so top stuff. In fact hearing it on a Youtube clip from Newcastle this morning just made it even more tune of the day for me - and without shame either. It's still bloody ace.

Gig done, it was rather spot on. Two excellent gigs in the space of two days which brought back happy memories of last year's four in four. And the way it looks later this month, I might even be doing three in four days, which would be something! But on the whole, another great day and gig. The sun's even out today as well so I might even head for a walk later on, but the good thing is that there's plenty of football and motorsport to watch which might just prove to be a distraction (and arguably cheaper than going out, too!) so I'll have to see how the mood takes me later today. In the meantime, I did add some shots from the rain yesterday on my Flickr! gallery, so do check them out...

Saturday 8th March - Pop Shop!

I had my breakfast this morning and it was time to head over to my Mum's, as all the bits I needed to make a complete cordless phone had arrived. You see, I had cleared out some stuff in the house and actually found a spare cordless phone base station and handset for a BT Freestyle 2200. Mum mentioned that she needed a touch tone phone of some description because her old phone (a really classic one where you insert the finger into the number and rotate it round, yes that classic) isn't really any use for calling any call centres where they expect you to press a number.

As the base station uses a unique power supply, I was able to source one from one of the sellers on Tazbar, an auction site a bit like eBay but more UK-based, so it seems. It wasn't that much for the power supply plus postage to my place, and it arrived on Friday once I'd got home from work. I plugged the power supply in and started to charge the phone so that it would work without any problems. I then just needed a standard RJ11 to BT phone cable and the local pound shop had one of those that did the job, so it was all ready to go. I gave it a quick test on my phone line this morning and all seemed well, so off to Mum's I went.

Mum was dead pleased that I'd managed to find all the parts and indeed it also meant I was recycling something as well, so that completely agrees with my ethics, as you can imagine. And as my niece was also there, it was good to spend some quality time with her and generally keep her amused, not least as she loves Carrie and David's Pop Shop on CBeebies. Hard to believe that not only is David Grant now in his early fifties (he doesn't look it one bit) but he was also a member of the band Linx in the early 1980s, whose biggest hit was "Intuition". A bit like this!

Yes, hard to believe isn't it? Actually, Carrie looks also very good as well these days (she's 42) and definitely, I have to admit, pretty fanciable, except of course that she's married to David so that's a bit of a no-can do! But the Popshop show they do is loved by kids to bits - not least my niece and my nephew, and it's all good fun, so kudos to them really. And getting little ones singing and dancing is exercise too, so a win win situation all round really!

Headed into town later in the day and first stop was a coffee in Fopp, so I could listen to the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album with a latte (they had it playing in the shop rather handily) so it was just good to mellow out and listen to it. The title track of the album, "Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!" sounded excellent, so that's tune of the day for me, and it was just what I needed - a coffee and some good tunes. That done, I vowed that I'd purchase the album a bit later in the day, as I had a voucher that I could use at HMV and it would cover the cost of the album, so that worked out rather well.

I had a walk around M&S and indeed they had a sale on, so I thought I'd see if I could add to the wardrobe. I couldn't, but what was a bit frustrating was that most of the pairs of jeans in the sale had every single size - except mine! Then I discovered the clearance section right at the back, and they had something in my size, but the fit was loose fit, and boy do I mean loose, so that was a bit of a non starter. That said, it was good to walk around Manchester in the rain - there's something about it! I ended up later on in HMV not only picking up the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album, but also succumbing to their "two for £10" offer and purchasing David Bowie's "Low" and "Heroes" albums. I have the Philip Glass orchestral versions of both and I thought it would make perfect sense to own the original Bowie releases, which I've heard and liked anyway.

The rain's hammering it down, but at least there's the exciting prospect of seeing Gary Numan at the Academy 1 a bit later on. In fact it's a special anniversary of his "Replicas" album, so for this tour he's playing that album in its entirety plus any B-sides or anything associated with that album, so it should be rather kick ass all round. The last two times I've seen him it was quite a lot of moody dark Industrial stuff, and it may be the same way this time with the album stuff done in that style. But I am excited, and it reminds me of this time last year when I did four gigs in four days...

Friday 7th March - Levelling The Apollo

Had a thoroughly long but enjoyable day today. It all started at lunch time at work, I had booked a half day off for the afternoon as I needed to take some leave, and it was the leaving lunch for my work colleague on the Help Desk. I'm really sorry to see him go as he's one of the good guys, but at the same time if he's furthering his career then that has to be a good and positive thing, and I'm really pleased for him. Anyway, we all headed off to Efes' Mediterranean lunch time buffet, which was very nice indeed. There was lots that I could have, and I ended up having the soup, some lasagne and garlic bread, some king prawns, meatballs and all sorts. And of course some profiteroles for dessert, couldn't really go without those could I?

After doing my food shopping a bit earlier than normal, it was time to relax for the rest of the afternoon and get myself ready for tonight. One of my friends and their partner was coming over, and the three of us were off to the Apollo to see the Levellers. Now amazingly it's been twenty years that they've been going, and on top of that, my friend is a bit of a massive Levellers fan (she has the unique shirt to prove it!) so it was a case of not missing this for the world. Put it this way, her liking of the Levellers is like mine with Kristin Hersh, so you probably get the idea that it's somewhat good!

After a coffee at mine, the three of us headed on the bus to the Apollo, and it was pretty packed outside even though the doors had been open for some time. What I reckoned was those that were smoking were getting their fix before entering, as they couldn't leave and go back in. Made our way in and towards the front of the standing downstairs. We'd missed 3 Daft Monkeys, much to our disappointment, as they were on first, and so it was Alabama 3 acoustic up next.

They started off with a really good acoustic version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" first off, which obviously had the Manchester crowd going nicely, but then they ruined it by playing, on the whole, a fairly rubbish set. Rob Spragg, aka Larry Love, was most guilty for this. He seemed to parade round every few seconds thinking that he was the man, when clearly he wasn't. His arrogance rankled with me somewhat and I thought for a front man he was actually spoiling the band quite a bit. When he sang, it just ruined the good work of the guitarist and indeed the harmonica player who were trying their best to have a fairly good set going. Far be it from me to say, but I think these should have been on first and then 3 Daft Monkeys second, would have definitely worked better.

Thankfully, it was time for the Levellers to do their thing, and they did not disappoint in terms of their live performance. It was a really good vibe in the Apollo and the fans were generally very happy and full of life and bounding around like complete loons for the most part (nothing wrong with that I should add!) and in terms of the band performance, they were absolutely spot on. Jeremy Cunningham was bounding around, as he is prone to do, and with his dreadlocked hair flying around as he bounced up and down, it was pretty hypnotic seeing him do his thing. Mark Chadwick was belting out the vocals and the guitar with aplomb, and as has been the case with recent tours, they even had the digeridoo player out as well doing their thing.

It was just a really good set all round, even having the new free download single "A Life Less Ordinary" and the B-side "The Cholera Well", both of which sounded excellent live as they do on record. As you can well imagine, when "One Way" came on, the whole place went absolutely ballistic and several people had their arms round each other in a group circle and were all bounding around in unison, which was excellent stuff. Of course everyone naturally was singing the chorus to that one, simply because it's quite anthemic. Indeed, that and "The Riverflow" were part of the staple indie disco diet for me when I was younger so great to hear them both as live intended.

Also what was good was that they were on stage for around one hour forty minutes, which is pretty decent value in terms of live performance. "Just The One" during the first encore was great fun, and lots of people were happily singing along with beers in hand which is always a recipe for beer spillage (indeed the floor of the Apollo was either very sticky or very watery and slippery, depending on location) and then, best of all, "Liberty Song" and hereby that's song of the day. It sounded more anthemic live, as you'd expect, and I found myself not only remembering all the words (rare in itself) but also absolutely blasting out the chorus at full blast, really surprising myself. But I didn't care, I was enjoying myself thoroughly and my friend was in her element (understatement!!) so everything worked out nicely. I'll have a happy memory of singing along "This means nothing to me, to me, the way we were is the way that I want to.. BE!" and everyone around me was doing the same as Mark Chadwick and really shouting out that last word. It was even cathartic!

Made our way home after 3 Daft Monkeys had joined the Levellers on stage for the final number and a bit of a fiddle-off, and on reflection we all enjoyed it, although my friend and I did come to the same conclusion that a fair bit of the set was very similar to the one on the Chaos Theory DVD - but that didn't detract from the enjoyment one iota. It was good to see the Apollo not only full, but the sound engineers did a cracking job of actually making the sound work and listenable as well as the general vibe. I felt really uplifted as I went to sleep and I think that I might have to see them again if I get the chance.

Thursday 6th March - Clusters and Cuts

One of those days today where I was dashing around a heck of a lot and indeed now I'm home, time to kick back and relax, I reckon. First thing this morning one of the servers had decided to reset itself overnight due to an error, and when it does that, sometimes the rubbish firmware on the HP Proliant servers decides that even if you've set their BIOS to ignore the "press F1 key to continue" at the boot screen, it'll ask you to press F1 anyway. And this is what it did, so I got that all started up and then did some server maintenance at the same time to make sure that everything would run smoothly - may as well do it while I've got chance, that was my mode of thinking.

After a phone call to arrange an engineer visit for a printer, I was over in one of our other campuses (a 20 minute bus ride away no less) to have a meeting, and there I was picking up some handy pointers how to set the backup software up correctly on a cluster. A lot of servers seem to be increasingly part of a cluster now, and the way you do it, once it's explained, seemed pretty straight forward and actually was painless - as long as you remember to add the virtual servers that the cluster holds in the right bit of the backup software afterwards. All seemed well, and it didn't seem that hard as such. Much easier too when you can see what's going on on screen as well so you can make a mental note of how everything should look.

The afternoon involved checking out a PC and sending it over to one of our departments for repairs - as the motherboard looked severely goosed and completely not working to me - and then arranging a couple of call outs for tomorrow, so all seemed well. I stopped off at my usual hairdressers on the way home, the Northern Cutter, to take the hair to bits because it absolutely needed doing. It was getting way too thick and to be honest I can't hack it when it's like that, so time to get it all sorted out. As usual, the staff in there worked their magic in next to no time and did a wonderful job. Life is so much easier when you have things you can rely on, isn't it? Well, I'd like to think so.

As I've got to use my leave up before the end of the Easter break, I've got some time off due which of course, naturally, I'm going to take. Now the thing is that I'm considering going to the MJ Hibbett Totally Acoustic thingy at the Lamb in London, as I'm sure that would be a blast. Even better of course is that Virgin now do print at home tickets between Manchester and London, so during the week you can pay as little as £1 each way, although most of them tend to be £7, which to be honest, is still dirt cheap! Just a shame that the last el cheapo train back is just a little bit too early and would clash with the end of the gig, meaning a possible stopover, and of course that bumps the cost up.

But nonetheless, with the new album on order, I simply had to go back to the previous release "A Million Ukeleles" because it's rather great fun all round, and you have to simply adore the title track. In fact one fan liked it so much it inspired him to cover it (with a ukelele I should add) and then chuck it on Youtube for all to see. The original version which I've just played now is therefore tune of the day, but this version is also rather nice and enjoyable. View and sing along if you know the words!

Wednesday 5th March - Ghosts In The Machine

Well, after I wrote yesterday's entry, I kept attempting to download the Nine Inch Nails' "Ghosts I-IV" album that I'd paid for - I went for the option of download now and receive the physical CD when it gets released in April, so that I've got something to play on the rig at nice high quality. Each time I tried the download though, it either stalled or failed, which as I mentioned, wasn't exactly giving me much confidence in the download servers that they were using. After a few fails, I thought that it would be best for me to go to bed and then in the morning see what the state of play was.

I woke up, and switched the PC on, checked my mail and activated the download link before I hit the shower. Once I'd been showered and dried, to my amazement, the 270-odd megabyte download was almost complete, and this time it didn't fail! Hurrah! I don't know if that was down to extra server capacity or anything like that, but it certainly seemed to do the job nicely, and downloaded everything. And you don't just get the MP3s either (all encoded at 320Kbps, nice!) but you also get some desktop wallpapers in normal screen and widescreen, some nifty web graphics, a PDF of the album's booklet, and even a jpeg image of the front cover too. All nice. I might even have to review the music contained within the album and see how that goes, but one thing I did notice: Adrian Belew doing some of the guitars. Oooh.

Mind you, that's not the only album I've ordered in advance either this week. I had a notification from MJ Hibbett that he was doing a very limited edition CD version of the album "All Around My House" which he wrote during February Album Writing Month, which is a pretty creative rush to do a whole album's worth of stuff in just twenty nine days. Even I don't have that sort of productivity levels when churning out poetry! Originally it was planned to be web only, but due to popular demand there was a limited edition CD, so those on his mailout got notification to get the orders in quick, and at a mere fiver for the album, no complaints from yours truly, so I'm looking forward to getting that to be honest. MJ's just one of the good guys: a smile and a song and wit and humour, and just makes you feel bloody happy along the way. And after all as the song goes: "Being happy doesn't make you stupid!"

So as a result I did feel rather productive today in the office and did at least manage to sort out some Powerpoint stuff in the morning before taking on a new report write to do with an Access database in the afternoon, both of which went rather well on the whole. I still find Access a bit clunky, but I guess I can manipulate the way it works quite well, which always helps. I'm not an expert on it though and I certainly can't do the fancy stuff like VBA or SQL, but if you want a nice menu, macros that work and a general ease of use for those who don't normally do databases, then at least I can go that far. Most of the stuff I tend to do is quite modular as well so it's easy to follow and pick up, which is the very least that I can do.

Anyway, been listening to the first two parts of Ghosts (I-II) as I type this, and each of the four parts are split into nine tracks, all with the same title (ie: 1-9 is Ghosts I, 10-18 Ghosts II etc). It's quite a brooding instrumental work thus far, and it certainly is something that's not exactly a marked departure from some of NIN's stuff, but it's certainly a bit more film soundtrack-esque, don't know if that was the intention. As it is though, I quite like Ghosts II, part 6 (track 15 in the downloads list) as it's rather hypnotic and dark, and so that's tune of the day for me at the moment. I'll probably listen to the lot now and see what bits of each I like..

Tuesday 4th March - MacBook Airs And Nine Inch Download Graces

Well, I had fun and games with a MacBook Air today. One of our academic staff had decided to purchase one (we didn't advise them to because of its limitations) and they wanted Microsoft Office putting on there. Now, here's the kicker: Office is on CD, and there's no CD drive with the MacBook Air. And as my PC isn't wireless, I can't even install the RemoteDisc software to attempt to use that as a remote CD drive for installation. I immediately thought of using our external USB CD writer as a solution, and that hooked up to the PC fine, but when I tried it on the MacBook Air, did it work? No. Rubbish! In fact, there's been many a complaint that the Air only will work with the USB external CD drive that Apple supply, which is of course at an extortionate cost. And don't even get me started about the lack of USB ports, no ethernet, and the stupid connector that is used so that you have to get Apple's adapter to hook up a DVI or VGA monitor to the thing. Even our Mac fanboys in the office dislike it and don't like the direction that Apple are going in, which says a lot to me anyway.

I did manage to get Office installed though: I had an ISO image of the installer, so I simply put that onto my 2GB USB pen drive, then connected it up to the MacBook Air which detected fine. I then double clicked the ISO image from the pen drive to mount it, and did the install that way, which worked. Hurrah! I must remember that handy tip if I ever get another MacBook Air in the office, but to be honest, as lightweight as it is, it just isn't that usable and I'd much rather, given the choice, have an Asus Eee any day of the week. It's small and compact, and it runs Linux without any problems, oh, and it's also a heck of a lot cheaper and can be expanded with SD cards for more disk space, as well as housing proper USB ports, ethernet, etc etc. You get the idea.

Got home and checked out the link for the new Nine Inch Nails album. I chose the option for the 2CD set and immediate download, paid online (which worked fine even though the postage charges to the UK weren't exactly cheap for the physical product) and then was given a link to download the files. Now the only problem was that it got to around 97% of the file download, and the page just gave up sending any data, so I had to click it again and restart the download from scratch. I hate to say it, but if my experience is anything to go by, the server operators who are running the NIN mini-site have pretty much under-estimated the fact that there are lots of NIN fans out there who will want to download the album as soon as possible: and as the link is a one-time only chance to snag it, it's not exactly bomb-proof so that genuine people who have paid for the thing might not even be able to download it. Hmm.

My friend also alerted me to the fact that a couple of new Levellers tracks had been released as well, prior to their 20th anniversary tour. Now I don't mind a bit of the Levs whatsoever, and the fact that they are still going after 20 years says a lot to me that they've survived, and survived well. I had a listen to the two tracks available, and the good news is that it reminds me of really old school style Levellers, which for me, is a good thing. And it also sounds well produced too. Many people, myself included, as much as we loved "Levelling The Land" back in the day, we know it was let down by the really under produced sound that made it sound bloody tinny, and that's not exactly what it should be like. Thankfully "A Life Less Ordinary" is a bloody great track, and if they play it when they do their tour I can imagine quite a few fans jumping up and down and going almost as mental as Jeremy from the band does! So tune of the day is an easy choice. Now to re-listen to "Not In My Name" which features Nick Harper (I have it on a CD single) as that's got to be done..

Monday 3rd March - Projecting My Thoughts

Had one of those mixed bags of days today. I did manage to install a printer no problem (and a doddle on the lecturer's Mac that I had to install it on as well) and in the morning had to talk with some students about the ins and outs of Powerpoint and what makes a good presentation, and what doesn't. Key things to note are when you include video files, make sure they're files you can read on a PC and a Mac for cross platform capability, and as the video files aren't embedded, make sure that they're saved in the same place as your presentation so that all the links etc will work. It's all advice that you don't always get, so I had the projector out as well to demonstrate, which worked rather nicely.

I always wondered as well what it would take to think of my thoughts, note them down in Powerpoint, and project them as a possible work of art? Maybe it would be one of my poems, or one of my pictures, or indeed a doodle that I could hand draw and then scan in? Increasingly now you see short films or artworks projected on to a bigger screen for cause and effect, and I wondered how it would definitely be a different form of artform if those were random thoughts from your own mind that you'd have projected on there - maybe I'm on to something here that might win the Turner Prize. After all, if you win for having a display which turns lights on and off, anything is well possible.

I got an email from one of my friends which basically informed me that the new Nine Inch Nails album was available for pre-order and download. I'll have to give that a bash tomorrow and see how it all works out - the options look good but to be honest the ultra limited edition, as nice as it is and signed by Trent Reznor himself, is a bit too expensive for me, and the deluxe one, as nice as that is, with the blu-ray high definition audio disc, would be fine if I had such a player! So I think I'll probably plump for the 2-CD set to pre-order, and that way you get the downloads there and then as well if you wish to snaggle them (the physical album comes out next month and will be available in the shops for those who like to wait.)

As it got quite late at night, I ended up watching some old football on ESPN Classic with the sound down and some instrumental tracks mainly being played on the CD player, after I'd had a good rock out session to the Soulwax Mix of Ladytron's "Seventeen", which is still brilliant to listen to after all these years. But after I'd played some of the Philip Glass "Heroes" Symphony, and indeed the excellent version of "Warszawa" on the Low Symphony, I needed to listen to the original Bowie classic, so I fired up the Control soundtrack and listened to it on there, and somehow it all makes sense to the place it was made and indeed how intense it feels - so that wins tune of the day.

Sunday 2nd March - Mum Time

After making some breakfast, namely croissants and coffee, in the morning, it was unfortunately time for my friends to head home. With it being Mother's Day today it would be understandable that they too wanted to spend some time with their Mums and as one of them is married with kids, be good for them to head back so that the kids could fuss over their Mum too. It had been a great weekend (as emails from my friends later testified) and I was really pleased that I'd been able to do it. There is talk of another meet up later in the year which definitely is well worth consideration, so that will be a date for the diary without a shadow of doubt!

I headed over to my Mum's, stopping off at the local Sainsbury's on the way to pick up some of their rather nice raspberry and white chocolate cookies. I wanted them fresh on the day so it would be much more desirable to munch them with a cup of tea, and as Mum had asked for everyone to give her money so that she can buy things for her holidays later in the year, I had already made sure of a nice card and some money in there so that she could have something to open as well. My cunning plan paid off - after we'd both had cod in butter sauce with some potatoes for lunch (an old favourite of mine too) it was time for cuppa and the cookies, which worked out really well.

It was lovely spending time with Mum actually, even nicer was that our sister and husband came round with their daughter and so I was able to be the big kid and fuss over her - although sit her in front of a television with Lazytown and/or Tweenies on and that's her entertained without any problems. In fact there's some new show on where David and Carrie Grant (those two judges from BBC's Fame Academy) sing along to songs and get the kids dancing, and it's really good fun for the little ones. So that went down a treat.

Also spent some time this evening evaluating some old classic game themes from the Commodore 64 I'd not heard in a while, mainly those from the game Last Ninja 2 which was one of my favourites. One of the in game themes from that covers Tangerine Dream's "Alchemy of the Heart" and as I've got the original version of that I simply had to play that and listen to all twelve minutes, so tune of the day has got to be that one. Ah, if only the tape version of the game didn't take so bloody long to load!!

Saturday 1st March - Blanks In The Rain

Well I woke up this morning and supposedly it was the first day of the Spring season. Apparently. However, it didn't look it whatsoever. Last night the wind and rain had howled really badly, so much so that one of the big wheelie bins by the doctor's surgery close by to the house had completely blown over, and it did feel like it was a bad one, with the rain clattering against the windows of the house. It still looked a bit cold and wet in the morning but was brightening up nicely as everyone woke up, I made us all some coffee and then some bacon and sausage barm cakes for breakfast (my wise choice of Lincolnshire sausage proved very popular) and then settled into watch Soccer AM and all its little foibles that it has, perfect for the morning because of the football and humour involved.

The weather had dried up by noon so it was time to head into the centre of Manchester and head over to the Waterhouse for some beer and some lunch. It was quite busy particularly as quite a few families were there having lunch, but it was also relaxed enough that we could have some good real ale - indeed the Brains' "Bread of Heaven" one went down quite a treat and definitely tasted spot on for me - and at a good price as well. Even managed to use a voucher for there so that we got some off the round as it made the Stella around 50p cheaper, better having the money in our pocket than theirs I reckoned.

We did lunch in there as well and I had the mixed grill, which was a very wise decision, as there was lots on the plate which would keep us going until our Saturday evening kebab visit later on and also mean that we would feel nicely full of food whilst watching the Manchester City game late afternoon. We left there just before 4pm and headed to Piccadilly to get the shuttle bus to the ground and everything looked rosy thus far, hopefully as well being able to witness a Manchester City win which would be pretty good to see - not won at home for some time now.

Sadly, City were pretty disappointing. I'd got us four seats right at the front in the South Stand so that we were close to the action and indeed ready to celebrate if any goals went in, especially during the first half. Also because no one was in front of us, we could stay sat down but didn't mind that it was the singing end full of people standing and cheering the lads on. It made the atmosphere a lot better and indeed it also meant that it was a rather good vibe around the ground. Unfortunately, City had left their shooting boots at home and despite a few clear chances, we just couldn't score and it ended up 0-0 against Wigan. The main positive for me was the return of Michael Johnson in midfield who really did take the game by the scruff of the neck, and I thought also that Darius Vassell had a really good game battling away and making chances, and troubling the Wigan defence constantly. Just a shame that Benjani couldn't finish the cross that Vassell had made to win the game late on, but nonetheless it was at least something. 0-0 was a fair result though.

After heading off back into the centre of Manchester via the shuttle bus, we headed out to Sandbar, one of my occasional haunts, to have a few drinks in there. It was peeing down so taking the bus there was the sensible option and indeed it also meant that we were able to keep reasonably dry, as during the game and after that it had been absolutely teaming it down with rain. To my delight Sandbar not only had the Timothy Taylor Dark Mild, but also the Moorhouse's Black Cat as well, both of which proved to be quality ales indeed and served the proper way, as it should be. The four of us got a table and it was a very nice vibe in there, the jukebox was playing some decent tunes at a reasonable volume and we were able to bang the world to rights whilst keeping an eye on some admittedly very nice people around. Everything felt right and it was good stuff.

In fact, I even chucked a quid in the jukebox and selected five tunes from there for listening delectation. After much deliberation I picked Groove Armada's "I See You Baby", New Order's "True Faith", Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades" (one of my friends liked the band and has yet to see Control, which of course I've highly recomemnded that he does, so tune of the day right there) as well as Pixies'" Monkey Gone To Heaven" and Pink Floyd's "Money". What was pretty good also was that the jukebox played Pixies'" Wave of Multilation" and whilst singing along to it one of the women behind the bar walked past and smiled - she must have liked the song too! So that cheered me up nicely even more so than the comedy and entertainment my friends and I were having. Hurrah!

Made our way home late in the evening via the local takeaway for kebabs and pizza (well pizza for me at least) and chilled out with some late night football, tunes and even a bit of Tubular Bells to finish the evening off. It'd all gone well today and I was really pleased to be able to get all my friends together again and be able to pull it all off. It proved to me as well that not only should I do this a bit more often if I get the chance, but also that I've been able to build up my friendships a lot more in the last year or so, which is very important to me.