Dear Diary... March 2009

Tuesday 31st March - Interview Fun And Games

Had a job interview today as part of the ongoing restructure at work. A lot of the positions at a grade that's higher than the one I am on need to be filled, and if possible those in existing posts can fill them. A lot of people have been encouraged by this and have applied for several positions at that grade in the hope that one of them could be filled by them. Well for me today was the interview for one position I went for. I kind of wish that the interview had been earlier in the day instead of 12 noon, because then you're having to wait around in the office till it's time, have the interview and then for the rest of the day be able to see what happens.

I turned up in the suit and tie, and my colleague joked that I could be going to court instead of an interview (we normally don't have to wear a suit, you see) but I felt okay with that - kind of relaxed me. In fact when I was heading over to the office where the interview was taking place, a couple of the admin girls spotted me and wolf-whistled, so they must have thought I looked decent, which was good. Then it was a case of waiting for the previous applicant to come out and call me in and have the chat. On the whole I am not sure how it went - it's very easy to over-analyse these things, but I'm sure that no matter what it'll mean that I'll have been given the opportunity to at least go for things. And the practice is of course something that's always handy.

Thankfully the afternoon passed as well and I got a few things done including attempting to fix a HP Deskjet printer, which in truth, proved to be a fruitless exercise. I think some of the internal components had clearly gone, and it was a case of recommending a replacement. Sometimes you have to do that to be honest: the cost of repairs are expensive enough that it's worth actually getting a new one in balance of costs and labour etc. Still, I couldn't wait to get home and get out of the suit and change into something far more comfortable.

I also had the very nice thought that The Strings On My Guitar would be heading over later, so to work off some excess adrenalin, it was time for Guitar Hero III on the Wii and I even managed that bloody Slayer song "Reign In Blood" again, just to see if I had learned anything from the first time I did it. I also tried out Rock Band, as it had arrived from Tesco DVD Rental, but sadly, the Guitar Hero III guitar didn't work with it. I kind of guessed that'd be the case, but unlike on Guitar Hero III where you can still use the Wii Remote for hitting the notes etc, on Rock Band you can't, which is annoying, so off that went back to Tesco.

The Strings came over, I made us some tea and then we relaxed a bit with some tennis and bowling on the Wii, I did the Wii Sports fitness test thingy and got the age as 20, the lowest you can get, which pleased me no end! After that it was time to relax more and get the Scrabble out, and I put on John Mayer's "Room For Squares" album, which The Strings quite liked as well when she heard it. I think "Neon" is the best track on the album and therefore tune of the day, but there were many other contenders!

Monday 30th March - Can I Fix It? Yes I Can!

Today's title came by the way of some strange inspiration. As we were walking downhill in Scarborough yesterday I saw an abandoned kiddies' little float thing, with Bob The Builder on - and the "Yes We Can!" lettering was visible from what I could see. And today it's been a case of I can fix things, and I've been able to in all instances - there are times when you are on a roll and this is very much one of them.

This morning a couple of our theatre staff moved into another office because their existing office has no light, no windows and is pretty depressing, it has to be said. The other office is a bit more light and airy and far better for what they do, and they had network points in there for a different network, so craftily on Friday I had registered the network card addresses - just in case - and that all worked when we plugged the kit in. And of course so did their network laser printer, which was moved to the office that they had before as well - so that worked out all for the best really. It was done within the half hour and the staff were pleased, so I had cheered people up.

Same went for this afternoon. A couple of my colleagues were clearing out a room in preparation for us vacating it, and it had old kit in there. Amongst one thing we had was an Apple G4 tower Mac complete with Apple Display, and I knew someone who was after a Mac - our weave section, as their iMac G3 had fallen over and died recently. I had a cunning plan - basically to open up the G3, take out the working hard disk and any RAM, put that into the G4 tower and then see if it booted and go from there. It took me a little while to get to the hard disk to remove it, but remove it I did, swapped it into the G4, and badabing! The G4 booted up with the hard disk installed and straight to OS 9.1, which meant that the weave software, once the dongle was attached, also worked. Hurrah! One happy chuffed member of staff there, too.

So I felt on a roll really, and went into town to double check if they really had reduced Guitar Hero World Tour full band game to £30 or not, as I swore I saw it in the window of HMV yesterday. Turned out my brain deceived me, it was actually £30 off reducing it to £120, or else that'd have been snapped up. Mind you, I had a go of it on the Xbox360 in Game to compensate, and I even played through REM's "The One I Love" (and therefore tune of the day too) because that just worked wonderfully well and if I could, I'd have sung along quite nicely to it whilst playing the tune, or so the theory goes anyway!

Sunday 29th March - On The Button In Scarborough

Well today was a long day, but all the better for it as there was plenty of excitement to fill the day and indeed, when I look back, a really happy day as well. First up though was the F1 from Australia, and even with the start time being pushed back in Melbourne, it still meant that the race was to commence at 7am UK time (the clocks had gone forward overnight too so it actually felt like 6am, fun and games there). I had thankfully set the alarm on my phone to wake me up and so get ready to actually watch the race and see what happens in there. The Chain came on, the previews of the race all looked good, Martin Brundle's grid walk was brilliant (and it was good of Jenson Button to give some insights into what would happen with the tyres for example) and it was all set to go.

The race itself was full of incident: Rubens Barrichello got stuck in gear off the start line and him trying to cut the corner caused a fair shunt with a few cars struggling to stay on. Jenson Button though wasn't daft: he drove smooth and safe to get track position and stayed in first ahead of the impressive Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull. Just before Button pitted though, Kazuki Nakajima crashed the Williams into the barrier near turn five, and with debris everywhere on the track the safety car came out. Ross Brawn got Jenson in and the change of tyres happened before the safety car, keeping position, and after the safety car went in, Button kept his head and stayed ahead, whilst Nelson Piquet Jr spun the car into turn one on braking and was out of the race. Oops.

With the second tyre stop, Button had built up enough of a lead to stay ahead of Vettel and even with a not so good pit stop that was still the case. Meanwhile, Robert Kubica had used the rubbish tyres early on and had the good set, and so was catching Vettel. With three laps left the two came together into turn three, Kubica tried to carry on but crashed into turn five, whilst Vettel tried to carry on despite his wheel hanging off the front wing (deemed later to be dangerous and giving him a 10 place grid penalty). As the safety car was out for the rest of the race, it meant that Button would win (because you can't overtake under safety car until the start of a green flag lap - which was the run down lap after the race!). As it turned out, Jarno Trulli had overtaken Lewis Hamilton under safety car too, thinking Hamilton was retiring, but he wasn't.

So that meant that Jenson had drove a brilliant race to win, and with his team mate Barrichello managing to keep it going and get second, the subsequent demotion of Trulli post-race meant that Hamilton was third, so he can't complain, especially as the McLaren didn't seem half as good as the Brawn car today. Full praise to Jenson for his second win, and well deserved it was too. I only hope that the FIA don't throw a hissy fit over the Brawn's diffuser, after all it's been deemed legal and if other teams can't innovate, then it's not the Brawn's fault is it? Ross Brawn = genius, and he's from Manchester. So there.

After all that and some breakfast, it was off to the train station as myself and The Letters In My Rock were off - to the seaside! Ages ago we'd taken advantage of a Transpennine Express offer and booked some tickets to Scarborough for a mere £18 return each, which wasn't bad considering the distance travelled. Today was the day to go and we got to the station in good time for the 1007 departure, finding out that that was delayed by almost half an hour. Meh. We had planned to possibly head to Whitby by bus, but this meant that we wouldn't get there, but we didn't mind as we'd still head around Scarborough anyway and have a lovely time.

The train kept its time to be around half an hour late and so got into Scarborough itself at around 1pm. We walked down the main street and through the town centre and towards the sea, and we felt that lunch was required. We did see a couple of fish and chip places that looked okay, but then we saw one that we both thought "looks nice in here" and stopped for a spot of lunch. It turned out to be a very good decision indeed, as Restaurant 55 was not only friendly and welcoming, and offered good views of the sea front, but, most importantly of all, the food was completely spot on. They do a nice deal for around a fiver where you get a nice haddock, with lovely soft melty fish and crispy batter but not full of fat, with some good chips, mushy peas, and bread and butter too.

It was completely delicious and The Letters, who's not normally a fish person, said it was really lovely. The haddock was fresh and locally caught, and the dripping used for the batter was a traditional recipe as well, which helped a lot. We were thoroughly impressed, the value for money for their deal was excellent and I didn't mind giving them a good tip as we left because they were polite, courteous, looked after us, and cooked the fish fresh, which to be honest is as it should be. If you happen to be around those parts, get down there. Honestly, it'll be one of the best decisions you make in terms of eating an excellent fish and chips in nice surroundings. People often complain too much and don't give praise where it's due - let's hope I can redress the balance a bit. Go visit them, I tell you!

Suitably full up after lunch, we headed to the harbour and to the piers in the harbour to have a look around there. Right at the end at the lighthouse stands a sculpture which commemorates the Scarborough Belles - this was the "diving belle" with the diver facing the sea and looking outwards. It's symmetrical to the front of the lighthouse so you can get them both in shot - as well as seeing a rather old Vickers Pattern gun that was fished out of the sea and that dates from the First World War - and full of rust as well, I should note. We headed back along to the front and saw the little Luna Park funfair, complete with plenty of spinning rides, the dodgems and of course the traditional stuff like hook a duck. Sadly, the Kentucky Derby was missing though...

We then headed up a lot of stairs and along a path to Scarborough Castle, which has stood on the cliffs separating the North and South Bay since construction. As the castle itself was due to close in half an hour, we felt it wasn't worth going in, so we just took the scenic walk which takes you along the castle walls and then you head downwards to some of the old fortress gates and back down from when you came. It's a good walk round and you do get to see some lovely views as well as plenty of seagulls.

Those pesky gulls were all around the cliffs as we walked along Marine Drive towards the North Bay as well - along with a shed load of bikers! It turns out that Scarborough seems pretty popular for the leather-clad fraternity, especially as a lot of the coastal roads are very scenic and a beauty to drive on, so it seems. There was even a bike parking bay for them all to drop the bikes off safely. We headed along Marine Drive, spotted a surfer attempting to start to go out to sea via some of the rocks, which looked a tad risky to say the least, and then once we'd got a soft drink and refreshed ourselves, headed along the Royal Albert Park.

The plan was to walk through the park along the sloping path that goes up, and up and up along the cliff and to the archway that would lead you near to Scarborough Castle, and indeed going up there proved to be really worth it. We then headed along the far end of the castle walls to a nearby church and graveyard, where Anne Bronte's grave is - turned out that she used to live in a house on the site of the former Grand Hotel as well, hence the grave being here in Scarborough instead of Haworth. After that, down some stairs and a hill and then along towards the South Bay, even walking on the beach as I went along, and into one uber-arcade as well.

The grabbers were their usual money grabbing selves, but I was hoping to spot something else - and didn't I just? Three pinball machines, side by side. It was difficult to decide what to go for but in the end I decided to go for the CSI one, and that was a pretty good machine all round - it had the proper voices from the TV show and of course lots of action both on the video screen at the top and on the flippers and bumpers itself. It did seem a little hard to hit the top ramps, but apart from that all good fun and pretty playable all round, so no complaints there really. I even did a little game where a ball got fed into some holes, and depending on which hole you got prize tokens, which you could exchange for gifts later on, that worked out pretty nicely really.

We walked onwards towards the Spa Bridge past one of the old cliff lifts, admired the bridge from being on it and overlooking the sea and the sunset, and then past the old Grand Hotel and to the pub for some tea, where a nice Sunday Roast awaited us both to relax and reflect on what was a good day out all round - and then off to the station to get the 7.50pm departure back to Manchester. We got in a few minutes early, dead on 10pm, so it was actually two hours ten minutes for the whole journey, so no complaints there considering it's some 115 miles away and around two hours by car if you drove...

All in all, a lovely day, made even more lovelier by the fact I had The Letters with me having such a good time too and that's something else, let me tell you. I think that I really did enjoy it more as we both just had a lot of exercise and a good walk around, and even the sun sort of came out too. On the way home I had a song in my had that I resisted humming as we were both lagging a bit, but simply it was "Beautiful Day" by the Levellers. Oh how I still love that song, and tune of the day it bloody well is. Might even have to see them on tour later this year...

Saturday 28th March - Brains Or Brawn?

I was a pretty happy bunny this morning as I got up - I had recorded the qualifying for the F1 (it was on at stupid o'clock and I felt it was better to actually be awake to watch it) and so I sat back, and waited for the Sky Plus recording to start. And then the theme tune came on with the title sequence, quite intriguing that. It's a really nice piece of animation with the cars going through what looks like Singapore in the night race and then the tunnel in Monaco, and it just seemed to have a good feel about it. I'd much rather have live action in the title sequence like we used to have, but it didn't matter. F1 was back on proper telly (the BBC) with no commercials, and we still had Martin Brundle. Hurrah to that!

It was a pretty good effort all round too: I had my doubts about Jake Humphrey as presenter but he really seemed to be enthusiastic about the whole thing and just kept things flowing nicely between himself, David Coulthard and Eddie Jordan - and if Brundle was praising them for the job thus far then that had to be good. All the features were good up to the qualifying, and during that itself, Jonathan Legard was okay, but I think he needs to remember he isn't commentating for radio anymore - he didn't seem completely comfortable talking to a television audience, whilst Brundle was the consummate professional as ever and really showed how it was done. Part of me wondered why David Croft didn't get the nod, he seems much more in the mode of Murray. But, we shall see - over time I'm hoping Legard will settle in as he seems knowledgable and in the right frame of mind.

The racing itself was something else: who'd have thought that the team rising from the ashes of what was Honda would take first and second on the grid, with Jenson Button on pole position? Not me, that's for sure. Whilst the Brawn car was looking good all weekend, you still had to perform and didn't they just, with 1-2 in Q1 and Q2 with Rubens Barrichello up front in both, and then for the final quali, Button raised the game and nailed a really hot lap which took pole position, and you could tell by the body language of both himself and Rubens that he was well happy with what happened, with the excellent Sebastian Vettel third in the Red Bull (which of course pleased Coulthard no end, especially as he'd also said to Eddie Jordan that Button would be pole and was proved right).

There's a lot more to come, but a solid promising start for the BBC coverage and they seem to be getting the basics right. It's so pleasing not to have any commercial breaks as well, you can see everything and it makes a whole lot of difference when the race unfolds, that will be for sure. If you're in the UK, you can watch the title sequence and get yourself in the mood for the racing, and that theme tune is so there as well. Oh, I'm a happy bunny let me tell you. And nice use of Snow Patrol during explaining the new cars, so "Chasing Cars" (which is what everyone will be doing to Brawn) is tune of the day!

Friday 27th March - Pool Sharks

It was a pretty good day at the office today, despite being pretty busy with student deadlines and stuff. I also had a technical group meeting in the morning as well so it was good to go there and divulge information as well as be able to get some useful info out too. One of the things I did notice is that several staff mailboxes were pretty large and may need attention, but also it was intriguing to see that there was something that looks like the future could be very interesting for the next year or two, but we shall see how that all pans out in the grand scheme of things. It was however lovely to have a good natter with one of my colleagues from another site, who I get on pretty well with. I think on the whole there might be quite a few things to get sorted out..

Once the day was done, it was a case of heading home and then off to Tesco to get the shopping done. I wanted to get some bits in for the weekend and some things that I was planning to make a meal with tomorrow night. Well, The Bubbles In My Aero Bar has promised me that she's going to make a rather nice lemon cheesecake, and if it's anything as nice as the one she made last time, then I am so there, let me tell you. I mean she doesn't have to do it but I know that it's something she enjoys, the cooking (rather her than me any day of the week!) and I like to indulge, you know.

I spoke to my friend and when he booked the tickets for the City game, he didn't realise the sheer madness that was the whole fun and games with regards to actually getting a ticket, and it turned out that we were in block 136 in the North Stand for both the Fulham home game and the Hamburg game too, which was fine by me to be quite honest. At least it means that we could get in and it's all level, so all is well with the world there. Anyway, we deicided to arrange to have an online play of Cue Sports: Snooker vs Billiards on the Wii, as it supports the Wifi connection and allows you to play against a friend provided you put their friend code in, hurrah!

We set ourselves up and decided on all manner of the game modes. First up was 8-ball, where my friend beat me 2 racks to 1 - I didn't help myself by potting the black at the wrong time. Duh! Then it was the snooker, which I won, but the frame was good fun nonetheless. The rotation came next and that was a good game too, with the win hinging on one break where five or six of the numbered balls were potted in order, ramping up the score. It was then to 9-ball, where I pulled off a nifty cannon from the 7 to the 9 ball in order to put the 9 in and snatch the win, and then my friend roundly thrashed me on the final game of rotation, knocking 10, 11, 12 and 13 followed by 14 to seal the win nicely. We're pool sharks I reckon, and why the hell not?

Oh, the F1 starts at 5am tomorrow and I am excited, but I'm also not daft. I have set the Sky Plus box to record it so I can watch it at a more civilised hour. I saw part of the opening titles on BBC News with The Chain, and it looked bloody great as well. I can't wait you know. In the meantime, I'm going to give "The Chain" tune of the day - it simply is the F1 theme tune and when that blares out introducing the coverage, I am so there...

Thursday 26th March - I Love Your Funny Face

Had a quiet night in with The Bubbles In My Aero Bar tonight. It was rather cold, wet and windy outside and we thought that seeing as we'd be out and about this weekend, then it would be the best thing to relax a while indoors and then save up the time and money for then, I guess it's pretty practical to do that at this time of year isn't it? So, first things first, I stopped off at the local Asda on the way home and got a couple of things I needed for tea - namely a rather nice raspberry panna cotta for dessert and also some other bits and bobs whilst I was in there as well to save me some of the shopping workload tomorrow, as that would be handy I reckon.

I made us tea and had some orange juice along with it, and we caught up on the day and how things had been for us during the last couple of days. I also wound down a bit with some tennis on the Wii Sports (in fact The Bubbles' ranking is now over 500 so she isn't that far off getting pro level one day I think) and then we settled back to watch the latest DVD rental arrival from Tesco - namely Funny Face, a 1950s classic with Fred Astaire, and of course for me, the rather lovely Audrey Hepburn. It was pretty much what it said on the tin, it had Audrey cast very well as the dowdy little bookseller who was discovered and then made into a model, but of course she went along just so she could go to Paris really, but the photographer (Astaire) and the bookseller turned model (Hepburn) fall in love, and it's such soooo lovely at the end. Awwwww.

I know, I know, I'm a sucker for that sort of thing really, but when you've got Audrey looking so delightful without even having to try (it's natural beauty folks) and with the songs throughout which make it a light hearted musical along the way, then you can't help but be cheered up by it, and the songs too are rather good, some of George and Ira Gershwin's finest works here, including the title track of the film, which is tune of the day for me - I love the way it just says "I love your funny face" in a really sweet and soft way, sort of telling people that everyone is individual but they can be loved just the same as anyone, which underlying the whole story is what it's all about really.

Talking of the Wii, yesterday evening I noticed that the Wii was flashing blue by the CD slot. I figured this was WiiConnect24 sending me a message, and sure enough, it was telling me that there's some new system software for the Wii and would I like to update. Would I ever?? Anyway, the update made the Wii into version 4.0E, and with good reason - there's quite a few nice enhancements now. You've got the SD Card Channel easily accessible, so you can play games from Virtual Console and WiiWare directly from the SD Card instead of taking up the Wii System Memory (it just copies the game temporarily to the Wii Memory before play) which is a neat touch. It was something I saw happen in Guitar Hero World Tour for the extra songs, and so knew that it could be done really.

But also, the update means you can now use SDHC cards as well as SD in the card slot, so you can put a 32GB SDHC card in there if you want. What this means for me is that I can use my 4GB SDHC card from my digital camera and put it in the Wii and view the pictures in the Photo Gallery Channel (which also was updated accordingly as part of the Wii update). There's a few other nice touches to coincide, such as the ability to be able to play virtual arcade games in Virtual Console, such as the likes of the very lovely Gaplus. Woo. Nice. I'm seeing at some point now that when an update goes this smooth that it's another reason for people to fall in love with the Wii and how it operates.

Wednesday 25th March - Two Four One

Well I can't stop sneezing today for some reason - maybe it's the infection trying to travel out at some 100mph or so? Either way I can't complain. I'm taking the tablets as directed and things do seem to be clearing up nicely, I'm hoping so for Sunday as I'm out for the whole day which will be lovely. I think also it's probably down to the dust that's been around some of the offices I've been working in today getting stuff fixed. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.

I hadn't played Wii Sports on the Wii for a bit so I whacked it on tonight to give it a good little blast. I had two goes on the bowling and on the second one, it all came together and I scored 241, beating my previous best by eight points and also helping my bowling ranking up somewhat nicely as well. I was very surprised but also very pleased that I managed to not completely lose it either, so we'll see what happens there. I did also have a go at the tennis and did beat the tough 1500 rated level computer opponents, upping the ranking there slightly. I'm determined to try and get to around 1500 on the tennis myself and see how far I get.

I was pleased that my friend had managed to ring the City ticket office and sort out tickets for the City-Hamburg UEFA Cup game - he must have been lucky to get through. The phone lines were apparently jammed and the ticket office had a huge queue of people (as reported by The Bubbles In My Aero Bar) and the website died a slow and painful death as well during all that. It's mainly because City decided to reduce the tickets for the game for early bird fans to a mere fiver for adults and a pound for kids. I hope that if they have sold lots, and that it does indeed sell out that the atmosphere will be top notch. Maybe it's a good idea occasionally to reduce the prices and see if any new fans also come along and try out watching the mighty blues as well?

Anyway, that done, I set up the Cinergy T2 freeview little USB box thingy for the PC and once I'd sorted out the aerial cable from the bedroom, I was all good to go, and BBC red button was showing the F1 - which then went off for the cycling! Hmm.. Nonetheless though I'll have to keep an eye on it and see if I can archive the feed for myself so I can watch it once this weekend is gone - that's the plan. It's so hard to try and remember to video record highlights programmes from back in the day, and as the F1 powers that be are very highbrow on the copyright of the whole thing so you probably won't be able to watch them online, this way I've got them for when I fancy a fix of the racing.

Needless to say though that it's building up the excitement nicely to Sunday's race (a 7am start actually works out rather nicely for me all round it has to be said) and of course hearing that theme tune again. What I really want to see though is a close exciting race and indeed something where it's not decided till the last lap, that would be fab. Nonetheless though I'm going to make tune of the day for "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull, because it reminds me of how I was growing up, listening to old school classic prog rock and then watching the F1 on a Sunday afternoon. Ah, I'm easily pleased sometimes...

Tuesday 24th March - Proper Racing And Proper Nice Food

Well it was all systems kind of go today as the tablets started to kick in and I was able to feel like that bug and infection in the ear was starting to go somewhat. I had an interesting problem that I solved at work today, as three members of staff wanted a quick and easy way to convert their documents to PDF. The problem was that they weren't in line to have their machine replaced with the new build (complete with Office 2007 along with the Save as PDF add-in) or did they want to pay shedloads out for Adobe Acrobat Professional. Hence the rather nice open source PDF Creator, which just installs as a printer and allows you to print the document to PDF format, all standards compliant and everything, which is all very nice indeed.

I spent some time in the afternoon sorting out a couple of small issues mainly to do with this new little bit of kit we've got for testing, which has Windows XP Embedded edition on it - it's basically a thin client little box which allows you to connect to terminal services machines or indeed to a Citrix server. It's a cut down version of XP with no bells and whistles, hardly any device mangler and indeed nothing that much that you can change on it. I've registered the network card address though so I can see if it'll see out of the network and go from there, but it looks like at the moment that it'll act as a dumb terminal which might not exactly be what we want it to be for, especially as the memory contained within doesn't seem to be writable in any way shape or form. Hmmm.

I went round later to visit The Bubbles In My Aero Bar, and she was all smiles and happiness and glad to see me. We must have hugged for a fair while tonight actually, and I think we both genuinely feel pretty close to each other. We even thought of some ideas as to what day out we could do in the future as well as have a good chat about the last couple of days as well and so on. Even nicer was that she made me a lovely tea, this really nice chicken with some red wine sauce and some potatoes and broccoli to go with it, all nicely done with some blueberries and strawberries with creme fraiche for dessert. How lucky am I? Very lucky, actually.

It's little moments like that which make things so wonderfully lovely too, because you appreciate them more when someone makes the effort. She was telling me about the night out with her friend (who's just come back from Australia) and they were swapping stories about the good times they'd had as of late. What was even nicer was that both her friend and partner have now added me as Flickr contacts as well (I've met them both, obviously) which kind of makes me feel even more welcomed into her life.

And lastly, I've got to give the BBC lots of credit for doing things right. In the run up to the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, they asked the public to nominate their favourite race from a short list of five. As two of them were very close in terms of the vote, they decided to show extended highlights of both the 1986 and 1994 races, with brief highlights of the other contenders, and chuck them all on BBC Red Button for the next few days up to the race. How good is that? So good, in fact, that it's definitely well worth catching. Tune of the day is Giorgio Moroder's "Ivory Tower" - it was used in the film The Neverending Story but also was used during BBC's F1 coverage in the grid rundown slot of the show as well, it brings back memories that does. The halcyon days as well though - Murray with James Hunt in the commentary box, "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac as the theme tun, and proper 'ard racers like Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell. Oh yes. Indeed.

Monday 23rd March - Doctor, Doctor!

It was off to the doctor's first thing this morning, as I'd managed to get hold of the surgery first thing and also make a very early appointment as well. It's rather odd how you sometimes have to make the appointments, unless you ring dead on at 8am you don't have a chance to make one, but I got through and the receptionist allocated me a slot with one of the practice doctors. I was relieved to be honest because the possible infection I've had wasn't going anywhere and I felt that I really needed something to try and shift it but best to head to the doctor's to see what it actually was.

I've been quite lucky in that I've always lived close enough to the local doctor's practice to be registered with them and indeed to be seen to by the same people that have treated me locally for years. One of them was always really nice to me as a child and it's those sort of things that I really take with me. The last time I was actually here was when I had a small minor surgery operation in June 2005 to remove the lipoma from my back, which was done really well and expertly. In fact, I'm sure that's in the diary archives.

Anyway, I was even seen earlier than scheduled as the appointment before me was quick and in fact I was there early, so that was good. I explained what was on, he put a couple of instruments close to the ears and came to the same conclusion as me - that I had an ear infection. He was also very good and noted one of my allergies, so he made sure that the tablets that I got prescribed didn't have anything to kick the allergies off. With that all sorted, it was then time to head to the office and start to take the course of tablets I'd been prescribed - the surgery has a pharmacy next door so I was just able to head in there and pick them up. £7.10 for the prescription these days though - ouch!

Still, the day went by pretty okay and I was able to get a few things done - although one laptop hard drive that I looked at was very dead in the throes of deadness, and so had to print off the details of some data recovery firms if that person wanted to take it up. Thaknkfully she had a backup of almost everything so it wasn't a major disaster either, so that was pleasing to see that it had been resolved in a good way. I also had to sort out some wireless issues in one of the rooms we look after, and that was carried out all well too. Quite productive really, and it's now a case of waiting and seeing how things go from here.

As for tune of the day, one forum post that I am part of reminded me of Roxy Music's second album, and so I whacked that on for old times' sake, and you know what? Even after all these years, "Editions of You" is still rather marvellous. It has a great middle bit with lots of solos, first the sax, then all the Eno synth weurdness before going back to some excellent lead guitar before carrying on with the rest of the song. It's what made earl era Roxy so bloody great and how I wished I was around to see them live at that time, I'm sure it would have been a blast!

Sunday 22nd March - Mother's Day Music Mania

Went over to my Mum's late morning for Mother's Day - as I only live around a mile from Mum I thought that really I didn't have an excuse and that it would be good to spend some time with Mum as well. I had already bought her the present that she wanted - she told me a while ago about a compilation coming out called the Solid Silver Sixties, which was basically based around the band reunion tours under the same banner, but would be a representative sample of what the 60s music was all about. That and a nice Forever Friends card, and I was all good to go (and yes, as if I was going to buy those Me To You bear cards, the imposters!)

I walked to my Mum's, as it wasn't too far from mine, and soon I had made a brew and we were all settled in. Mum was really pleased with the 2-CD set and as she had started to do the lunch, me and my two brothers were having a good natter and it felt rather homely, actually, and that's a lovely thing. One of my brothers was going to get Mum a little portable CD player/radio for the kitchen so that Mum could have her music on, and despite us seeing a couple of contenders in Argos, they were all out of stock locally, and as Mum needed a couple of things to get to enhance the lunch, the three of us ended up in Tesco. In fact this turned out to be a good move, as I got the mushrooms as well as the peppercorn sauce mix that was needed, and my brother got this rather small and neat CD/radio thing that was pretty tiny, but was still listenable enough, and for less than what Argos were going to charge.

We took everything home, set it up, and put the CD on. Straight away Mum was saying "they don't make music like this nowadays" and other such sayings as the CD played some classics from that era. I reminded Mum that Steve Winwood started his musical career in the Spencer Davis Group, and so "Keep on Running" would get my vote any day of the week as being decent. Of course for my Monkees-mad Mum, the fact that they were represented on CD2 at least put her into raptures, so that was nice. Most of the songs were ones that people I suspect would know of the song when they heard it, but not necessarily who it was by, and certainly for her there were some gems in there, sort of "I remember that!"

The four of us had lunch, which was a very nice piece of steak with some potatoes, some vegetables and some mushrooms, and the peppercorn sauce went down a treat and really added to the flavour and taste of the steak, and with a nice lemon torte to follow, all was very well indeed, let me tell you. Mum put on some more of the 2-CD set, and again she was reminiscing of happier times when she was a nipper (aww) and even remembering that she actually met X person from Y band etc. Somehow, I don't think Mum would have ever understood the likes of Kraftwerk, although I suspect my father would have loved to have been going to that with me, I reckon.

As for tune of the day I'm going to pick something from that CD set, namely "Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear" as done by the Alan Price Set. It's originally a Randy Newman-penned track (you know, the man who does lots of the Pixar film theme songs such as "You've Got a Friend In Me" (Toy Story) and "If I Didn't Have You" (Monsters Inc) and stuff) and from Randy's early songwriting career - and it was also covered in the Muppet Show too, with Fozzie being the bear - and that's when I remembered it from. Ah, happy memories. Maybe Mum has a point after all?

I headed home later on and watched the opening round of the V8 Supercars from Adelaide that I'd recorded from Sky+. I was getting my head round the team and driver changes and the rule changes, when I heard over the tannoy a very familiar voice - yes, Murray Walker! Turns out that the Adelaide people love him to bits, he has a pit pass for life for the race and they allow him to do the tannoy for the crowd there. How good is that? And of course with the F1 in Melbourne next week, a perfect excuse to get there early and acclimitise. Good old Murray, he's a star isn't he? As for the race, the first one was pretty dramatic with both Garth Tander and Craig Lowndes having to retire their cars right near the end of race one - Lowndes was most gutted, because of leaking power steering fluid that made the car a pain to drive. Still, can anyone stop Lowndes' team-mate, Jamie Whincup? That might be the question.

Man City had also won 1-0 against Sunderland, a rubbish game though as even though Sunderland went down to 10 men, Robinho was Bobinho and missed a penalty and it took a Micah Richards header from Elano's free kick to spare the blushes. What I want to know was that why the hell Robinho was allowed to take the penalty when Elano has been scoring them regularly from the spot for us? I reckon we should seriously consider getting rid of Robinho - he's too much of a liability and not enough of a team player for our liking, and that is not the sort of player we want at City really.

Saturday 21st March - Trans-Scrabble Express

Well, it was a pretty nice day outside, and so I decided to head into Stockport to take a look at a couple of things and also because I needed to pick up a birthday card. I'd been eyeing up some DVD recorders during the week and just wanted to get a feel of what they looked like in the flesh, so it was first off to Richer Sounds, which is at the top of a hill just out of the town centre. It's all been done up since I was last in there and seems a much bigger store now, plenty of room to show off the LCD televisions and also the hi-fi stuff. I have to say that the majority of the floor space was for the televisions, and it would be sometimes useful if they remembered that hi-fi was their first love. Mind you, at least they do sell separates and good ones at that.

The DVD recorder that I might end up purchasing is a Panasonic one - they've generally had very good reviews because the Freeview tuner inside them is pretty reliable, and they also have two SCARTs as well as HDMI out, so you can record from a Sky box into it for example, handy for archiving those Sky+ recordings I think. It's also a multiregion player as well, nice to have the option of using that as well as the Denon. Truth is, if it could play DVD-Audio and SACD then it'd all be even nicer, but I'm sure that using a recorder would work well anyway for archival purposes. I was semi-tempted to get one that had a VHS deck in as well so I could still play the old tapes and/or archive stuff recorded off the telly from ages ago, but that's dearer. However, we shall see. At the moment it's not a priority.

Went more into the centre of Stockport and had a good look around, and lots of the shops were already in sale mode prior to Easter. I think with certain items shops have overstocked: for example HMV still have shedloads of Guitar Hero III plus the guitar controller for the Wii for £35 (same one I got in fact) and it may be worth them reducing the price further to shift it (although they're now offering it plus the Wii itself for a fair bit of a saving - worth noting if you haven't got a Wii as yet) and going from there, that's what I reckon anyhow. I also took that freebie shuttle bus to get around the centre, and that was pretty decent as well.

I got back home to see Portsmouth come back from 1-0 down to beat Everton (my friend will not be pleased!) and then keep an eye on Gilette Soccer Saturday whilst watching some CSI (ah, picture in picture on the telly works so well here, I can have the DVD playing whilst a small box in the bottom corner keeps me updated with Sky, what a good move!) and of course Man U getting beat 2-0 at Fulham was a surprise, but a welcome one, especially with both Scholes and Rooney getting sent off (could have been Ronaldo too, that'd have been ace) and so if Liverpool win tomorrow, the title race could well and truly be back on. We shall see what happens tomorrow I think!

I did see The Berries In My Yoghurt later, which was rather lovely. I cooked us both one of my (according to her signature dish) pasta bakes - using proscuitto ham instead of chorizo and an arabiatta sauce instead of the normal mushroom one I tend to have. It worked pretty well and had a good kick to it, and had a garlic ciabatta on the side, followed by those cute little tiramisus for dessert. We also saw in anguish that we didn't win the lottery whatsoever (boo hiss) followed by some Scrabble to keep the mind and brain going nicely. It was a pretty good effort all round, and The Berries got two scores exactly the same in the two games played - not quite as good as her best score the other night, but still decent.

In view of us ordering the tickets for Kraftwerk, I thought it would be best to have a couple of their albums on to get us in the mood, so it was Trans-Europe Express first followed by The Man Machine. That was a good idea so we could get a varied selection of what it'd sound like when we go. I still love Trans-Europe Express as my favourite album of theirs, and the title track is therefore tune of the day (and technically speaking, I should include "Metal on Metal" as it's almost a continuation of the same track, although if you listen to the German version, you have to add "Metall auf Metall" and "Abzug" to get the same effect). Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie? That'll be Trans-Europe Express, then...

Friday 20th March – Tour de Velodrome

It was draw time in the UEFA Cup this morning after last night’s late night drama (master of the understatement there I think) and so as only two of us were in the office today due to staff holidays and courses, it was a case of me manning the Help Desk and ensuring a nice efficient service to everyone, because we can. And we do. I mainly spent some time being able to sort out some of the printers and also stock levels, because with a deadline looming next week you really can’t afford to be caught short, especially if you happen to be met with a rush.

The draw was made at lunchtime and it’s pretty tricky for City, with a trip to Hamburg in the first leg and the second leg at home, and if we do happen to get through that then it’ll be off to either Udinese or Werder Bremen for the first leg away with the second one at home. So that should work out pretty well as there’s no trips to the Ukraine on offer (or France, which is a shame, wouldn’t have minded a trip to Marseille to be honest!)

What also came out this morning was news of what’s going to be happening at the second Manchester International Festival. I really enjoyed the first one, and went to see PJ Harvey, William Orbit doing an orchestral suite and the Gorillaz stage version of “Monkey: Journey To The West” as well (well I am a fan of the TV show so that’s my excuse). One thing did catch my eye and it was something that I alerted The Smile On My face to – so we’re now off to the lush surroundings of the Manchester Velodrome on 2nd July to see – Kraftwerk! It’ll be intriguing how they do the seating arrangements considering there’s a cycle track in play, and also how their light shows and effects would work in such an arena. It’ll certainly be different, that’s for sure. And without stating the obvious, a perfect place for them to perform “Tour de France” (and tune of the day because of that as you might expect) especially if they can get some cyclists going round the track to the tune. How cool would that be?

I think (and I hope) the flu bug is easing off me today, I’ve just (excuse me here) had a good blow of the nose, and I could feel some noises which indicated something shifting in the head – hopefully that’ll mean that the ears sound a bit better and that any noises in the head will soon stop. I think it’s gradually getting there and it’s just a case of keeping on top if it now with regular paracetemol to keep the temperature regulated (in fact medical advice says that you should avoid other forms of decongestant – intriguing to note) and see what happens from there.

Thursday 19th March – Heart Attack City

Why oh why do my beloved Manchester City make it so hard on me, and why is “Typical City” just a buzz word for exactly what City tend to do all the time? Well I wish I knew the answers, but it really did feel tonight like I’d been put through the mill and back and even suffered a mild heart attack in the process. What should have effectively been job done turned out to be a rather late night and indeed one that at least will mean that the voices and ringing in my head is a little bit more bearable as time goes on.

I invited my brother, my uncle and his son over, as usual, and the four of us were ready to rock and to see City do the business against Aalborg in the UEFA Cup. City had won the first leg 2-0 at home and so had a comfortable cushion, and we knew that an away goal would effectively kill off the tie because that’d mean that they’d have to score four, and even City aren’t that capable of conceding so many in this tournament to be honest. But we shall see.

First half went according to plan, whilst we didn’t look like scoring we got forward quite a bit and had some chances, and Aalborg just couldn’t do anything to get past the midfield constantly, and even when they did, they found both Richard Dunne and Nedum Onouha in excellent form. Onouha’s been a revelation since he came back into the first team and to be honest, he’s deserved it – no nonsense, gets the job done and plays to his strengths. No wonder he got a call up for the England Under 21s earlier this week – good lad, and obviously Psycho (ex-City manager Stuart Pearce) hasn’t forgotten about him.

During the second half, Aalborg came forward a fair bit more, and once Bridge had gone off for Garrido, that seemed to be their catalyst. They had a penalty turned down as Garrido put a good challenge in, but they then tried to dive for any penalty possible for the next ten to fifteen minutes, which was a real shame to be honest. We occasionally got forward and did hit the bar with eight minutes to go (the only decent thing Robinho did all game, if you ask me we’re far better off without him) but I could see that tactically Mark Hughes, the City manager, was ballsing it up big time by insisting that the defence sit back and hold on to the lead instead of killing the game off.

This proved to be a costly mistake, as their former Sheffield United striker Luton Shelton scored with five minutes left, which seemed to galvanise their side somewhat (even though it well looked like handball before the shot went in) and as they forced a corner in stoppage time, the ball went to Ched Evans and he handballed it. D’oh! What a stupid thing to do to be honest. Mikael Jakobsen slotted the penalty home and despite one late attack from City, it was 2-2 on aggregate, the only way that the game could go to extra time.

Nothing much happened in extra time and in truth I think both sets of players were looking towards penalties. Hughes did what he should have done much earlier and put Elano on for the rubbish Robinho, with a view that Elano’s normally our regular penalty taker and as such he should in theory score one. Well, you might as well prepare, I guess. It was a tiring game to watch but as the extra time wound down, we didn’t even look like we wanted to go forward. All this meant the penalty shoot out. Now, if we were to go out, I think the manner of defeat will have Mark Hughes sacked, because of some horrible tactical decisions that didn’t work. We missed Craig Bellamy as well to be quite honest.

So, with some of us not daring to look and some of us hunched on my stairs, it was time to take the penalties – it was at least at the end with the City fans there so that helped a bit, and Jakobsen scored first, 1-0. Ched Evans at least made up for his handball by tucking home a penalty to make it 1-1. They scored again and up then stepped Elano to do the business and put it bottom left, low and hard. 2-2. Their next penalty taker didn’t look that confident and Shay Given dived to his right and got it spot on for the save. My brother said that if Given proved to have won us the match, then he would stop sticking up for City’s now number 2 goalie, Joe Hart. Next was Shaun Wright-Phillips and he didn’t miss either, so advantage City and 3-2. Aalborg scored their next penalty with a cheeky lob, and then.. Richard Dunne to take the next one. Most of us were agog, but I knew that Dunnie as the captain felt that he was up to the task and would lead by example. And didn’t he just – low and really hard into the corner – the keeper got a hand on it but the sheer power was more than enough. Well done Dunnie Monster. So up popped their first goalscorer Luton Shelton, he aimed left and Shay Given guessed right again, and saved it. He ran to the City fans, Micah Richards mobbed him big time and it was celebration time for everyone, we were going absolutely mental!

Phew. That was a relief and it was almost 11pm by the time everyone had gone home, but I’d had a good night in the end and the mighty Blues live on in the competition to fight another day. The quarter finals and semis are drawn tomorrow, so let’s hope that we can get a decent draw out of it. But – two penalty shoot outs against Danish teams and winning both of them? Sounds like, as Clive Tyldesley would say, “Name on the trophy”. Well, we’ll see, but this has been our best run in Europe for 30 years since the 1978/79 lot beat AC Milan 5-2 on aggregate and Paul Power kicked ass with a sensational goal in the San Siro. Ah, memories…

Needless to say that tune of the day has to be Manchester City’s “The Boys in Blue”. I wish I had it on CD so I could have played it after the game but I am sure as I settle down to sleep I’ll be humming to myself “The boys in blue never give in” and that was so true tonight. I wish we’d had made it easier, but hey ho, we did it and that’s the main thing. Roll on the quarters and how we laugh at the likes of Aston Villa and Tottenham now as the only English side left in the competition – their choices of playing B teams will now hopefully bite them in the backside, especially if we go on and win the thing.

Wednesday 18th March – Ringing In My Ears

It was a pretty busy day in the office today, but thankfully there was also time to try and get a few things sorted out as well. However, I’m finding concentration difficult at the moment. Not because of the fact that I am distracted, oh no. It’s more to do with the fact that since Sunday I’ve been feeling rather woolly in terms of hearing from the left ear, and there’s the occasional high pitched whining noise as well which seems to be blanking out noise as well, so it makes listening quite difficult, not ideal. I think there’s possibly an ear infection going on with some tinnitus thrown in, but when I rang the doctor’s to try and make an appointment, there wasn’t one available for a fair while. What I think I’ll do is monitor it for the rest of the week and if it’s not able to be shifted, I’ll ring the surgery on Monday morning and see if I can get in then and see what can be done.

The sad thing is that all this came about from a cold that I had last week, and it seems to have been a bad one in terms of it spreading, I am not normally that bad with a cold and I can usually shake it off with hot liquids by the end of a week, but for some reason this one seemed much more dormant than anything else that I’ve had for a while. I only hope it’s nothing too serious and that I will be as right as rain soon – there’s plenty of stuff coming up where I need to be alive and alert and I’d much rather have the time to do that.

Thankfully, I had the very welcome sight of The Smile On My Face coming round and cheering me up, which is always good. We had some chicken and rice for tea and The Smile also cooked some mushrooms to go with it, which was very nice of her. We took some aggression out of both of our working days by a blast of Wii Sports Tennis. She is getting better every time and beat the computer opponent first time round before narrowly losing the second time, but nonetheless upped her ranking somewhat. I think once she gets the hang of using the middle person to hit the ball as well as the one at the back, more points will be won. We had a blast of the baseball as well and it went to a third innings before I eventually won 3-2, but it was very close. I am sure she’ll beat the computer now!

We also indulged as well in a game of Scrabble deluxe too, to try and keep the brain ticking over as well as deal with the noise in my head. I did put on some music fairly quietly to be able to try and soothe myself, but I couldn’t hear it fully and properly and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. I did put on some Baskery as I’d not played the album for a while, and this turned out to be a good move. Not least as there’s still some corking tracks on there that make you sit up and listen, such as tune of the day, “Why Don’t Ya?” which sounds like a faster speedier version of The Dixie Chicks, but with better drawl and a nice touch of rattle and banjo thrown in, it’s just smart. As for the Scrabble, no über-words, but I did manage to play QUITE and AT for 48 which was the best move, no complaints there.

 

Tuesday 17th March - St Patrick's Empty Day

I don't know if the world and their Irish wives were all off work today so that they could all get hammered on St Patrick's Day, but it certainly felt like it from the empty road that led into the centre of Manchester today, that's for sure. Rather nice was that The Cure For My Cold gave me a lift in as well this morning, she didn't need to be in work till later and so very kindly dropped me off. It meant I got to the office earlier and so was able to get started on the laptop I had been dropped off yesterday.

As it turned out, one of my colleagues from another campus was waiting to see how it turned out when I attempted to image the Toshiba Tecra R10, and so I was pleased to report that Zenworks imaging worked flawlessly with it, once you got a fairly recent imaging driver update sorted out. A couple of other things to note for you techies out there: if you're planning to run Windows XP on it smoothly, set the SATA mode to IDE instead of AHCI in the BIOS. And if you're really serious about running Novell Client, use an existing image if you have one, don't use the Toshiba restore CD! The reason is that the fingerprint software used with the fingerprint reader seems to completely trash and hose the Novell client and also mucks up plenty of other network settings along the way. Thankfully I have the drivers only for the fingerprint reader (it's an Authentec AES1600) so I sent them along to my colleague as well just in case.

I then made sure all the drivers worked, added on all the custom Toshiba stuff from their website, and pretty soon I had a well usable laptop with all the software on, tested to destruction and imaged back up to the server, just in case we get any more of them in. It seemed to work pretty well on the whole and the good thing is that with 3GB of RAM and plenty of hard disk space, I couldn't see it going obsolete too quickly. I'm glad that thankfully some laptop OEMs realise that not everyone wants Windows Vista and would like the option to choose their OS - and both Samsung and Toshiba on some models at least give you the option, hurrah!!

I got home later, again pretty quickly as the roads were quite quiet, and as I got off the bus I couldn't help but notice that some of the pubs near me seemed busier than normal. In truth, the area I live in does have a sizeable Irish population so I imagined that the celebrations were starting in earnest. Manchester does as well have an Irish Festival going on at this time as well so that certainly helps people get in the right mood. I'm not a big fan of Guinness or anything like that, but I guess that I'm not one to spoil the fun. I only hope some of them remembered to take tomorrow off work as well to try and recover from any possible hangover!!

In the meantime, tune of the day is "St Patrick's Day" by John Mayer, not necessarily because the title ties in (which it does) but because it's a great end to the "Room For Squares" album with some depth of feeling in there too. And it's also quite a love song at heart. Awww.

Monday 16th March - Ringing In My Ears

I woke up with a ringing sensation in my ears, and the hearing still feeling fuzzy somewhat. This isn't of course the ideal day to go back to work, but as the rest of me felt pretty okay it was time to head on the bus back to the office and indeed to spend the day catching up on the week and being able to actually get some time to work on some project work as well, that was the theory.

On the whole, it went pretty well. I was able to catch up on all the email during the morning and reply to anything that I felt was relevant to do, and then process all the lovely paperwork such as invoices that I'd had to sort out. And then on top of all that try and work on sorting out some testing for a project. By the time mid-afternoon had come around I felt more ringing in the ears, a buzzing sensation and overall a generally run down feeling, but a laptop had arrived so I took care of registering it for the network so I was able then to try and get on with things with that tomorrow.

Later on The Cure For My Cold came over, and she was being really lovely and kind to me, which was soo nice. We had a chat about the day and how it was for us both being first day back at work, and then whilst I indulged her in Coronation Street and that wedding (not going to spoil it for you!) I made us something to eat which we enjoyed a bit later on whilst watching Masterchef in between the two Corrie episodes of the day. I think that because I'm willing to compromise, it should work out for the better in the long run, which is what I really want.

After Corrie we settled in for the evening, got out the Deluxe Scrabble, and had a couple of games whilst listening to Howling Bells' first album, which The Cure considered "passable" which surprised me a lot, as I thought she was going to absolutely hate it. Darn, I knew I should have got two tickets for Club Academy the night before, ah well. The second game of Scrabble worked out well for me though, as I scored over 500 points which is pretty rare. This was helped by playing TRAMLINE (the M already being there as being part of MUTE) for 62 points and then later on playing THYROID and MUTED (blank for the Y) for a massive 78 points, as the first word was on a double word score. I was pretty pleased that despite the horrid bug that I was still able to really pull off some good moves, and then ended the day with some Mario and Sonic on the Wii.

Tune of the day is going to have to be a Howling Bells number, when I listened to "Setting Sun" it reminded me of me during my recovery period and listening to that song and thinking "you know what? There's hope in this and that's what I need to think about". It has that great uplifting feel in the chorus that just makes you feel alright inside even if you don't feel so good outside, and considering the bug, that was the right thing to listen to at the time. I'll have to ask The Cure what songs she liked off it, if she remembers, and go from there.

Sunday 15th March - Howling Fuzzy Bells

I woke up, and I felt really fuzzy. Not just because I'd not slept or anything like that, but just fuzzy in the head. I was able to hear things, but it sounded all muffled and horrid. I reckoned it was the cold getting its back on me and trying to spread in the head and so make myself all bunged up and not feeling too good. I was determined not to let that stop me doing what I needed to do, including the domestic chores and off to a gig later to finish the week off with some aplomb.

I headed into the city centre just after lunchtime, as I then knew that the St Patrick's Day parade would have ended and that the city was returning to some form of normality. My cousin's son is two later this week and so I thought it would be a sensible idea to get him something, and had some ideas in the head about what to do. One shop later and I found everything I wanted to get within five minutes, so that was paid for and carried in a bag. What was harder though was to find a nice birthday card - they were all either too girly or had those impostors of Me To You bears that I don't really like, but in the end I came up well in WH Smith and got both the card and some nice wrapping paper to wrap the gifts in. I then headed home, flushed with success.

I relaxed with the BBC red button whilst England were getting tonked in the 20/20 cricket, and noticed that on the red button in the sports section, they were having a rolling showing of bits that they've posted to their new F1 site, but in better quality, such as a look back at classic F1 moments, Murray Walker recalling five memorable Grand Prix, a review of the 2008 season, an interview with Lewis Hamilton and a look forward to the 2009 season from the BBC team, and had comments from Martin Brundle, Eddie Jordan, David Coulthard and the man himself, Murray Walker. Get in.

In fact, as part of the coverage, the Beeb are giving you the option to pick for your favourite archive race from that country (so first is Australia) which will then be shown via the red button for a few days before the race, probably the highlights show that they used to have on the Sunday evening. But hey, that works out really well, and considering you've got races like the 1986 climax (Mansell's tyre blowout), the 1991 rainwash (even Mansell and Senna struggled to stay on track) and the 1994 battle between Schumacher and Hill, spoilt for choice, I reckon. Got to love what they're doing with it really, it's spot on!

As I still wasn't feeling 100%, I thought it better to leave for the Club Academy later than planned and possibly catch Howling Bells on their own, plus any support act I got to see at the time. As it turned out, getting on the bus around 8pm and getting to the Academy meant that I got there at the right time to see the support act and Howling Bells, so I could then leave and take the bus home and hopefully not be out too late so that I could go and get some sleep before work in the morning. Normally I'd have stayed and been out all night, but I needed to look after myself.

So, first up were The Joy Formidable (official site) (Myspace) who weren't bad, but for some reason reminded me of My Bloody Valentine. I can't put my finger on why that is, but I guess it was the long solos with feedback during some of the songs, or the fact that they had a three piece of classic proportions, maybe. In any case they were pretty good and got the crowd warmed up pretty nicely. I think they could do with trimming off some of the songs and making them a little more compact, but they had the right ideas, spoiled by overdoing the last song to some degree and leaving everyone with guitar feedback ringing in their ears.

I'm pleased to report that Howling Bells (official site) (Myspace) were on very good form indeed. I had seen them in March two years ago, and their debut album for me is still one of my favourites of the last few years, it has the right blend of emotion, happiness and despair all in one record. They managed to play plenty from the new album "Radio Wars" whilst not forgetting their classic eponymous debut either. Right from the start we got the title track "Radio Wars", with ample support from "Nightingale" (where singer/guitarist Juanita declares "you can all have a slow dance now" and the really superb "Treasure Hunt" which got you going.

It was the older stuff that really got the sell-out crowd into a frenzy though, with an excellent feedback-laden version of "Low Happening" the highlight (and tune of the day from me), "Wishing Stone, "Blessed Night" and the lovely "Setting Sun" also really giving itself the freedom to flow and breathe. It was a really good show and although I had to dash off at the end to take the bus home, I know that they were still as good as last time and certainly those who were coming out of the Academy 1 having seen Lily Allen made the wrong choice of gig tonight. If you get chance to see Howling Bells, do. And make it snappy whilst you still can at a small venue!

Saturday 14th March - Different Class

Woke up and felt fairly relaxed, although the cold that I'd had for most of the week was still giving me some grief to be honest. I dosed up with some orange juice and breakfast, and hoped that I was able to hold out during the day, as I was heading off out later with a friend. But first, it was time to settle back and once I'd done a little bit of shopping, it was on with the television and to see the Man U-Liverpool game on Sky. I expected it to be a close game and certainly for most of the first half that was the case, with Man U taking the lead with a penalty.

What I didn't expect was the way Liverpool came back and stormed it. They equalised first off with a great finish from Torres before the second penalty of the game (and deservedly so) meant that Steven Gerrard was able to slam that home to make it 2-1 in front of their delirious supporters, who were buoyant anyway after the way that the Liverpool heroes had smashed Real Madrid 4-0 in midweek. I had a light lunch and then waited for the second half, and that carried on the feel of the first. Fernando Torres was too much to handle for the Man U defence though, and he got through one too many times for Nemanda Vidic, who hauled him back and was rightly sent off for it. And punishment came from Arbeloa during the freekick, straight in for 3-1. And another little cheeky lob in stoppage time and the Liverpool fans (and me) were in dreamland - Man U getting beat 4-1 at home? Wow.

In fact, the last time Man U were beaten at home by that scoreline was New Years' Day 1992, I remembered the day well as I'd been to see Man City draw 1-1 at Chelsea and news filtered through the train via the radios that Man U were getting hammered. They lost the title to Leeds that year, and although I can't see them doing that despite this result, at least it's made the next few weeks a bit more interesting, so we shall see who cracks under the pressure. I was so pleased for Liverpool though: it's so much of a one up to do your rivals at their ground (like when City beat Man U home and away last season) so I'm sure they were ecstatic.

I headed out afterwards to meet my friend, as the two of us were off to the Lowry later in the evening. We went for a drink in Varsity first and a good catch up, and was able to also see the remainder of the rugger between Italy and Wales. Italy were unlucky to lose, they looked the better side to be honest and shows how much they've come as a nation since they joined the Six Nations as well. We had a nice drink in there, caught a glimpse of the Everton scoreline which sent my friend into rapture (well, she's allowed to isn't she?) and then off to Felicini's for a meal.

Good job I booked in there, as the Saturday early evening seemed quite busy, mainly because of I think people eating there before heading to the theatre (especially the Palace Theatre almost directly opposite). It was good to sit down and have a good conversation and general chat about all sorts whilst munching some delicious food - and with the 25% off voucher I had, that made it just that bit cheaper as well. We both had the garlic dough balls to start, whilst my friend had the lamb for main, I had the chicken and mushroom penne, which was completely gorgeous. We both had ice cream for dessert, and it was all delicious and yummy, the vibe was right, and indeed set us in the right mood as we headed for the tram.

It was of to the Lowry then to see Ed Byrne's "Different Class" tour. Ed's pretty funny and his witty sharp observations are something that I can relate to. The show lasted just under two hours and had all sorts of good insights, into just why he detests WAGs so much, and a whole section about his wedding and how things like wedding planners are just an excuse to spend money, and how his wife almost tricked him with her marriage proposal (I won't spoil it for you, but it was really hilarious). He really had a fine line in either delivering a story or ranting on about something to really get the goat, and it worked very well indeed. One of the highlights for me was also when he was going on about a fitness DVD and how it outsold his, and what the country's fascination was with keep fit as a whole, delivered with brilliance.

I went pretty much to bed when I got home, but not before thinking how good the day had been, how nice it was to head out with my friend, and also just how much a good football score sets you up for the day. In fact, I'm going to make "Beautiful Day" by the Levellers tune of the day because that sums up pretty much the feeling, despite the bunged up feeling.

Friday 13th March - The Lucky Cheshire Drive

I was staying over at The Seat In The Stand's overnight, and didn't sleep that well due to my general bunged up ness in the cold. However it was starting to get a bit better by morning, so after a bit of rest and relaxation at her place, despite the heating packing in (apparently the engineer has had to order the parts so that might well be an early next week wait in job!) we headed back to mine first and dropped some stuff off, and had a quick blast of Mario and Sonic at the Olympics on the Wii, before deciding on taking a walk out in the countryside.

Well, that was the plan, but not long after we had left, the rain started hammering down big time, and so we decided on Plan B. The Seat had for a while wanted to visit the Lakeland store in Wilmslow, and without knowing where exactly in Wilmslow it was, we headed down the A34 bypass and eventually headed for Wilmslow centre, and couldn't see it anywhere. We decided to make a day of it anyway and headed down the road to Alderley Edge and seeing how pretty and quaint that village still is, before I decided to see if I could find the location of Lakeland by using the Google maps via the WAP on my phone (note: The Seat was driving so it made sense for me as the passenger to find out where it was).

It turned out that the store was actually close to the exit of the A555 Manchester Airport Link road (still not finished, incidentally!) - and so we headed back down the old road that used to take you from Wilmslow to Manchester and headed via Handforth and on to the roundbout, where we could see Lakeland in all its glory. We went in and had a good look around at all its handy kitchen gadgets, and The Seat got herself this little device for pans that allowed you to poach eggs nicely, and also got a wooden spoon for myself for the kitchen so that I was able to use that when cooking pasta or mince or whatever.

We had an afternoon tea in the café as well, and that was quite pretty, although not quite up to the standards of Betty's Tea Rooms. You did get plenty of tea, some nice sandwiches and little cakes, including a scone with some jam and clotted cream thrown in as well, so that was pretty good all round really. We headed back via the A555 then through Bramhall to Stockport and back to mine, where it was a case of relaxing with some more gaming on the Wii before I left The Seat to it, as she had brought the ingredients with her to make a really nice lasagne, and the plan was that she would do it and do a good job - and she did!

The lasagne was very nice, as was the garlic bread, and also we were able to have a little red wine with it as well, which just added to the overall niceness. The cheese had overflowed slightly but as we were crafty and made sure that there was some kitchen foil at the bottom of the oven, we were able to take that away and remove it so all spills were gone easily. The lasagne itself was full of flavour and a mix of two cheeses certainly helped make it taste really nice too. Yaay. I had got a profiterole stack and we had those for dessert along with some cream, whilst first seeing the wedding in Coronation Street (I won't spoil it for you in case you are saving yourself for the omnibus) and then a couple of other things before going back to Wii Sports Tennis.

It was a lovely day, culminating in the start of the weekend and in fact to be honest a week that had gone far too quickly as well - but at least I felt like I'd made the most of the week off which has to be a good thing as far as I was concerned. As for tune of the day I'm going to go for the rather lovely "Beautiful Mess" by Swing Out Sister, as it's a song that both myself and The Seat like a lot, and also because it's pretty much the kitchen after letting her loose in there doing the lasagne (and to be fair, it was all cleaned up afterwards, too!). Who's the lucky one? That will be me, then :)

Thursday 12th March - If You're Watching On The Telly..

I thankfully had the rest of the week off, which was to prove a sensible move all round. I had pretty much been run down with a cold and flu when I was away, and although I'd still managed to get up to lots, it was nice to have a bit of a lie in this morning and relax before facing the day - somehow it all just felt better inside to do that. I met up with a couple of my friends around 2pm and we had lunch together, and it was good to be able to catch up and chat as well whilst we were at it. I went for the chicken pie which proved to be rather large to say the least, but well worth it because it was pretty tasty all round as well.

We then headed back to mine for a blast on the Wii, mainly playing Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, which I had on rental. We all got used to the controls of most of the events and indeed I had managed really well to be able to pull off some good long jumps. My friend was superb in the single sculls rowing though and thrashed everyone in the process with an excellent and fast time, whilst my other friend also excelled nicely in the hammer throw, pulling off a famous victory in the process. We also tried this Topspin Tennis game that my friend had rented out, but the control system was very very unintuitive and as such made things completely unplayable, so we thought "well that's going straight back then!"

We then headed over to see The Seat In The Stand, as two of us were going to watch the Manchester City game against Aalborg, whilst my friend and The Seat would be at her place and have a good girly chat as well as relax with a bottle of wine (well I think that was the cunning plan, plus seeing Jade Goody's wedding on Living TV or something). Got to the ground pretty early and it was really nice to see that we were able to get in a comfortable position to watch the game, although we were both concerned that not many fans had decided to turn up and watch.

The game kicked off and right from the start, City looked hungry and intent on pulling off the first leg win and gaining a pretty useful advantage to say the least. It was only a matter of time before we scored and the ball broke to Felipe Caicedo in the box, who turned his defender using some physical strength before whacking the ball low and hard into the bottom corner for 1-0. Just after this, I heard for the first time during the game (and several times thereafter) the chant from the diehard City fans in the South Stand: "If you're watching on the telly, you're a c***", a sentiment which to be fair was pretty hard to disagree with. The mere 24,000 odd fans in the ground didn't exactly invoke the sort of atmosphere we'd like to see, and I am pretty sure that if it was a league game, there'd be approaching 40,000 or so in the ground. Whether the price increase for this round or being on telly had something to do with it, I don't know, but you'd think that the fans would come and support the team - well I did!

Later in the first half, the ball came to Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right, he had been impressive already taking the defenders on. So it proved here too, as he took on one of them on the inside, saw a narrow gap and unleashed a powerful shot right into the top corner to make it 2-0 to City and pretty comfortable from then on in. In fact, City could have scored more - we didn't get a penalty at the end of the first half when Robinho was tripped in the box and clearly so, Micah Richards almost headed in after some good team play, Wright-Phillips had a shot just wide and so on, could and should have been more. But.. a clean sheet and a 2-0 win sees us in good form for the away leg next Thursday, and getting past that into the last eight might just show people out there that maybe we're not that bad after all, we shall see.

We got back after the game and after seeing the rest of the programme on Living TV, we whacked it over to ITV2 to indulge The Seat In The Stand as American Idol was on. As far as I saw it, all the acts had to do Michael Jackson numbers, ironic of course considering his 40-odd night run at the O2 in London later this year and early next year which will be his final shows over here, apparently. In any case, most of the acts proved just why I detest those sort of programmes, they just didn't have a clue how to do the songs justice and in certain cases I was even hankering for the original (and I'm not even a Jackson fan). Still, what it did show was that at least the same problems plague other countries as well as ourselves here in terms of how the whiole thing behaves..

It was a late-ish night, but a good day overall and of course a Man City win is always well worth watching, as you might have gathered. One nice thing we got to hear a few times was Doves' new version of "Blue Moon" that they'd recorded, and it's now being played before the home games. It's typical Doves in a way, but it's a bloody great version of the classic and full of the pride and passion that makes us City fans who we are. Tune of the day and easily, too.

Wednesday 11th March - Homeward Bound

The last two days had gone by far too quickly, and we both didn't want this day to come, but after having a really nice breakfast in the hotel, and packing up all our stuff, we walked back slowly but wistfully towards Edinburgh Waverley train station, stopping at points to look at the city for one final time. We both had really enjoyed the break and it was something that I'll always remember: not least because I just felt so happy giving The Colours Of My Tartan a cuddle at the top of the castle and thinking how wonderful life is and how we both felt so happy and close together - it was one of those moments you want to cherish.

We had a coffee at the station before heading back on the 1208 train to Manchester, which sped its way back through the countryside and via Carlisle, Oxenholme, Preston and Bolton before heading to Manchester. We even had a choice of sandwiches if we wanted them, but we'd already bought the Marks and Spencer meal deal (Sandwich, drinks and crisps for a mere £2) so that tided us over, along with the tea, coffee and Scrabble again. It did feel quicker going home but nonetheless it was also sadness too: it was definitely a case of wanting to go back there sometime and explore more, and have a lovely time once again.

After we'd each gone home from the station and unpacked and put the clothes in the wash and did all the usual housework chores, it was off to my Mum's to see my brother, as it was his birthday today. I had already got him a voucher for Fopp so brought that with the card with us. My Mum had made a really nice cake with apple in, and that with some cream and a cup of tea did the job really well as we all sat around and had a good chat. My uncle, his wife and kids also came along later too so there were a fair few of us in the house to wish him well, which was rather lovely actually.

We both headed home later and I started to look at the pictures of the last few days, realising what a good time that we'd had. I do think that there's a couple of pictures of The Colours that I'll have to keep and possibly print out as well, because they turned out rather lovely and were worth the effort to take, and also that as I was seeing those, The Cure's "Pictures of You" came to mind (and so make that tune of the day). I had plenty of post too, the train tickets for when I go to Glasgow to see Kristin Hersh, the new rental from Tesco DVD Rental and indeed some other bits and bobs. At least I don't have to to go work tomorrow!

Tuesday 10th March - Castle, Museums and 56 North

We got up this morning and headed down to the hotel's ground floor restaurant for the buffet breakfast, which was rather lovely indeed. You could have a selection of cereals, pastries, cold meats, fresh fruit, juices and indeed some toast, tea and coffee as well as a selection of the hot plate that they did fresh for you. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I had some cereal, orange juice, some summer berries with natural yoghurt, coffee and toast, then had the bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and mushrooms. The Colours Of My Tartan had the poached egg, mushrooms, bacon and tomatoes, which equally agreed with her in terms of delicious tasting food.

After the hearty breakfast, it was time to walk it off as we headed up the Royal Mile, all the way to the top, and to Edinburgh Castle. Since I last visited, there's now a new ticket office just inside the gatehouse, with admission to the castle itself a little bit further on. It also means visitors can go into the Castle Shop if they just want to buy something, which is of course crafty but clever. Because of the VAT reduction, admission was now £10.77, but we had the exact change at the ready anyway and so were ready to enter and see the historic building much more close up.

And so it proved, too. The really bright clear day afforded excellent views over Edinburgh, particularly from the main front cannons as you went in, which everyone was taking a picture of. We also went round a couple of the museums inside the castle which were related to the Scots Dragoon Guards and also part of the Scottish War Museum, so you could see how important the castle was as a stronghold but as a base to which you were able to work in and defend from. We walked further up the castle walls, past the dog cemetery and down through the little passages which took you to some of the gun batteries and where indeed the Scottish Crown Jewels were kept, before heading up and into one of the main castle squares.

One of the exhibits you went up to in there told the history of the Scottish Honours, including the crown, the sword, the sceptre and indeed the rock as well, and how they were hidden, smuggled and kept within Scotland and rightfully restored in the castle for years to come. It's locked in a heavily vaulted room and as you can well imagine is under guard at all times, and by some burly looking guards at that. It's such a pleasure to see things rightfully in their place though, and so that was a very good thing to see. We also went round the War Memorial and the attention to detail to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for freedom made it a very solemn but warming sight.

We then headed down towards the exit of the castle, but not before having a coffee and a rather big slice of cake in one of the cafés there, which was rather delicious to say the least. From there, we had a look in the working Tartan Mill near the top of the Castle Hill, and noted how you can get almost anything in your clan colours, provided of course that you had a clan colour by then. Having checked, I don't appear to have one. Meh. Ah well. We also noted just how many people took up the offer of being photographed in Scottish Traditional Dress, with an über-Nikon camera doing the photographic business.

We then headed down lots and lots of stairs to the historic Grassmarket, where I explained about the significance of some of the pubs there, before heading out of there and up to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby, and along to the Museum of Scotland. Some of the older Royal Museum was closed for refurbishment, but the main museum (the more modern one) was there, and that took up several hours of seeing. We even found the stairs to the rooftop terrace so that we were able to head up to see the views from there.

The sixth floor of the Museum of Scotland has for me some of the best exhibits though - it has a hall of fame for Scottish sport, and includes Sir Jackie Stewart's racing helmet amongst the hall of fame in there. Quite why Ally McCoist has been inducted could well be another subject for debate though, but nonetheless it's a fairly accurate and well represented list, even down to Sir Chris Hoy's Commenwealth medals from Melbourne 2006 being a fairly recent addition. There was also an exhibit how Scotland was a changing nation in the 20th Century, and how the old temement housing was knocked down and replaced by out of town spiralling towers (particularly in Glasgow, most notably). It also tells of those who left the country, aptly represented by a car which has projected on to it four lines from The Proclaimers' "Letter From America" (and hence tune of the day) which states: "Bathgate no more, Linwood no more, Methil no more, Irvine no more".

There was also plenty of other exhibitions in there, including a guest one which was to do with the famous Scottish fashion designer Jean Muir, whose adaptations of the little black dress were well known to fashionistas around the world, and the likes of Joanna Lumley were her models for her outfits, which said a lot about her reputation too. Apparently this exhibition closes this week sometime, so we did well to time our visit to see it, and The Colours of My Tartan was pretty impressed with how she weaved the fabrics to make her outfits, and that some of the dresses she wouldn't mind wearing herself, always a good sign I reckon!!

Part of the Royal Museum was still open, notably the part where you were able to manipulate a robot to spell your name. I got it to do mine and was impressed that despite the instructions apperaring in French for some reason, that I was able to make it work, and so that had me happy. Lots of the exhibits in this hall were hands on though, and so for that reason it meant that plenty of children were trying them out, most notably the Formula 1 simulator, which had a huge queue of people waiting. By this time it was getting to be almost mid-afternoon, so we stopped off at Revolution opposite and had some lunch.

After that, we walked back down the Mound, past the art galleries and on to Princes Street, so we could take a look in some of the shops. One of the more famous department stores there, Jenners, looks like what Kendals still is in Manchester: part of the House of Fraser chain but retaining its own identity in bucketloads. In fact, the historic building was really quaint inside and had plenty of little annexes housing little departments, it was a joy to behold. We also walked round George Street and some of the statues there before heading back down Princes Street, and indeed checking out what the trams will look like when they start running in Edinburgh in 2011. I have to say that they will look pretty impressive indeed, and much better than in Manchester - leather seats for a start!

It was late afternoon and we'd walked around all day, so it was back to the hotel for a much needed rest before heading back out in the evening for a meal. I had wanted to take her to somewhere that always reminds me of good times in Edinburgh, notably the Human Be Inn, because despite being in the student area of Edinburgh, always looked pretty classy and did lovely food. I'd worked out the walk, and we soon got there, but... it wasn't there anymore! Before I started to contemplate where else to go, I did notice it had changed its name to 56 North, so I was hoping we could go in anyway and have something.

Thankfully the design inside hasn't changed, and we found a nice cubicle to cosy up inside and decide what food to have. The food was ace though, and the gammon steak I had was lovely, whilst The Colours had this chicken dish with potatoes and a nice sauce which certainly did the job nicely. We had a couple of drinks in there before heading back to the hotel and having a relaxing late night before sleeping. It was such a lovely day and the only regret we both had was that we'd be heading home tomorrow - part of me wanted to stay there for a few more days to be honest!!

Monday 9th March - Off To Edinburgh!

Well, after months of having waited for this day (in fact I'd checked back and it had been booked in September last year) it was time for myself and The Colours Of My Tartan to head off on the train and up to Edinburgh for a few days. We'd booked a good deal at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, where you got two nights bed and breakfast plus dinner for two on the first night for £150, and considering their normal rate is something approaching £200 for just one night's bed and breakfast, you can appreciate that it's a decent deal in a really rather lavish hotel as well, and having stayed at their one in Birmingham, we knew how posh it was.

We'd also booked the trains way in advance which allowed us to go first class each way for £19 each. In fact when I booked the train, standard class going was £18, so it seemed a bit daft to me not just to spend the extra pound and have a lot more comfort, plus free tea and coffee and anything else. The only thing was that the train left at 0745, which meant we both needed to be at Piccadilly station at around 0715. We both made it, even though The Colours was blown in the wind by the rain as she approached the station, and we headed to Platform 14 and then on the train. The train was pretty busy on the way to Preston and seemed to quieten down after there and Lancaster, as it sped up the West Coast Main Line through Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle before crossing the border to Lockerbie, turning right at Carstairs and heading across to Edinburgh Waverley station and arriving on time.

As for First Class on Transpennine Express, it was better than stingy East Midlands Trains but not up to the standards of Virgin and CrossCountry - you got free tea/coffee and biscuits, and even a croissant for myself for breakfast, but nothing like a breakfast box or anything else which would have substituted the morning meal. You did at least though have the catering all the way there (they changed trollies at Preston for some odd reason) which at least made the journey more comfortable. The seats reclined too by pressing a button on the seat, which worked well if you wanted to lie back and relax a bit during the journey, and Travel Scrabble came into its own once again for the trip.

Once we'd got to Waverley, we walked under the North Bridge, past the lights at Canongate and down Holyrood Road to the hotel. We thought that we'd be able to store the luggage there, head out for a bit and then check in later, but as it turned out there was a room already spick and span and ready for us, which made a lot more sense, so we got settled in our room, unpacked and headed out to explore. This in effect meant that we were able to get more out of the trip and do more on the Monday, which on reflection turned out to be a very good move indeed.

We walked past Dynamic Earth, which is closed on a Monday and Tuesday, and past the Scottish Parliament, which is an impressive building and definitely of modern architecture. As it was lunchtime we felt that lunch might be a good idea and after having to go through the security checks at the visitor entrance (it was just as tight as it is at airports now, and rightfully so in my view) we looked around the exhibition before heading to the café. This turned out to be a very good move indeed, as the food was lovely and reasonably priced to boot. I had this very warm and filling ham and barley soup, whilst The Colours went for a panini with a very nice salad, and I also had the Scottish Cream tea too which did the business for what it was. It's actually a nice place to eat and watch the world go by - who'd have thought that eh?

Next stop was the Palace of Holyrood House, something I wanted to see when I was last in Edinburgh but didn't have the time to. You got a free audio guide for the admission fee of £10, and at first I wondered why this was. It soon became very clear - there was nothing inside the house to tell you what each room and each part of the building represented, and the only way to really know was by listening to the guide itself. In short, you could wander round the outside forecourt, head in parts of the house and see the living area of what was Mary Queen of Scots before heading to the Abbey adjacent. The gardens were closed, so you'd think some of the admission charges would have been reduced. It was nice, and the building was steeped in history along with the explanations of each room, but we both felt that it was a little steep for what it offered, especially as the Castle has more to see and only charges a few pence extra for the privelege.

We headed then back along the Royal Mile from the very bottom, and had a good look in the Museum of Edinburgh, and directly opposite, the People's Museum. The latter was of interest to us both because it told the story of the city by the people who lived there and explained the social and economic factors that made the city what it was, including the demolition of several of the slums in the Old Town to make it a much more habitable and sanitised place to live, and also the fact that there were plenty of battles via trade unions to get important civic rights and freedoms. It's one of the hidden gems to visit to be honest, and it's free to get in, so what more do you want?

We also then walked a bit further uphill and went into the Museum of Childhood. For anyone who's ever been a child, this place is really impressive as it stores lots of memories of childhood, from old toys to dolls' houses, to wooden puppets to playthings, and even the first batch of Action Men are there. It also has some of the old fairground machines (if you've ever been to the arcade at the end of Southport Pier you'll know what they're like) and they were good fun - and if you lose your money in them, all the profit helps the museum, so I didn't mind having a go either - even to the point of taking three attempts to lose the 10p I'd put in because the skill I used meant I got the pennies back.

It was then another walk uphill, but I promised The Colours Of My Tartan that it'd be worth it, as we crossed North Bridge and headed for Calton Hill. As we walked around the top of the hill, the day was clear and you could see right over the Firth of Forth, to the Forth Bridge on the left, to the North Berwick mound on the right, with the likes of Leith, Inchkeith Island and most of Fife's shoreline clearly visible, the clear day made for a really inspiring sight. You could even see the Leith San Siro (aka Easter Road, Hibernian FC's ground) clearly from up here too, and that along with the statues up there, including the National Monument, which looks like the Parthenon in Athens, but was never finished!

The views were lovely, and unlike last time, the sun did indeed shine on Leith itself, so "Sunshine on Leith" by the Proclaimers seemed very appropriate and indeed tune of the day for that reason. It just worked perfectly as intended. We walked down the hill and back along the roads which would take us back to the hotel, taking in a coffee at Costa along the way and also a bottle of wine for later on as well, which we had a little cooler in the hotel room for, so we thought "why not"? We rested and relaxed for a while before getting changed, as we had a meal to go to!

It was down to the hotel's restaurant, and I had an interesting dilemma. Do I go for all three courses and possibly have a starter I didn't like, or go for two courses so I could have the steak (it was a bit extra) and keep within the agreed budget of the meal for two that you were allowed? In the end, the steak won, and that proved to be a very wise move indeed, as the rib-eye I had along with the hand cut chips and mushroom was absolutely divine to say the least, and The Colours had a venison and mushroom terrine to start, then this lovely lamb on a garlic mash with some roasted vegetables for the main. The desserts were lovely too, The Colours having creme brulee and myself having this really nice toffee sponge with butterscotch sauce and ice cream. Lovely stuff.

We headed into the Old Town and found a nice little pub that we'd passed earlier in the day, called The Tass. To my delight it had real ale, which of course meant I could try something new, so I went for the Blessed Thistle, a quite dark looking ale but it certainly did the business for me. We also had three blokes playing some songs acoustically, there was one older man on vocals, another with the lute and/or fiddle, and one with the guitar. The three of them played some really nice stuff and you could tell that they played together well for some time - it just sounded a bit more traditional too and well worth seeing what they did. We then headed back to the hotel for some rest, relaxation and sleep - it had been a long day but a very good one!

Sunday 8th March - Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Had a pretty relaxed last night and day really. The Buttons On My Remote came over and we both relaxed a fair bit by watching a bit of telly, putting on Don't Forget The Lyrics on Sky 1 HD, and seeing how many songs that we'd actually get the words to, and then settling in for tea. I made some spinach and ricotta pasta with sauce and some meatballs, and a garlic ciabatta to go with it, which actually worked out quite well. The meatballs were these Birds Eye Italian ones that I'd got from Cooltrader, which were nice enough but seemed to drain a heck of a lot of fat when cooking, something I noted (The Ikea ones for example are much more robust). Nonetheless that was lovely.

We then watched the Bill Bailey Cosmic Jam DVD that I'd hired out, it was pretty good having not seen it in its entirety before. Of course I've seen the clip about the snooker theme, and that's good fun, but the way he's just able to break lots of things down withn a tune and play it so well is good fun, not least the theory that both the theme tunes from News At Ten and Mastermind are actually designed to scare you, and I guess that in effect they are. Add to that a whole prog rock section with band about how to avoid an Insect Nation, and it was all good light hearted stuff.

Scrabble came later and I whacked on the Kristin Hersh live 2CD set which I have, which was one via the Throwing Music website, so it was an official one and everything. There were some lovely songs on there as you'd expect, but most notably a really nice version of "Gazebo Tree" to kick things off. Having listened to the studio version again today, it definitely stands up as one of her best songs, so tune of the day it most certainly is. I did manage to get rid of all my tiles once during the second game, which scored a pretty neat 68 points and helped me to a useful total.

Today's really been about just doing the little last minute things before I set off very early tomorrow, such as emptying the bins, checking all the washing has been done, double checking the case packing, printing off the receipts as needed and also any directional maps, and on top of that making sure that everything where possible is in place, including the right tickets and all that sort of thing. I guess that I'm methodical in the planning and don't really want to leave anything till the last minute, just to be on the safe side and all that.

I've also been watching the cricket between the West Indies and England, and even with a couple of early wickets, it just seemed that the pitch was too flat and wasn't going to offer the England team anything, although Chris Gayle tearing his hamstring having just reached his 100 literally (I mean, how bad is that?) means that with England getting a wicket as I type, it could well be that there are more chances to try and bowl them out and enforce the follow-on, but in truth that seems pretty unlikely to be honest. We just don't seem to be able to get the right thing done at the right time and are giving away too many runs by some inaccurate bowling... but we'll see.

Saturday 7th March - Packed It, Booked It, Now Ready To Go

I woke up this morning in true Blues song tradition, got myself ready and showered, and the plan was that I'd head to the local Tesco, do the food shopping and then head into town to get a few things, and also have my hair chopped to pieces, as it needed doing badly and thought it'd be good to do before the week off and all that. It was a fairly empty Tesco, which was good to see, so I whizzed round and got what I was after, including all the ingredients for tonight's meal which I am cooking for The Buttons On My Remote. It's only fair: she does for me, and does it infinitely better than I can, but at least if I make the effort and do something nice, I know it's appreciated and that has to be a good thing.

After I'd unpacked the shopping, I checked the Internet and the websites I needed to check, and lo and behold, the tickets had been released for the train to Glasgow that I was after, and indeed it meant I could book those, book the Ibis hotel in Glasgow (stayed there before when I was doing the Million Ukeleles Tour merch for MJ Hibbett) and then get myself a ticket for the gig, which was of course the most important thing. In fact, the train tickets were pretty cheap, so I went for first class for a mere £18 each way. Bargain! The Ibis now have a 30 day in advance rate, similar to Travelodge in that you can't cancel it or refund, but it does mean you can get the room a lot cheaper, and it was £37. Not too bad at all really, and of course I know where it is. And.. it's quite close to the venue as well, which is doubly good of course, saves a lot of time and hassle.

So feeling flushed, I headed into the city centre on a mission. I knew that I was picking up a birthday present for The Buttons On My Remote, so got that sorted, and bought a birthday card for my brother along with a Mother's Day card for Mum too (in the UK, Mother's Day is Sunday 22nd March, in case you wondered). I then also went into Fopp, as my brother said he wanted a gift card for there so he could treat himself to some stuff that he's after. I don't mind, he can go and enjoy and spoil himself there and get some nice CDs and DVDs, so that was pretty easy. Last stop was Lush to get some of their Flying Fox shower gel. I usually take it with me when going away anywhere as it's in a pretty small and light bottle, and it makes me smell all lovely, plus The Buttons quite likes it too so there's a win-win situation if ever there was one.

Got back home, and settling in for the afternoon to get all the washing done and indeed pack the case for the forthcoming trip. I pretty much have everything that I need already washed and ironed, so it's just a case of deciding what to take and packing accordingly. The weather isn't looking altogether too clever though, I just hope that it does brighten up a little beforehand, but I know too well that I'll always have stuff to keep me warm, as well as The Buttons (awww) so that's good isn't it? I'm now in the process of starting to pack the case with Howling Bells' first album on in the background (well I am seeing them next Sunday night) so let's make "Wishing Stone" tune of the day, cos it's ace.

Friday 6th March - Draining Guitar Blood

Well, I finally became a Guitar Hero on the easy level of Guitar Hero 3 by finishing all forty two songs last night. I had already beaten the boss in the version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" but I was determined to nail Slayer's "Raining Blood". Many fans of the game, including my colleague at work, have all said how it's much more exponentially difficult than anything else in the suite of tunes at that point of the game (One by Metallica for example) and that it's just a pretty mad thing to do. We'd both got to around 78% or so (he on the PS2, me on the Wii) and so after making tea for myself and The Buttons On My Remote, I was determined to bloody well nail the thing!

So, after some general limbering up with Wii Sports tennis (and indeed seeing The Buttons On My Remote giving the computer opponent a good pasting in the process, which was good, she's really improving as of late which was lovely to see), it was then on with Guitar Hero 3. I played Kaiser Chiefs' "Ruby" just to warm myself up, and then went for it on that Slayer number. Got 81% first attempt, completely messed it on the second go, and then just concentrated hard, got past the first mosh bit, and the second, and just had to keep the cool near the end, and kept it going, and... "You rock" appeared on the screen. I was pretty delighted and The Buttons' comment was "Thank you, I don't have to listen to that again!" - which was fair enough.

Mind you, I did have a blast to finish off doing The Stone Roses' classic "She Bangs The Drums" (sadly it's not the original on Guitar Hero 3, so I'll give the proper version tune of the day as I listened to it tonight instead) and that just got me in the right frame of mind. I'll give it a rest, I think, for now, and see what comes through via Tesco DVD Rental, although of course if it happens to be Guitar Hero World Tour, then the guitar controller might come out again, we shall see won't we?

I had a day of really winding stuff down at work so that I could make sure all was well for when I was off next week, including checking a recent backup of the student data, ensuring that the team were informed of anything that might happen, drawing up some documentation for stuff we've been recently asked about, and plenty more, including a progress meeting on a project I'm working on. It all makes me feel pretty good to have left the office and head to my friend's place knowing nothing was needed to be done, ah that's good.

At my friend's place, I looked at one of their PCs which was playing up, with some weird static on the screen. I soon narrowed it down to either a graphics card reseat or in fact an appliance nearby which was maybe interfering, so once I moved that all seemed pretty well with the world. It didn't make an error all evening so that was a relief, let me tell you. We also had a blast of Tiger Woods 08 on the Wii, which he had bought from Gamestation in Altrincham, and so the stuff I'd learned from the game helped, as I played as Steve Elkington and he created his own character. It was pretty good fun, and we ended up doing an eighteen hole course with plenty of water and such like. My friend's putting was what let him down and he did feel frustrated with the technique used, it wasn't as fluent as the putting in Wii Sports golf (something I agree with), and amazingly I managed one under par for the round, which pleased me no end. It does feel more realistic than the Wii Sports golf, and for that reason it might take a bit more time to master, but we'll see.

I headed home and realised that the tickets were on sale for the trains to Glasgow in May, so I checked online to see if any had been released for the train I want to get when I hopefully go and see Kristin Hersh, but nothing doing as yet. I'll keep an eye on it though, as I wouldn't mind heading up there again, and to see one of my favourites there for a gig? It just has to be done really doesn't it?

Thursday 5th March - Never Break The Chain

The title of today's entry could have two reasons - one of them is something that's been good news at work, but I can't really divulge what as yet. Suffice to say I'm pretty pleased and it's capped off what's been a pretty decent week all round. I did also do some investigation today into whether there might be a way to slightly amend our main image so that we can put some updated files for the anti-virus software in there, down to an out of date update manifest file living in there. I've got some sort of plan but need to try and execute it to make it work properly and all that.

Still, I was also delighted to see that the BBC are taking their F1 coverage seriously with the launch of their new website. It's rather nice, even if white on black is a total no-no as far as web design is concerned (something which could also have been levelled at ITV's website, incidentally). There's plenty of news items, details of the coverage, and indeed even the front man Jake Humphrey's got his own blog going to get you behind the scenes. Of course, the line up for the coverage was announced a while back, and as you can imagine, Martin Brundle still in the commentary box along with Ted Kravitz in the pit lane is all good news, and of course no commercials and no James Allen. I do kind of wish though that the BBC had tried to keep Louise Goodman, but hey ho, we get the added bonus of no less than Murray Walker being involved. Oh yes. GO GO GO GO!

And the best news of all is something I read today, that the Beeb are going to return to using Fleetwood Mac's seminal "The Chain" for its theme tune to the coverage. Anyone my age who grew up watching F1 on the telly will tell you that when you hear that evocative bassline, you knew that it was time for the race and that you would have Murray Walker screaming at 200 miles an hour during the race with sheer excitement. Of course, it's only he last bit of The Chain, with the bass line bit onwards, but of course, that's the best bit. I can hear people now going "Dummmmmm dum dum dum do do dum dum dum dummmmmm" in sheer anticipation. I whacked on the DVD-Audio disc of Fleetood Mac's "Rumours" album and played it in 5.1 surround when I got home. Tune of the day? You'd better believe it. It's a classic. And just like this clip shows, it's right somehow!

Ah, good things need not change. Now if only we could convince the BBC that they need to return to the proper version of the snooker theme.. ah well. But it's all good. The BBC site also has Murray's memories of classic Grand Prix, including the infamous 1981 Spanish race where Gilles Villeneuve cemented his legendary status even more, and the 1992 Monaco race with a titanic scrap between Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna. Ah, the old days.. good to see them all. Bring it on!

Wednesday 4th March - We Love You City, We Do!

It was off with my friend to watch Man City against Aston Villa, and in both our views, it was a tough game. Not least because City's form has been somewhat erratic (even though we've been decent at home) and Villa have won their last seven away league games. However, with Villa choosing to field a B-team in their UEFA Cup game and get knocked out, and then having Stoke come back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2, their confidence wasn't at their highest, and that was something we needed to try and take advantage of, even if the likes of Craig Bellamy and Robinho were out injured.

We headed to the ground and got our spot in Level 3 of the Colin Bell Stand, and had a pretty good view of things, even from up there. We were able to have a good view of both goals and indeed be almost level with the goal line at one end, so we could see any goalmouth action if required. With Doves' "Pounding" literally pounding out of the speakers before the start of the game, we knew that it was time for us to cheer the blue shirted heroes on, with my friend wearing his retro red and black away kit with some pride too, made me chuffed that!

Off City went, and it was pretty much a sense of attack but keeping possession too. What worked well was that Pablo Zabaleta did right back and midfield when needed to, and he was everywhere getting stuck in. What also worked well was that Nedum Onouha and Richard Dunne looked very good together in the centre of defence. I've been quite a fan of Ned actually, and he's reaping the rewards for being patient and getting on with his game rather than act all big and flashy (the injured Micah Richards should take note) and doing his job with the minimum of faffing about.

Shaun Wright-Phillips was a constant thorn in the Villa side and it was no surprise to us he was involved in the opener. He went down the left, was fouled, City kept possession, the ball went forward and after a good one two, he was in the box only to be clattered by James Milner. Easy penalty. To be fair, the referee did very well, because he let advantage go on and then call the pen correctly, rather than stop for the free kick earlier, and that's how the law should be applied where possible. Up stepped Elano to expertly steer it out of reach of Brad Friedel and into the corner, so 1-0 to City. And despite us having another couple of good chances, with Stephen Ireland coming close from a Wright-Phillips pass through, it was only 1-0.

Villa came out for the second half as if their lives depended on it, and City were certainly under the cosh for the first twenty minutes, the turning point being an excellent Shay Given save from Villa's Gareth Barry. As time wore on, City pushed back forward and believed in themselves again. Ched Evans came on for Felipe Caicedo, and almost immediately knocked it down with his chest to Elano who forced a save out of Friedel. Evans was then involved in what proved to be the second goal, he ran down the right, keeping the ball just in play, gave it to Stephen Ireland, and he and SWP exchanged a few passes between them before SWP slotted it under Friedel to make it 2-0, and throroughly deserved in our view.

The final whistle went, and the new version of Blue Moon as recorded by Doves came blasting over the tannoy. It sounded pretty good to me and I hope the club use that (so tune of the day) even though I still have a tendency to like the Supra one (you know, "I said blue moon!" etc). It capped off a great night and one that saw City climb to eighth in the table, and Villa only now are three points above Arsenal in the race for fourth. If it turns out that Villa's UEFA Cup sacrifice means that they don't seal a Champions League spot, then it's their own fault really. But well done City, and if Match of the Day had actually been a decent programme anymore, the pundits would have talked about how well City played instead of how Villa weren't up to the task. We made them not up to the task!

It also makes me wonder if we actually need Robinho. Sometimes when he's on fire, it's great to watch, but at other times he looks completely disinterested and not bothered, and that sort of attitude isn't what I want to see from any City player. Craig Bellamy has turned many of us doubters into fans, simply because he's been prepared to get stuck in and work at it, and not give up. Thinking back, this is why so many City fans loved Paul Dickov, Uwe Rosler and Shaun Goater to bits (for me, especially The Goat), because they knew that if they gave 100%, battled and never gave in, the fans would back you and be that extra man for you. I remember after The Goat scored twice against Man U in the last derby at Maine Road and posting on one of the City messageboards that it was time fans stopped sniping against The Goat, because he proved just what a player he was and how he'd die for us if he wanted to. Ah, happy memories.

Tuesday 3rd March - Chick Flick Central

Well, I had a really enjoyable tea at The Buttons On My Remore's place. She'd made this really nice chicken in honey and mustard sauce, along with some vegetables and so on. It was deliciously lovely. Add to that these nice little pots of tiramisu for dessert too, and I felt so happy to be treated so well. It was also nice to wind down after work and have a good natter before braving the wind and rain and heading for the cinema. We'd planned to go to the pictures for some time, and especially after we both enjoyed The Reader, it was something that we realised that we didn't do enough of.

So, it was off out and to see Confessions of a Shopaholic. Now, as you can well imagine, that wouldn't have been my first choice, as it is after all quite a chick flick. But everything is of course about give and take, and as it was my choice to see The Reader last time, only fair that I return the compliment and see something that she wants to see, that way everyone's a winner in the long term. Sometimes, it's knowing when to compromise rather than be too bullish and fight the corner. Of course, I haven't read the two books that the film was based on, so I wouldn't know how true to the book they are.

As a film, it seemed pretty okay actually. Isla Fisher is pretty funny as the main character Rebecca Bloomwood, and certainly her comedy mannerisms first gained in The Wedding Crashers probably stood her in good stead her. The one character I did like the most though was Krysten Ritter, who played the flatmate Suze. She had the right amount of girlieness and also common sense to be the perfect foil, and that worked nicely enough without being offensive. It did of course follow classic chick flick criteria though: girl fancies boy, wants him but there's bitchy girl in the way, she goes through trauma but it all works out in the end and the main characters snog, etc, you know the drill.

I kind of wish that John Goodman and Joan Cusack as Rebecca's parents featured more. They had the right sense of humility and warmth to be lovely, and when John says that he'll sell their prize possession to help Rebecca pay the debts off, you can see the gentleness as he does it. Proper actor and all that, although I freely admit I can't ever think of him without associating him with Sulley from Monsters Inc. (no bad thing as I love that film). Nonetheless it was inoffensive fun, and certainly The Buttons enjoyed herself immensely with it, which is after all what it should be about.

When I got home and after The Buttons had left to go home (boo) I was going to put on Guitar Hero III for a little while to try and get past that Slayer song, but I knew that I was too tired in reality to do it. So instead, I went for some rocking tunes on the CD player and whacked on The Killers' first album (as one of their songs features in GH III). After all these years, "Smile Like You Mean It" is still a darn fine tune, and has some lovely wibbly guitar effects throughout, perfect fodder for any rock game actually, so tune of the day it is then.

Monday 2nd March - How Does It Feel?

It felt slightly odd in the office today - we were all head down doing little jobs and as a result it was a case of concentrating and getting on things. In fact, I had a fair few emails to reply to, so it was a case of getting on with those and making sure that I replied to them all and set up any corresponding jobs to do, if required. I then had to sort out in the afternoon this rather nifty little thing - it's a trackpad mouse, but for a desktop PC rather than a laptop, and designed for those who find that using a mouse isn't helpful to their hands and wrists. Once I'd installed the updated software, I was then able to get things working, and there was even a "gestures" feature, where you pressed a button, did the gesture, and it worked. In fact I did the cross gesture for closing a window, and it worked really really well!

I was then also working on getting some software installed, and then sorting out a couple of other things such as a shared calendar, and also some email address setups, and the day sort of went by, but a little slowly. For some reason though after one of the test PCs in the back had been shut down, it refused to come back on. I did check afterwards, and it turned out that possibly the motherboard or the RAM was faulty and it was refusing to boot whatsoever, which wasn't really that good - oh well off it goes for repairs then. It felt like I'd put a curse on the bloody thing and it was a blue Monday (hence make the New Order classic tune of the day - it just seemed to be of the occasion really) and that time just went by ever so slowly.

I'm also waiting for the train tickets to be on sale for mid-May, as I'm planning a couple of trips out. The plan is that currently I want to go and see Kristin Hersh in York and also in Glasgow, and for either of those I want to make sure that I can get a cheap train and where possible a cheap Travelodge, the idea being that it won't be that dear for me to stay anywhere and so will be able to go there, stay over and see Kristin live. Thankfully the gig on 24th May at Burnley is close enough to come back the same evening, and The Lines Of My Poem is coming with me, so that's good.

I did though book some train tickets and stuff for a couple of things coming up. In April, it's time for the World Snooker Championships at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, and I'm taking The Lines Of My Poem and her father there to see one of the first round games, so that'll be good - and the trains were cheap. And I've booked the Ibis London Euston plus the trains there and back for near my birthday. You see, MJ Hibbett and the Validators are doing the launch gig for their new album, and as you can imagine I wanted to go and enjoy myself as you do, so with that all sorted I can go and have a good time, hurrah eh?

Sunday 1st March - Searching For An Audience

Myself and The Strings On My Guitar had a really relaxed day today, we got up fairly leisurely, I managed to book some tickets for the World Snooker in April and then plan out what's going to happen on my birthday (it involves a gig in London the night before and a stop over!) and then it was a case of just mooching around. We did have a good game of Scrabble, although The Strings had some rotten luck and according to her didn't hardly have any vowels for a few goes. I think I'd have been inclined to swap tiles, but she carried on and didn't do too badly under the circumstances. I did play SQUID down the bottom corner (blank used as S) for 72 points, which wasn't a bad move at all really, and helped my score nicely.

We went out to Bruntwood Park in the afternoon and ended up having a walk around there. Part of the main Bruntwood Hall is used as a café now and we were able to enjoy the scenery around the place too, although it would be nice if there were more paths which took you around the park. We also noticed plenty of aircraft above coming in to land at Manchester Airport nearby, and try as might, I couldn't capture one good enough to be worthy as a picture. Mind you, I've not taken a good pic in ages, I think I am getting rusty and I might have to get cracking at some point this week to try and take something decent!

We headed back to my place and I made us tea whilst The Strings settled in with some Escape to the Country on UK Style, as she loves that sort of thing. I was going to do one of my signature dishes, the chorizo sausage pasta bake, except the local Tesco had no chorizo (I know, bobbins). I did buy some proscuitto ham, and so used that instead, and also some spicy arabiatta pasta sauce instead, so it was a proscuitto arabiatta pasta bake in the end. It worked out really well actually and the top layer of the ham had melted into the cheese, giving it a nice top crispy layer which made it even nicer. Well, I was pretty chuffed myself really, it has to be said.

It was then, after a quick Guitar Hero III session where I managed to do Rage Against The Machine's "Bulls On Parade" pretty well and ramped up the score nicely, off to the Royal Northern College of Music for something a bit more gentle, as we had tickets to see Vonda Shepard (official site) - I'd had her recent album "From The Sun" since last year, as I pre-ordered it from America so I could get it on their release date, and it's signed. I played it to The Strings ages ago, she liked it, and wanted to come too. In fact we had middle of the front row which meant that you didn't have some 6 foot 10 person in front of you so you couldn't see. As a couple of places were giving tickets away 2 for 1 for this gig, I was worried it wasn't going to be full.

And so it proved, I'd say there was around 200 there or so, if that, and the theatre was about half full. I felt gutted, but at the same time, also lucky that I was actually there. I think the high ticket price (£25!) put a lot of people off, understandably, so that was that. Still, it was apparently just her in two halves, with no support, so I was hoping for a fair bit of time like we had when we saw Swing Out Sister at the Lowry a while back. Thankfully, for those that were there, she and her band did a really good job. Plenty of "From The Sun" got an airing, including the title track, a funky "Downtown (Dirtytown)", "I Know Better" and a lovely emotional version of "Another January" which was beautifully moving.

But she didn't forget her old stuff nor the stuff she performed on Ally McBeal, and that got everyone in a nice frame of mind. She played "Baby, Don't You Break My Heart Slow" with a lovely soft touch, and "Searching My Soul" (you know, the theme tune) got everyone up and dancing, which did seem surreal. There was also the likes of "The Wildest Times of the World" (a nice early one, yaay), and my favourite of the whole night, "Maryland" which sounded gorgeously emotional, and even had the audience singing the "la la la la la la" chorus at the right moment, which had Vonda say "Eeey up, not bad!" in a pretty decent attempt at a Lancastrian accent. It was a lovely effort and a great song, so tune of the day it most certainly is.

The time sped by and the near two hours' worth of stuff we got came to an end with everyone up as she performed her way through some covers, notably "Hooked On a Feeling", "The Shoop Shoop Song" and so on, but it was a really good effort from her and despite the spartan crowd, I have a feeling a lot of people enjoyed themselves - we certainly did and Vonda had a nice smile on her face, which was lovely. If I was nitpicking, I'd have loved to have had "100 Tears Away" but you can't have everything, can you?