Dear Diary... May 2008

Saturday 31st May - Phase Two Completed

Well, I got up this morning and it looked absolutely gorgeous outside, truly a beautiful day, so cue me hunting down the Levellers song of the same name and playing it, for fairly obvious reasons, followed by MC Solaar's "Today Is A Good Day" as well, which is just so laid back and funky, setting the tone for the day really. My uncle was already at work on getting the kitchen sorted, including fitting the top cupboards, the doors and indeed all the splashbacks, and let him get on with things as I ventured out shopping.

First stop was the local market near me: my mum had planned to go there as she was babysitting my nephew, and was going to take him out with her. I met up with Mum at the market and went round, and had a good chat whilst we did so and also kept my nephew entertained and chatted away to him whilst Mum went and did her stuff. It was so nice to see he was so well behaved too, I think the fact that I try and get him involved does help and he seems quite receptive when that happens. I mentioned to him that I was on a shopping mission for my niece's birthday and straight away he worked out what I was after and said "Will you get me an Igglepiggle one for my birthday?". Awwww.

So after a quick soujourn around the city centre, it was off out to Manchester Fort shopping park, and indeed to the big Woolworths branch opposite. My sister had seen in there that they do costumes for In The Night Garden, so you can dress up as the characters, and as my niece quite likes Upsy Daisy, I thought it would be a good idea to get her that for her birthday. Walked around Woolworths and found all the toys (including a Makka Pakka that when you press its tummy says all its phrases and song, bit like the Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy ones I bought last year, me not daft) and eventually I saw the play costumes for the kids. There were loads - you could have Stephanie or Sportacus from Lazytown, lots of Disney characters, and there I saw it - the Upsy Daisy costume, and they had the size for my niece so that was pretty much all sorted and done.

I went back home, dropped that off and headed out to Stockport and then the Denton outlet branches of Marks and Spencer to see if they had any good reduced stuff or inded the really nice recycled cotton jeans that I bought myself the other week. Unfortunately it was a no can do situation and I couldn't find anything there, but at least I was able to have a good look around anyway and get some ideas, which is always good. It's nice to have nice things to wear that don't cost the earth, and whilst in Denton I checked out the Tesco Home plus and the clothes bit in there, some good reductions but none in my size. Aaargh. Ah well.

I got back after that and the kitchen was virtually finished, and I have to say it looks so much better, it's much more modern and tasteful, everything works as intended, the new sink looks the part along with the tops and splashbacks, the new units and cupboards complete with brushed steel doors fit well with the surroundings, and it feels like a kitchen again, much to my delight. Once I get everything back in as I'd like, it's then a case of having the remaining walls papered over and then painted with the paint I have, but it's pretty much all done and dusted now. It just looks ace!

I felt the need to listen to some Kristin Hersh today, purely because I was thinking about how nice it would be to do an acoustic compilation of some of my favourite acoustic tracks out there, and well, if I'm going to start with anyone then it simply has to be Kristin really. I played the album "Learn to Sing Like A Star" because it's still lovely now, and "Nerve Endings" is still my favourite track on there, it just has a really nice progression of the song, with lilts, rises and falls, and gorgeous strings as well which make it all work wonderfully, so tune of the day is going to be that one.

Friday 30th May - Phase Two

Today was the start of phase two of the kitchen refurb - and my uncle certainly likes to get things started bright and early, so he was already at my place by the time that I left to go to work. When I got home, I was thoroughly happy and impressed that progress had been made. The new sink had been fitted, and all the plumbing done for that (what I got from B&Q was spot on). Problem was though that the old pipework that supplied the sink etc was really bobbins, and so that all got changed too, including a new drain pipe out from the sink to the drain out the back. It just looks a lot more with it now, and the washing machine is already back in place, so (sad as it sounds) I was able to put some clothes in the wash!

The units and worktops already in place look the part, and the tops and floor tiles match each other pretty well so it's a nice consistent look too. What's also good to note is that the splashbacks are the top of the range ones, so will last and last, which is pretty much what I want. I especially like the fact that the floor was down first, so when the new units go on top, it's all neat and tidy and definitely well worth it. My uncle also boxed off the wall next to the washing machine for a more tidier look, and it certainly works perfectly. Handy of course when you have someone who can do the job really isn't it?

There'll be more of the same tomorrow and fingers crossed I can actually use the cooker tomorrow night, which would be ace. As good as it can be to eat out (my friends and my Mum have certainly helped out there) it's also nice to make stuff at home and just relax with it, plus for example it saves me heading out for something for tea, so got to be saving some money there. My fridge and freezer mind you is pretty choc full of lovely stuff ready though so it'll be ace. Might have to do a chorizo sausage pasta bake once it's all sorted, yaay me.

Had a thought about good cover versions earlier, and what made me think about that was that Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" was mentioned in conversation. Now, as good as that version is (it's the definitive cover of that song to say the least) the original Gloria Jones Northern Soul version just has something more: whether it just sounds more emotional because it's sung by a woman with heart, I'm not sure, but it just hits you a bit more - so that's going to be tune of the day - I urge you to check it out if you can, just so you can see the comparison. And of course kudos to the Soft Cell lot for giving it a new lease of life back in 1981 - always liked the 12" version which segued into a version of "Where Did Our Love Go?" too...

Thursday 29th May - Hey Ho, Metro!

Woke up this morning and felt like a bit of The Ramones to get me going and wide awake, so what better than "Blitzkrieg Bop" to really set the tone. Having a bit of singing along to "Hey, ho! Let's go!" really does make a difference if you need to wake up. It somehow also seems right when hearing that tune in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 when playing and getting a high score - just the perfect timed soundtrack for doing a level. Got to be tune of the day purely because of its feelgood factor which has pretty much stayed with me for the rest of the day.

In fact on the way home last night something else made me pretty well chuffed. For ages where I live hasn't had any form of supermarket since the old Kwik Save (which was a Somerfield for its last few months) had closed, and the local people were not happy about having to traipse to somewhere else afar to get their food shopping, and indeed having no local amenities meant that people didn't necessarily want to stay in the area if they couldn't drive (and as someone who thinks environmental, always better to cut emissions by not driving to the supermarket isn't it?) and so it wasn't looking good.

However my neighbour and I had heard rumblings a few months ago that negotiations were underway to buy the site and turn it into a Tesco, which was fine by me. So imagine when I noticed a couple of big signs outside that said that a Tesco Metro would be opening in seven weeks? That was fine by me. I have to traipse to another branch and it is a bit of faffing about, so having somewhere local would be a lot better as you can imagine. I know some of the local residents were concerned about the place being turned into another "Tesco town" but to be honest, having something like that where I live might just convince more people to move in the area - having local amenities on the doorstep was part of the reason I moved where I am in the first place.

So yes, it'll be rather good to have some form of normality back around here, without any question. And to be honest, it would be nice as well if some of the pubs took the lead of one of the local places, which has just won an award for being a rather nice pub to be. It does real ale and not expensive prices, the ambience is generally good and overall it's one for the people rather than one for the scallies, which definitely gets my vote for sure.

Oh, and I should really mention that I also went to Manchester Academy 1 last night and saw Ministry. It was slightly surreal by the fact that the whole band were surrounded by steel cage fences from the front, assuming this was to deflect any beer being thrown at them which some still tried to do even so. It just seemed slightly odd with the visuals of the songs in the background with the band performing. And add to that it was none of the original line up apart from Al Jourgensen, and it did seem slightly a let down, it has to be said.

However what wasn't a let down was the fact that two of their finest songs were played back to back, just like they are on the original album it came from, and played loud, hard and rocking. Certainly it got most of the two thirds full crowd going anyway: "NWO" got them in the right mood and when "Just One Fix" came on straight after it was a case of everyone moshing by the front and belting out the song's title at the right moments, and that was so much better than the strangest cover version of "What A Wonderful World" at the end which dragged on far too long and it looked like by that time the band were fairly drunk. That left a sour taste in the mouth to be honest and I went home frankly disappointed - maybe I should have cashed my ticket in and seen Frank Sidebottom down the road at the Salutation instead!

Wednesday 28th May - Let's Do It In The Rain

It was hammering it down today, and not the nicest of weather to really head out and escape at lunch time, or even indeed head over to my Mum's on the way home from work either. Thankfully the hood that I have inside my light jacket does the job and kept the rain off me - and it simply can be tucked inside the back of the jacket when not in use - ace or what eh? Well, it's the little things that matter, you know, so I was ever so pleased to stay dry and relatively calm throughout the long day manning numerous support calls.

As I mentioned, it was over to Mum's tonight. I wanted something nice to eat for my tea and Mum duly obliged with her legendary potato rash, oh yes. Just the way I like it too, and with all the nice trimmmings you should have really. It was a little treat for me which I really appreciated, and had a good chat with Mum as well and caught up with things in general. I have a feeling that she's starting to get giddy about her forthcoming holiday, which is actually rather nice to see. Hurrah! As it happened my sister came over with her son as well so I had a bit of quality time there to have a fuss over and generally keep him entertained, the things you do eh?

It was then off to that DIY emporium that is B&Q. I needed some last bits for the kitchen refurb, and as I'd bought too many floor tiles from last week I figured we may as well take them back for a credit note and then use that to pay for the stuff we had to get tonight. B&Q's new motto in their adverts is "Let's do it" which isn't really as good as "You can do it when you B&Q it" (not least as you could very easily get confused with a famous Victoria Wood song about a couple where each verse either starts with "Let's do it" or "Can't do it" depending on the narrative!).

First things first, why is there never enough people on a customer service desk? There was a queue of us including me and only one member of staff, who was doing a good job despite being on her own, but she really did need some support out there. Eventually we got seen to, and one credit note later, I could go and use that as I headed around to find what we needed. My uncle mentioned I'd need a pipe and some pipe clips as most likely the outside drain pipe may need to be changed, so that was sorted, and I also found some wallpaper for the kitchen walls and some paint to be painted over it (went in the end of the Natural Hessian, looked a good neutral colour and in keeping with what I wanted.)

I also made a last minute decision that because the units and splashbacks were a deep charcoal black like colour, it wouldn't look so hot having white plug sockets, so managed to get all the chrome sockets that we needed - one for the light switch, a double plug, a single plug, and one for the hot water tank, which has its on switch in the kitchen as well. Those were the most expensive items to get, but even so, it didn't cost that much once I'd used the credit note, thankfully, so it looked to be on track in terms of getting things done.

After a few phone calls to friends and keeping one eye on the England versus USA game (England won 2-0 as well, what was that all about with playing half decent?) it was eventually time for me to tuck myself up in bed and feel relatively pleased with how the shopping trip went, and before I went to sleep, it was time to have a quick play of the new Portishead CD "Third". I'm pleased to report that the album was worth the wait, and "Machine Gun" really does give you a good idea of how it all sounds - with Beth's vocals on that track being particularly haunting, so tune of the day for me no question.

Tuesday 27th May - Helpdesk Handiwork

For the next week or two I'm back on the Help Desk at work, a job I used to do when I was a mere assistant in the position I'm in now. I don't mind it as such as it means you can get on with a few things but also be approachable for students and staff to face any problems head on and get them solved - seems a logical way to go about things to be perfectly honest. And it was fairly hectic as there's still plenty of people doing last minute things and getting it all sorted out before their degree shows in a few months time, cos they can!

Headed over after work straight to my friend's place, killing several things with one stone: firstly, I could catch up and have a good natter, secondly, we could have cups of tea thus saving me the hassle of digging out the kettle at home whilst the kitchen's in upheaval, and also they had their birthday presents for me which they wanted to hand over - as they were ill to make the birthday meal and all that. I got some lovely things: the DVD of Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny, and three CDs: the limited CD/DVD-A release of REM's "Automatic For The People", PJ Harvey's "Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea" and the new Portishead album "Third". Rock and roll eh?

In fact my friend and I had a good discussion about the Amy Macdonald gig we went to last week and also mentioned about how easy it is to get a cover version wrong - and badly wrong at that! I guess seing Amy plus the support acts the other day reminded me of that - and indeed as we're both fans of Gary Numan, hearing how well Fear Factory did with "Cars" (and getting Numan to sing on it and be in the video) is the perfect example of when it's done absolutely right and with respect to the original artist.

Made my way home later and thought that to get myself in the mood for Ministry on Thursday night at Academy 1, I needed some serious Industrial rocking, and then I reminded myself of seeing The Fighting Cocks at Leeds last month and how ace they were, I even got yelling along to the chorus of "Son Of A Bitch" (cos it's dead easy to do so) and how that track in particular rocks like a magga dog (or something). Nonetheless it's on their Myspace page so that was a doddle to spot, so on it went at full blast and absolutely perfect for letting off the excess steam and moshing to like a mad man. So, give that tune of the day and I think they'd be bloody perfect as the support act on Thursday. If only....

Monday 26th May - Improv Chums

It was a rather nice and relaxed Bank Holiday Monday for me today, and one that just really was for all the right reasons. First off, the cricket. England had battled themselves back into a position where they could go for a win, and at the start of the day were 76 for 1 needing 294 in total to win. And they gradually put pressure on New Zealand so that they would buckle under the pressure, and so it proved. A brilliant century from Andrew Strauss and useful contributions from all the batsmen meant that in the last over before tea England cantered home with a day and a session to spare. For obvious reasons, Monty Panesar got Man of the Match for his match turning six wicket haul from yesterday.

While that was going on, it was then time for Rochdale against Stockport in the League Two Playoff final. My uncle's second team is Stockport, and I don't mind whoever won, they are both local teams, so it was an intriguing watch. My uncle had come to sort a couple of bits of the wall out in the kitchen for me, and so could watch the footy at the same time, clever eh? I left for the city centre and caught most of the second half and Stockport won 3-2, so well done them, and indeed it was the most exciting of the play off finals for the weekend too, so proof enough that they were both going for it!

Met up with my friend in one of the bars in town, and as we were heading off to the Lowry later, it was time to have something to eat for tea - my ruse being that as I had no kitchen to cook anything, I may as well munch whilst I'm out - cunning plan, you see. I went for the scampi which was rather delicious all round and cooked just the way I like it, not overdone but just crisp and golden with the fish being nice and tender inside the batter. Spot on, and we timed our escape well so that the tram to the Lowry arrived pretty quickly.

We were excited and rightly so - Paul Merton and his Improv Chums sounded just like it'd be an extended episode of the classic Whose Line Is It Anyway? - and so it proved. With the regulars of Paul, Richard Vranch, Lee Simpson and the admittedly gorgeously funny Suki Webster (I could have watched her on her own quite happily) things were set fair, but add to that the marvellous Mike McShane as well and it was a definite winner. The time went by far too quickly but it was very funny indeed - not least as they rattled off various scenes suggested by the audience at the interval which was just lovely to watch.

One of the funniest moments came near the end - well two of them. First, they did an alternative Shakespeare play with a title suggested by the audience: The Two Gentlemen of Swindon! I did think of Love's Liberal Democrats Lost (work it out!) but nonetheles the way that they did that play idea and had it also so that the pasties were round like Swindon's roundabouts had everyone in stitches. As did the last thing - a Sherlock Holmes play with a case name suggested - so it was Sherlock Holmes and the case of the Purple Canoe! Even more impressive was that one of them did someone else's voice over whilst they mimed it - brilliant stuff all round. The time vanished and it was ace, I tell you - well worth going.

I got home quite late but needed to put something on to help me get some sleep as the weekend had been fun but long and I needed to focus on work in the morning - so the first thing that came to mind was a bit of Portishead - not least as their third album is out. I dug out their earlier stuff and "All Mine" came to mind, it's just lovely and downbeat, so tune of the day purely because it has a clutch of emotions too...

Sunday 25th May - Christening

All go today, as it was my sister's child's christening day. Normally, this sort of occasion is within the first six months or so of the baby being born, but my sister had waited until her son was three and a half before deciding that it was time it happened. Thankfully the local church close to my Mum's, who realised that she didn't want an over-religious service, was more than happy to accommodate and so that it would be all workable for my sister, which was good to see. I'm not religious really but I do respect other people's rights to be, and if it means having to be in church and do the right thing for a christening, then that seems fair enough to me.

So, all suited and ready to go, I walked along to the church and I didn't see any of the family there for a short time, and I was worried whether anyone was going to turn up. That soon was sorted out though as my sister, her husband and daughter came in one car, and my mum, two brothers and my brother's girlfriend in another, and before I knew it all the family on both sides of my sister (her boyfriend's family were there too of course) had all arrived, so it seemed well and we took our places in church for the service. The vicar is quite modern in thinking actually, he referred to the quote "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is that it could be similar to the way the voting works in Eurovision (he must have watched it last night!) in that it's all political and not exactly fair, as life never is.

Still, the service went well and even though there were a few crying little ones, it passed off peacefully and without incident, and the baptism went as planned without a hitch. I didn't recognise any of the hymns sung though, wasn't surprised when you consider that the book I had been given had some six hundred in there and no way would you recognise them all to be honest - probably why Songs of Praise on BBC1 is still quite popular after all these years as it can be kept fresh with stuff you may not have heard for a while.

Headed to a local pub function room for the reception - there was way too much food to be honest and even though I did try to munch a fair bit, realistically there was just a massive amount considering how many people were there. The pub also didn't serve any cask ale, so that wasn't great either. Mind you, it was good to catch up with the family and have a good natter, always lovely to do. The DJ was possibly one of the worst I've ever encountered: he simply had a laptop hooked up to the mixing rig with Windows Media Player churning out songs, with hardly any input required from the user. Absolutely shameful to be honest, and I could have done better with an iPod playing at random. And, considering the Christening is supposed to be an occasion for the kids as well, didn't see much in the way of kids' songs being played, an absolute sin!

Headed home later as I was feeling quite headachey with the loud noise of the DJ set, and time was getting on anyway, so thanks to good old Sky Plus I was able to watch the Monaco Grand Prix without any distractions, which was a relief I can tell you. I must admit though that my prediction of the rain making it an exciting race was the master of the understatement: mistakes were made, people went off and hit the barriers, the timing of when to change to certain types of tyre was crucial, and Lewis Hamilton touched the barrier and damaged the right rear, yet still had the pace and McLaren's excellent strategy bods at work to manage to claw his way back through the field to take a richly merited win.

However, he wasn't driver of the day for me - that belonged to Adrian Sutil in the Force India car. They rightly had fuelled the car heavy at the start hence planning a one stop, and stuck with the intermediate tyres long enough to ensure that when the track was dry, it was the right time to switch to slicks and make sure that the places earned were kept. He also kept the car on track despite the conditions and at a competitive pace, which can't be argued with either. In fact, the only reason he didn't finish because after the safety car restart (due to Nico Rosberg clouting the wall at the entrance to the Swimming Pool) Kimi Raikkonnen aquaplaned on a wet patch coming out of the tunnel and ran into the back of Sutil as he was about to take the chicane. Well frustrating to be honest, as Sutil's then fourth place would have been just reward for his driving.

Spent some time in the evening taking off the old wallpaper in the kitchen, so that the walls are a bit more bare so that when the new stuff goes in, it'll look better and indeed then it can be spruced up nicely to really give the whole thing much more of a "me" feel about it. I had Moby's new album in the background as I did it and the current track of choice is "257.Zero" which has a very 1980s synth line throughout that reminds me of some electronic pop before it really kicks in with some euphoric backing as well - very nicely done. Make that one tune of the day and how!

Saturday 24th May - According To Plan

Well, today's planned kitchen upheaval went according to plan, and plan very well. I was out for most of the day attempting to salvage some long deleted data off a hard drive, but unfortunately the data was possibly deleted too long ago or it had been overwritten too much to be salvageable from the drive. Nonetheless though it was worth a go and indeed have a good natter regardless, and the weather was also rather decent so travelling on the train there and back was a nice relaxing mode of transport to go on today.

By the time I arrived back, avoiding the massed crowds who had come along for the Ricky Hatton fight and who were also getting rather drunk as well, the floor had been well and truly sorted. The grey floor ceramic tiles are all now in place, and all stuck down and grouted so it looks the part. In fact, it turned out that I had bought a few too many packs of floor tiles and so as such I may be able to traipse back to B&Q with them as they had not been used, and I know just what to get if I do get the money back - some matching light switches and power sockets to go with the colour of the splashbacks! Aha, cunning plan ahoy I reckon.

I have however been making sure that I do avoid Eurovision tonight! I have gone right off it in the last few years as it's become far and away the most rigged contest ever. It's not about the talent anymore but about who gives who which votes and who are the countries' friends and who gets it. That may sound bitter, but it isn't - it's fact. Everyone knows it and yet everyone does nothing about it - well, apart from Italy, who decided to completely withdraw a while back in protest. Now, I guess because the UK get automatic entry to the main event because they plough money into it, and don't have to pre-qualify, maybe there's some annoyance at that?

But, wonder what would happen if the UK withdrew completely, and would it survive? Now that would be intriguing, I reckon. Maybe it might be worth a go, just to see. For me, any such competition should be about the songs and how well they're actually performed and arranged, a true song contest so to speak. I suppose as well that when I consider that the entries that have won for the UK have been usually where the band or artist concerned has usually gone on to greater things, that was always a sign - even if they were a bit cheesy (Brotherhood of Man, anyone?) - but that was then and this is now.

I did record the Monaco Grand Prix qualifying on the Sky Plus box to watch later, and as you can well imagine, it was pretty exciting stuff. Not least now with traction control removed and rightfully so, it means you have to drive the cars around and avoid the barriers, and not make mistakes, which is pretty hairy considering how close the Armco is most of the time (master of the understatement) - now if there happens to be some rain during the race tomorrow, that is going to make it very interesting indeed, as it usually does! In fact a lot of the best races there have been when the wet weather has come down, either before or during the race, just to make it even more of a test!

Spent the rest of the evening in fairly chilled out mode, having some instrumental type tunes on to just set the mood right. I think somehow it's good not to have any lyrical distractions but have something that's just there that you can happily mingle with. But then I wanted something a bit more rousing and a bit more rocking, so on went The Prodigy and on with it went their "Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned" album, which I still adore. And when you've got killer tracks like "Get Up Get Off" that just go at you and never leave the senses (best make it tune of the day then!) and that has to be good.

Friday 23rd May - It's All Go

It's that Friday feeling, and certainly one where things started moving. I had managed to completely clear out the kitchen of everything and anything in preparation for work commencing. As it was, my uncle turned up bright and early and so could get cracking on everything whilst I was at work. It worked out better all round really, because what it meant was that I could still do the day job and get things done, whilst he could have no disturbances and do what he had to do. And so once I'd done with work and arrived at home, it all seemed well, all the old units had been ripped out and taken to the local tip, and there was just the top with sink left in case I needed that too. All the electrics were wired in, and apart from the new socket I'm having close by the left side (for where the microwave's being repositioned) it's all usable if I needed to. But as the cooker and washing machine are out of use until the kitchen's done, I won't really be finding a need for it for now.

My brother in law headed over and was there when I got home from work, so he could chuck on some self levelling compound on to the floor. The floor's concrete and in very good nick, it has to be said, but this way it would mean that the floor would be nice and level for when he does the floor tiles tomorrow. Of course, it's much easier being able to have the floor tiled whilst there's nothing to get in the way, as you can imagine, and so then all the new stuff will be on the tiled floor and it'll just look rather neat and lovely - well that is the plan. As I'm writing this, the self levelling stuff is drying off and so it'll mean that it'll all be ready to go.

I must admit I'm glad it's all coming together and that I've saved up to do all this. When I moved in the house, the kitchen units were all there already, and they were reasonable enough, but they were probably in for quite some time before I moved in, and as I've been in the house almost six years now, I felt it was about time that I got myself together and had something fresh put in. What it does at least mean is that I'll have something that'll have a definite more me about the place, and that's good. I did consider getting it extended as well, but that's shed loads more money and to be honest I know there's other things that I want to get done at the same time. Here's hoping.

In terms of music, I was having a think today about just how it is that often a band or artist gets a break and all of a sudden they're the next in thing. It was an intriguing comparison between Amy Macdonald and Donna Marie that got me into that mode - for my money, Donna is just as good if not better, yet who's the one with all the record sales? Interestingly, the crowd at last night's Amy gig was made up of either teenage indie kids or their mums (or in some cases, both!) and definitely plenty of forty somethings who seemed to have listened to her on Radio 2 and liked what they heard, and yet that sort of crowd aren't the sort to necessarily spread their wings and listen to people who deserve to be listened to. It's the corporate machine in full effect, I guess. But still.

Mind you, one thing that does cheer me up no end is when you have someone play live, they're really good, and then you find that other people you know have not only heard of them, but enthuse about them too. One of my friends at work had seen Ben's Brother in Manchester (me in Liverpool) and we both enthused about how great Laura and the Tears were - and definitely one to watch. I had a mooch around the old Interweb, and there was a free song available via their website. Rather good all round to be honest it is too, so "Nobody Knows" is tune of the day - because, I can!

Thursday 22nd May - Little Miss Rock And Roll

Another night this week, and another gig as well. This time it was off with a friend to the now fully revamped and reopened Manchester Academy 1 to see Amy Macdonald - for me the third time in nine months. The two of us had enjoyed the Liverpool gig back in February and indeed as Julian Velard was excellent support back then, and it would be interesting to see who would be with Amy this time, and indeed how the fully reopened Academy would actually look. We headed to the usual car park close by the Academy, which is really handy, and off we headed, noting the rather sizeable queue that had already formed in advance of the 7.30pm start.

We made our way in, and noticed the new revamped bar at the back which would surely help cut out the crowd jam and queueing of the bar inside the main floor. It was also very nice and modern as well and felt much more like a good venue should. Indeed what was also impressive was the balcony area up top for viewing - now opened and with full functioning press button powered doors and ease of access for disabled use. In my eyes, this is a big improvement and it also means that as it doubles as the VIP area and lounge, you could theoretically meet people in there (or of course blag an Access All Areas pass to do the same!)

With people entering nicely, on came Pete du Pon (official site) (myspace) who at first didn't sound too bad, but as the set went on, it was clear that it all sounded a bit monotonous, and frankly, a bit dull. Even if there was a cello player who was really good and doing her thing well, it just all seemed a bit flat, too safe and definitely didn't seem to inspire any of the crowd whatsoever. In what was to be a start of a compare and contrast evening of cover version, he and his band ambled very slowly through a mellowed out version of Green Day's "Basket Case", and to be honest, it was dreadful. Certain songs you can do slower and they work, but when you know the original freneticism of said classic, slowing it down to a snail's pace seems somewhat of an insult to be honest. Not good.

My friend and I had noticed though that it would be Julian Velard (official site) (myspace) up next, and definitely everything was back on track. Just like in Liverpool, he did a storming set which not only included the forthcoming single "Jimmy Dean and Steve McQueen" but plenty of good feelgood numbers with plenty of him and his keyboards up front really giving it emotion, with the coolest bass player around giving the whole thing substance and the other members of the band really up for it. I was most chuffed to hear "Little Demons" again (in fact, tune of the day because it's also on his "The Movies Without You" EP which I bought after his set, seemed the right thing to do) as it has plenty of catchy hooklines in there. Oh, and his cover version was a rather neat version of Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" with the lead guitar being partly replaced by his keyboard leads, but sung with the same amount of gusto and passion as the original, therefore making it a neat take all round. Hopefully the single will do well, cos he deserves it.

The anticipation grew and then on came the band and Amy Macdonald (official site) (myspace) - and they did their thing pretty well on the whole. Starting off with "This is The Life" just got the crowd in the right mood, and as you'd expect, most of the album got an airing including "LA", an almost sing along in the audience "Mr Rock and Roll", "Footballer's Wife" (which she dedicated to women she saw in the Trafford Centre, haha!), "Poison Prince" (which her record company have re-released as a single - meh!) and also a rather nice laid back version of "The Road To Home" as well, where she observed how odd it was that the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games bid used it as a tune, despite the fact Amy wrote it about her dog. Go figure!

Amy's cover version was a rather nice stripped solo version of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark". Now my friend is a bit of a Boss fan, so if I tell you that he was chuffed with it, that should give you an idea. She also played some new stuff as well, which bodes well for the future as they sounded pretty decent to me. Ending the evening with "Let's Start A Band" and the likes of "Caledonia" and "Barrowland Ballroom" went down very well, and she deservedly got the approval of the Manchester crowd. All in all, pretty good really although I do think that the record company are over-touring her somewhat and indeed maybe need to give her some time now to have a rest before starting work on a second album.

Wednesday 21st May - Painting The Sky Green

Now, I had a very easy decision to make tonight. Did I stay in and watch the Champions League final or head out to the Green Room to see Donna Marie supporting Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers? Well, if Man City had been in the final it would have been a no brainer, but as it was Man U in the final, it was a no brainer the other way and so it was off to the Green Room that I headed instead. To be honest, I had a feeling that the final of the Champions League would go to penalties and that it would be dramatic, which is what I said to my colleague as we left work today to go home. I was ultimately proven right, and by the sound of the car horns bibbing outside later, you could tell which way the result had gone - and indeed it was on penalties - Man U had won 6-5 in sudden death after John Terry of Chelski had missed a chance to win it with the fifth penalty. I wasn't that fussed either way and I guess that at least it was an exciting final with two English teams, so there has to be positives taken from that.

Anyway, so back to the Green Room. There were meant to be three acts on, but the first one had pulled out (most likely to watch the football I guess). This was actually to prove a good thing in the end, as it gave Donna Marie more time for her set, and with bass player Mon also there, a nice two person set was to ensue later. I had a good natter with Mon whilst Donna was checking everything out and mingling with some of the people there and all seemed well with the world really - it was good to see that even though the crowd was small, the people who were there wanted to be there to see the acts do their stuff, and that's always a good thing.

So, on came Donna Marie (official site) (myspace) and I have to say, even as a fan, that this was possibly the best live set I've ever seen her do. Whether or not this was because she had more time to play songs, or indeed whether it was because the chemistry between her and Mon made things work so well (him on bass and Donna on guitars and vocals) or indeed the improved acoustics of the Green Room, I don't know, but I'll tell you this much: it was an absolutely storming set, featuring plenty of old and new stuff to keep everyone happy. What was nice was that she started with "Faraway", my favourite song off her recent "This World" EP (although "Make You Mine" is still my all time favourite of hers!) and that sounded lovely, as did a brand new one straight after.

Mon joined on the bass and it was a really nice warm sound throughout, with the likes of new song "Until It All Begins", the excellent "Just Words" which I really love, and indeed a really old classic "The Other Half" (complete with happy banter throughout because of the subject matter of the lyrics, haha) sounding really more raw and rocking somwhow, which was the intention. "Paint The Sky" from the EP of the same name sounded really good and a fair bit rockier, and tracks from "This World" such as the title track, "Home" and a beautifully delivered "Shooting In The Dark" (tune of the day for me as it was so wonderfully done!) just added to that "you had to be there" feeling for me. I really liked the two guitars working together well on "A Little Time" which shows that song is really gaining in stature now since I first heard it, and with the excellent "Goodtime Girl" to finish, what more could I really want? Not much, actually. It was a bloody superb set and to be honest, if you don't go and check her out soon, then what the hell are you doing? Honestly, it was ace.

After some of the band had left the pub before the penalty shootout, Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers (official site) (myspace) did their thing. It was intriguing to see Tom actually play a double bass as well as sing, with Paul White on the guitars really rocking it big time, James Johnston on the drums in an England cricket shirt, and Alain Man on the keyboards, it was an intriguing combination, and they played a fair bit of stuff from their recent release, and it sounded quite coherent and with it as well - and certainly the way Tom played the double bass added lots of character to proceedings too. They seemed to be having a good time and I might have to check their album out as well, as the tracks played sounded coherent and tight. Hurrah for gigs!

Still though, it was good to be there, the vibe was lovely and indeed it just proved once again that Donna Marie is a bloody ace talent and just why she's not getting the recognition that she deserves is beyond me.

Tuesday 20th May - Versatile

Well, as I mentioned yesterday, it was off out after work to the local mega B&Q DIY emporium to stock up on some stuff and indeed to make sure that I had all the essentials that I needed to make the kitchen happen. With my uncle taking care of the worktops, splash backs and doors, I needed to make sure I had the floor tiles, adhesive, grout and the tile spacers and also choose what sink and taps that I wanted, because I'd need a reversible or left drainer single bowl to make sure that it would fit in with the big kitchen plan.

The difficult decision wasn't actually the floor tiles in the end, I spotted the set that I saw on the web site and they were decent, but then I spotted an even better set which you got in packs of 11 and for £4.99! They were nice and thick and sturdy, and once my brother, Mum and I located the tile grout and adhesive in the grey to match, plus the floor spacers, that was the floor sorted. The sink and taps took a bit longer, well actually it was the taps. The sink was one I'd seen in the catalogue and on the website that was a reversible drainer (left or right) plus it was stainless steel and looked the part for the price too. The taps though were a right nightmare, one of the sets I wanted was out of stock, and another that I saw which had been reduced from £149 to £79 had had its box opened, and myself and my brother were concerned that there'd be parts missing.

In the end, I did plump for a very nice tap, single hole stylee, where you'd be able to push the tap up mixer style and then left or right for hot or cold, seemed nice and simple to operate and also effective and stylish. It was a little more than my original choice, but the way I looked at it was an investment and that was definitely well worth it for me. And with all the essential plumbing set accessories for the sink as well, it was time to survey the damage at the checkout, which was actually less than I thought it would be. Nonetheless, I know full well that the sacrifice I'm making of no holiday this year is going to prove worth it once this is all done and everything looks lovely, and work starts soon. I can't wait!

With all that in mind, today breezed by at work and indeed I even spent some time out road testing the latest build for students and checking that some of our application installers worked on it, which thankfully it did. I don't muck around, me! It was also intriguing to see that just after lunch I heard that ex-Man City midfielder Joey Barton had been sent to prison for six months for assault. I wasn't surprised one bit and made me glad that we stung Newcastle out of £5.8million for him. That's about £5 million more than his actual worth as a footballer, the rest is pure thuggery money. And he's yet to face the assault charge on Ousmane Dabo as well, that one could well run and run!

Just whacked on some MJ Hibbett and the Validators, not least because yesterday MJ revealed that the new single is going to be the rather ace "It Only Works Because You're Here", which I've heard live and it's a rather lovely track when done acoustic. It'll also be interesting to see what happens when it's recorded with a full band live to be honest, I'm just hoping for plenty of violins all over the place to really give it some emotion, but we shall see what happens. In the meantime though, and becuase it's still so darned catchy, "Do The Indie Kid" is tune of the day - not least when you consider that I've seen people actually do the dance moves (not me, oh no. Well, okay then.. I admit it!)

Monday 19th May - Slam!

One thing about Mondays at the moment is that it seems like after the weekend so much of an anti-climax. I think more so for my colleague, who was working this weekend to make sure that everything to do with the plotters went as well as it could have done, and we do at least seem to be on top of things a fair bit more now. I also felt as well that it went well today, I just feel like I got a lot done in a short space of time and was also able to start thinking ahead to the big plan for the next two weekends, which is my kitchen being done! I've got everything sorted out now and it's just a case of getting the floor tiles and what not which I'm going to do tomorrow night, and with my uncle doing the re-fit and my sister's husband doing the floor tiling, it's keeping in the family which is always a good thing - you know full well you'll get looked after. Hurrah to that I say.

I had a fairly mellow evening tonight, mainly listening to some of the new CDs I got while simultaneously reading Nick Hornby's "Slam", that one of my friends kindly got me for my birthday, which was lovely. I guess with Nick's style of writing you do tend to really immerse yourself in the character, and it's no different with "Slam" either, not least as it's a teenage skater (that is skateboarder, kids!) who is obsessed with being the next Tony Hawk and worshipping the ground he walks on, while simultaneously attempting to appear cool to the masses, not least of all the girls of course. So far it's a really good read and I'll have to try and get down to some more of it soon to be honest.

Anyway, to the CDs. I thought that I'd play some Seth Lakeman to start, as "Freedom Fields" would be a good background listen while reading, and that worked very well indeed, as did indeed the new Moby album "Last Night" which is really growing on me with every listen - a possible contender for album of the year, that is. And Roxy Music's "For Your Pleasure" which is the other good Roxy Music album (apart from the self titled debut). That's simply because it had Brian Eno doing his knob twiddling weirdness and it sounds so much more art rock than the paled down stuff from later on. When you listen to the rather excellent "Editions Of You" it's clear that the mix of people in the band made that sound eclectic and yet addictive, put that down for tune of the day I think. It's intriguing too how often in those early years it was seen as a clash of personalities between Brian Ferry and Eno (especially with the latter's outlandish outfits!) but there you go.

Sunday 18th May - Down In The Park

A nice leisurely and relaxing day today all round really, a bit like what Sundays should be given half the chance to be honest. After getting up and having my usual weekend breakfast (croissants and bio yoghurt with some coffee, just works wonderfully well and keeps me balanced) it was time to limber up the pinball fingers and have a few blasts of the Star Trek Next Generation pinball on that pinball emulator I have. It's still my all time favourite pinball machine ever, and now I'm basically able to play it on freeplay and regularly, it helps me work out what to do and what scores to get. In fact, I topped the 10 billion mark in one game today, smashing my previous best by some way. Of course to get that, you have to have done all seven missions, whacked in a few jackpots during Borg multiball, and indeed got all four artifacts at least once, so when you do reach The Final Frontier, you're guaranteed at least one billion plus a minimum of 100 million per target shot. It's a bit ace. In fact, have a read of all the rules and point scoring - I'm sure that'll help. And talking of Star Trek The Next Generation, remember this from Take Over TV?

Ah, memories. Anyway, got showered and changed and headed out for a walk in the afternoon. The centre of Manchester was choc full of traffic as several of the roads had been closed for the Great Manchester Run of course, but I was only passing through there. No, what I wanted to do was head out to Heaton Park on the tram. I'd not been there for ages, and with the weather being nice but not too warm, a good walk up and down some hills might be in order for the day, and it certainly was well worth it. The weather held and didn't rain (thankfully, but I had my jacket with hood just in case) and indeed it was so nice to take the walk from the tram stop, past the horses and donkeys that are there, along towards the boating lake and then up towards Heaton Hall. I ended up doing a nice round loop around the lake and back up to the hall, and then past the pitch and putt course and back round up to the tram stop. It was well worth the trip out and the exercise, and I wished I'd had the camera with me to get some shots of the outside of Heaton Hall (photography is banned from the inside, incidentally).

Headed home, spent some time watching the remaining play of the cricket and seeing Michael Vaughan knock up an excellent century and helping England gain a lead of 42, almost wiped out by the time it was close of play although it looked like Monty Panesar should have had an LBW decision given, but wasn't. Nonetheless it was great to see Vaughan back doing what he does best at number three, and a true captain's innings at that. Pleased I was to be honest, and munching my evening meal watching the closing moments of the day's play just set the rest of the day up nicely too, as I'd now done all the domestic chores and so I could sit back and relax.

Apart from listening to Justin Rutledge's excellent "The Devil On A Bench In Stanley Park" (put it this way, if Americana or alt.country is your thing, then you can't go wrong with this, it's a good album all round for that) it was time to play the new Moby CD again. It's growing on me with each listen, and there's definitely some tracks that remind me of the stuff on "Everything Is Wrong" era Moby, not least on that album "Bring Back My Happiness" which is fab. So on the new album, tracks that sound like that are "The Stars" with its infectious piano hookline and vocal, but even better is "Everyday It's 1989" which just takes you back to the era of piano led house music and female vocals, and done with such a wonderful chugging rhythm that makes you just want to get out of your seat and dance. Well, that is as long as you can dance, of course (which I can't, I admit). Still, tune of the day goes to that track, it's addictive listening and reminds me of days gone by when I was a bit younger and when it was okay to play old skool Moby at indie nights and actually get away with it (the likes of "Feeling So Real", "I Feel It" and "Go" would get played pretty regularly to be honest.)

Actually, for the record, my favourite Moby album is still to this day "Animal Rights". I know what you're thinking: but "Play" is brilliant. Well it is, but it suffered a bit from over-exposure and also that his next album or two was more of the same, became a bit monosyllabic (which is why I'm pleased that "Last Night" is a return to form) whereas "Animal Rights" was someone taking a big risk, going completely away from dance music and exposing the raw emotions in dark metal guitars and almost screamed out vocals. It's intense listening and if you can appreciate the difference in pace and indeed what was being achieved, you'll hear someone letting go in a constructive manner, more than you'd know. His cover version of "Whip It" from that era (it's on the "Come On Baby" CD single pack I have) is just wonderfully well done in that style.

Saturday 17th May - In Your Cup Final

Well, it was not just a cup final like the FA Cup final today, but also both play off semi finals in League Two, which meant that the winning teams would be getting to their own cup final, not least as for them it's a real financial money spinner having an appearance at Wembley and of course the increase in revenue by going up a division. But more on that later. First off, it was time to head out to do some shopping, and as I'd had a HMV gift card as one of my birthday presents, it was sensible therefore to head out there first and see what I could see which would tempt me to treat myself.

Thankfully, the smaller of the two Manchester branches came up trumps again (just why is it always that way lately?) with me getting the second Roxy Music album "For Your Pleasure" on CD (the first two have all Brian Eno's synth weirdness all over them and makes it just essential listening) and also Seth Lakeman's "Freedom Fields" CD too - it was two for £10 so that worked out well. I also picked up the new Moby album "Last Night" as I'd heard samples of it online and it sounded like a welcome return to form to me, and best of all, I used some hard earned cash and saw that the new Cure single was out, and with me being quite a fan of Robert Smith and all, it just had to be done didn't it?

The bargains didn't end there though, had a gift voucher for M&S and saw these really nice jeans in a very dark indigo blue, and they had some nice washed type effects near the top but didn't detract from the dark blue. Anyway, I saw what the normal price was, but they were in their little clearance sale and so had been knocked down from £35 to a mere £9. Well, I thought to myself, I'm having that, and so that's exactly what I did - and they were the only one in my size, so that was rather lucky as well. Isn't it great when things go your way sometimes?

Flushed with success, got home in time for the Rochdale-Darlington play off semi, watched that and saw how Rochdale managed to win on penalties despite having a man sent off for a pretty disgraceful challenge, and then as I had a bit of time to kill before the FA Cup Final, whacked on the new Cure single. And do you know what? It's excellent. I had musings from some American Kristin Hersh fans who'd been to The Cure's US tour dates recently and said that live they seemed rather good, and if the single's anything like it, well it's a sign that they are back. "The Only One" is the first of four singles that are being released on the 13th of each month for the next few months (must make a note in the diary to get the remainder too) and it's infectiously catchy, some great guitat work and a total joy to listen to - tune of the day without any doubt whatsoever.

Saw the FA Cup Final, which in truth wasn't that exciting. Once Portsmouth had taken the lead you knew that it wasn't going to be surrendered, but full marks to Cardiff for trying their hardest and almost forcing extra time on a couple of ocassions. I felt a bit gutted though that some ex-City players were collecting winners medals and that they hadn't stayed loyal to the club and committed, but I felt far less upset about David James getting a medal than Sylvain Distin, probably because of the way that they each left the club and the reaction they got when City played Portsmouth a few weeks back. I guess that's just the way it crumbles.

However, the play off semi final between Stockport and Wycombe was a right nervous knife edged affair. I'd invited some of the relations over, as they like Stockport as well as Man City, and I wanted the local team to win (it'd set up a Stockport-Rochdale final if that was the case) so I was getting behind them anyway. It was rather good to see them take the lead early on with a superb run and finish from Liam Dickenson, which ended up being the match winner. For most of the second half, Wycombe were virtually camped out in Stockport's half and only some resolute defending kept them at bay, although by the minute it was getting more and more hairy as well, even with a decent penalty shout as well. But that's the nerves for you, and it will be an intriguing final that's for sure...

Friday 16th May - Carbonaratastic

Did I just make that word up? Hell, I think I did! Anyway, I ended up going out for a meal with one of my friends for my birthday - it was supposed to be last Friday but one of my friends was not too well, and they're still not, but they said to head out anyway, and so one of my best friends and I stuck to the original plan, which was to have a lovely meal in Don Giovanni's and see where the mood took us from there. I have to say that it was a really nice relaxed atmosphere in there, the staff were all friendly and polite (always a bonus that) and on top of that, the food was excellent and not expensive, so very much a win win situation all round there.

My friend had the spaghetti bolognese, which looked very spot on and didn't seem to skimp on the meat whatsoever, while I plumped for the carbonara, which not only had the usual cream and ham in there, but also some strips of bacon and an egg as well, but it all worked wonderfully well and tasted absolutely spot on. Indeed, carbonaratastic there to be perfectly honest. And the dessert of the tiramisu didn't disappoint one bit either, it was just the right side of soft and also not too soaked in the alcohol either, so really delicious and had much fun devouring that before we headed across to Varsity for some drinks and chill out time, so was lovely to catch up on stuff. My friend also got me some ace birthday presents: the new Nick Hornby book Slam and the Beta Band's "The Three EPs" CD that I'd been after for absolutely ages. I resisted the temptation when I got home to re-create the sketch from High Fidelity where they play the opening track to sell some of their CDs, hehe.

Had a different sort of work day today as I was covering for our Help Desk colleague who was on a day off, so was in the Help Desk. It goes to show just how busy it's been lately as I hardly had time to stop for anything but to assist everyone. Quite like it when it's busy though, and the majority of students are very pleasant to deal with despite some of them having high levels of stress with lots to do and so little time, so to speak. It also gave me the opportunity to see just how busy it is from that desk and seeing how everyone is getting along. It's always nice when someone appreciates the effort that you put in, but for me, it's doing my job really.

Anyway, before I headed out tonight I decided to put on Johnny Cash's "American V: A Hundred Highways" which was one of the CDs one of my friends very kindly got me as a present. I noticed that on the track listing Cash had covered the original traditional number "God's Gonna Cut You Down" that Moby had re-worked and covered as "Run On" back in the day, so it was intriguing to see it taken on as it was originally intended. However, if there's one song that'll get you by the throat and not let go, it's "Like The 309" which was the final song he recorded before his death. When you listen to the lyrics, it's clear he's planning out how he's going to go and what he'll miss, and it's delivered with such raw beauty and sadness that you can't help feel it inside, and so for that reason it's tune of the day.

Thursday 15th May - Welcome To The Warzone

The aftermath of yesterday's events was plain to see for anyone walking through the city centre. My colleague walked from Piccadilly station into work and explained just how there were Glaswegians in Piccadilly station, a fair number of them smelling of wee or beer, and indeed the smell of stale urine was pretty much in the air in the city centre as it seemed that any wall was a designated urinal for some reason, which to be honest is rubbish. I don't think anyone expected the numbers that came down, it was sheer madness, but the street cleaners in Manchester were doing a grand job today and getting the centre back to some form of normality. It did kind of resemble a war zone in the morning though.

The weather had cooled off slightly today, although the building that we work in is a veritable sun trap in the morning on one side of the building, and less so in the afternoon, but then if you happen to be over the other side, there's so much heat and stuff! Needless to say though that it was another manic day for anyone printing as well, it just seems to have gone so mental at the moment (and that is an understatement). I also had to chuck in some extra memory for one of the academic staff along with sorting out a removal tool to remove the current version of our inventory software, so quite a productive today all told really.

I did the usual weekly food shop and had a think about making myself a pasta bake when I got home: I'd got all the ingredients fine, but I wanted a smaller oven dish so I could make a single portion instead of enough for two: however I couldn't find the dish. So, I ended up later on making the usual size and putting half away afterwards for consuming later in the weekend, which might work out okay to be honest. That and some garlic bread with cheese made for a very nice wholesome meal to be honest, it was good to give it a go for the first time in ages and it also showed me just why I prefer a gas cooker: it just works and it cooks spot on no matter what you throw at it. Hurrah for that!

I spent some time tonight listening to MJ Hibbett's "All Around My House", which he wrote during February this year as part of "February Album Writing Month" and recorded fourteen and a half tracks (ie: one per two days) during that period. It is a pretty immediate and fun album with lots of observational stuff as per usual, but I have to say that the track which appeals to me is "Gillette Soccer Saturday" which explains exactly what that programme is about on Sky Sports News and why if you have Freeview, you have a choice of that and not much else (even Sultana Sports requires a bloody slot for Freeview) and it's just a good fun indie guitar song, so tune of the day it certainly is.

Wednesday 14th May - Blue Day

Well, I had an inkling that there would be a considerable Scottish invasion of Manchester for the UEFA Cup Final on tonight, and so it proved. Indeed, on the way to work this morning, I passed one of the hotels close by the Royal Infirmary, and there were some fans outside having their breakfast of.. beer, beer and more beer, or so it seemed anyway. I just hoped that it would be good natured and that everyone would behave themselves, and seemingly at lunch time as I passed several pubs close to work, the atmosphere seemed jolly and everywhere was pretty packed out with people who were seemingly intent on having plenty before the game (assuming they had tickets, of course!)

I went over to my Mum's on the way home from work, as she and her friend were getting their holiday itinerary sorted for when they head down to Cornwall, and as yours truly knows his way around there, it was a case of being realistic and deciding what time they would need to go and where, and what would be doable. What they'd planned out was pretty good, and they did want to head down to the Minack Theatre and watch a performance there, and rightly so - it is a stunning place it has to be said. I think as well as that, my Mum's friend has never been to Cornwall, so she's in for a rather nice surprise all round. I almost kind of wish I was going with them to share the journey, but there you go.

I kept my eye on the football and seeing how the City of Manchester Stadium had been transformed for the final, and to be honest, the better team won. When you consider how Zenit St Petersburg destroyed Bayern Munich in the semi final, it didn't surprise me that they did the business against Rangers. I think the key thing was that they looked more likely to win it and they had the nouse to go for it. It was a deserved win, but what definitely wasn't deserved that the way some so called fans went on the rampage in Manchester city centre after one of the big screens conked out. Apparently, the company were trying to repair it but were getting bottled and threatened by the Rangers lot, which, if true, is bang out of order. Just why do the minority spoil it for the majority who just came along to have a good time?

Mind you, you've also got to question the decision of Tesco Metro in Manchester to have right at the front door all their beer promotions, which of course the Rangers fans soon got wind of and were carrying out 24 can packs of Stella Artois on offer so that they didn't have to buy any more alcohol afterwards. Not surprisingly the council officials came down hard on them and said "what the hell are you doing?" as it wasn't exactly promoting responsible drinking either. Meh. The disruption to the city centre in terms of people numbers was worth it, but the idiots tried their best to spoil it, as they often attempt to do. What is it with some people and beer that turns them into utter thugs?

Anyway, got home pretty late and so needed something pretty mellow to help me relax and sleep, as it had been a long hard day at the office as well. So, the title track "Rabbit Fur Coat" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins just wins that one for me, it's rather relaxing, the singing is note and pitch perfect, and is really delivered with gusto, and the guitars just are succinct without being too much, and played acoustically all lovely. It's just so sweet, so it's tune of the day without any question. Do check the album out if you can, not least for the rather nice cover of "Handle With Care" that is also on there too.

Tuesday 13th May - The Darling Buds of May

Another long day at the office today, well not really long as in terms of time, but as it's that time of year when it all goes absolutely mental, it's pretty much been a case of all hands on deck, which I don't mind one bit as long as everything gets done properly. In fact I've been road testing the new image build today and it all seems fairly stable and robust, with all the settings working as intended as well as me being able to finalise an application installation along the way too. The weather's been absolutely lovely again though: and it really does make for a longer day in that you'd rather be walking somewhere lovely and taking advantage of the clear blue skies. Granted, I don't sunbathe (I burn very very easily you see) but it's good to head out if you can.

Anyhow, on Saturday, as I mentioned, Pete Green's girlfriend and I were discussing the relative merits of The Darling Buds and The Primitives, two C86 era indie bands whom I adored to bits (in fact I used to quite like the various formats of The Darling Buds singles, what a sucker eh?) The DJ decided to play a Darling Buds tune which had us both racking our brains trying to remember which track it was but without success. Not one to want to fail in these sort of missions, I dug out my Darling Buds CD singles and gave them a quick play, and soon discovered the track I'd heard, it was "Mary's Got To Go" which is on the B-side to "You've Got To Choose". It's still as catchy as ever as well and listening to it on Saturday reminded me of just how good they were, so give that B-side tune of the day will you?

In fact, I even remembered that I had the cloth sleeved 7" of "Hit The Ground", five of the six formats of "Let's Go Round There", the gatefold vinyl 7" version with the fab "flip flop" version of "It's All Up To You" (imagine the original song but delivered vocally in indie hip hop style - bizarre but it works), the regular 7" single, the yellow vinyl 7" single, the CD single, and the 12" etched on one side flower logoed one, and the 10" single of "Hit The Ground" with the rough live tracks, the 7" box set singles of "Burst" and "Tiny Machine" and indeed my fully signed 7" single of "Burst". Yes, I was a fan. Unashamedly. And they were marvellous live as well. Wonder what Andrea Lewis is doing now?

Monday 12th May - Feeling The Heat

It was really warm when I arrived at work today, and not just because of the hot weather (which admittedly was rather lovely and in the mid twenties centigrade). Oh no, the pipes that go round the building are still on and piping hot as well, and there's one that runs along the floor of the office, so once you go in, it really does feel like that you're in a sauna and warmed up like no one's business. It doesn't help aid the concentration when you're doing your utmost to keep cool, but needs must to be honest. At least things ran a lot more smoothly than they have been doing, and I think that any glitch problems finally resolved themselves (ish!)

Headed through the city centre on the way home as it's a relation's birthday later in the week, and I knew what present they wanted so got that all sorted out as well as a birthday card as well. Now, is it me, or is it that sometimes getting a card can prove so difficult when you want one that is just the sort of humour you're looking for? You don't necessarily want toilet humour or that of a sexual nature, but finding something in between isn't that easy (Eric The Penguin cards tend to work best for general humour). I did find a good one though so I'm sure my relative will appreciate the humour of it, and that's all done and dusted now so I don't have to worry about it.

I got a little flyer through the door when I returned home about the services of some clairvoyant who supposedly lives locally. I just kept thinking that if I really wanted my fortune told, then I'd be one of those people who would want to know exactly how my life would turn out and not depend on fate, and let's be honest, is that pretty dull or what? It also looked like a bit of a scam to me as this person was claiming that they were world famous (well really? I'd not heard of this person till I got this flyer) and there was money involved that didn't seem that cheap to me. You can guess where I filed it: the recycle B 1 N. Hehe.

Whacked on the turntable and recorded both 12" mixes of Cabaret Voltaire's "Don't Argue" from the 12" single that I got on Saturday, so I could then have them as mp3 versions on the PC, thus protecting the precious vinyl. It's quite nice in Nero Wave Editor that the decrackle actually does the job very nicely indeed to be honest. However, it also has to be said that while both mixes are decent, they're still not a patch on the best mix of the lot, which happens to be "Don't Argue (Who's Arguing?)" which is on the B-side of the 7" single. It just works better for me so that's tune of the day.

Sunday 11th May - Food For Thought

Had a really relaxed family day today, as I thought it would be good to see everyone around the weekend of my birthday, and so it pretty much proved. First stop today was heading over to my Mum's - not only had she said to me to come over but she was also doing roast beef with all the trimmings as well. Knowing how nice that actually is, I wasn't exactly going to refuse, let's just put it like that! So it was a nice leisurely walk in the blazing sunshine and soon I was at my Mum's place, where we headed to the back garden which was in the shade so you could sit outside without getting burnt to bits!

Mum handed me my presents from her and my two brothers along with some cards, and they were all lovely - three CDs including Led Zeppelin III and IV plus Muse's "Showbiz" along with the Breakfast At Tiffany's DVD as well. About time I had that really what with me quite liking Audrey Hepburn and all. My sister came over with her little one, and soon it was play time as well so I kept the little one entertained for a while before Sunday dinner. And put it this way, it didn't disappoint one bit - the beef was really a good cut (something Mum herself mentioned, and I know how fussy she is with meat) and everything else just tasted gorgeous, and even some strawberry ice cream for dessert too, so that was very enjoyable.

Spent some time having a good natter and also working out a possible plan of action for her Cornwall trip in a few weeks time, then it was time for us to head over to my sister's, where she had decided to have a barbecue. I was fine with that, it meant of course no cooking for me all day, hurrah. I headed on over with Mum and the barbecue was sizzling nicely, and all ready to put on some quality stuff. My sister's husband had even bought some of that Levi Roots Reggae Reggae Sauce (you know, the bloke who was on Dragon's Den with it!) and I have to say the sauce is well tasty on a burger, it's got a nice kick to it that isn't too much in your face.

The little ones were happily playing on the inflatable slide into some water that my sister had organised, and as news filtered through of the Manchester City scoreline, the faces of happiness turned to "what the hell?" as City ended up losing 8-1 (yes, I didn't mistype that, eight one) at Middlesbrough. I think to be honest that I could have played in goal for City and conceded less, I suspect. But anyway, I'll save the post mortem examination for another time, probably closer to next season. The food was spot on though, had some burgers, some chicken and sausages and it was all rather homely.

Most of the relations came over with some more presents for me too: I like this extended weekend lark! My sisters each gave me money and also the Frank Sidebottom "Timperley EP" on 12" single, one of my aunts got me an Audrey Hepburn little clock, and her, her son and girlfriend also got me a HMV gift card and some chocs, my aunt and uncle got me a Microsoft Wired Keyboard that I was after (typing on it now) and also the Labyrinth soundtrack CD, and so that was all very nice of them to get me stuff. They didn't have to, so I really appreciated it.

I said my goodbyes later in the day and walked home, watched the recording of the F1 (good win by Massa although Lewis Hamilton's drive was also excellent with a revised strategy) and then spent the rest of the evening in fairly chilled out mode. In fact, I thought "well it would be nice if I played some of the new CDs, wouldn't it?" and so whacked on Led Zeppelin IV. Ah, good old "Black Dog", still a classic to this day and one that I have many fond memories of listening to when I was a fair bit younger. So tune of the day that one, because it rocks.

Saturday 10th May - Best Birthday Gig Not Supported By Shockwaves

Another year older for me today, although to be honest, I don't feel it. Maybe it's all this new positive outlook that I've had on my life in the last year and a half that's really turned things around? Maybe also it's because I know that I'm just able to go off and do stuff and not feel like I have to take the whole world in consideration first? Or maybe it's because a lot of the musician people I like are actually the same age as me, therefore growing old disgracefully together? Or just all three, you never know.

So, up early and as a treat to myself, I decided that if I was going to London, sod it, go First Class and get the £31 advance each way tickets (in fact when I booked all the cheap standard class tickets had gone and the cheapest was £26, so the extra fiver I may as well pay). I was thinking of bigger comfier seats, always good, more legroom, especially good, a guaranteed proper table, and of course freebies! The journey down (0743 in the morning) was fine, and early at weekends there's no at seat service so it was off to the onboard shop to claim my stash. And not bad either: free coffee (or tea if you wish), biscuits, crisps, bottled water and if you fancied it, some fruit. Plus you could have plenty more of the same if you wanted. Now during the week it's more substantial for certain journeys, but hey, I wasn't complaining!

I sat back, had the portable player on (which had Pete Green's gig from the Cornubia in Bristol that I was at) and generally just looked out of the window as the train sped along. Although it takes longer than during the week, the good thing was that it was still on time and schedule, and so arrived fresh as a daisy in Euston before 10.45, so all good. After getting my Oyster card topped up (it needed doing, I had a mere £1.31 credit left on it!) it was out to the bus station outside Euston and on the 253 bus up to Camden.

It was absolutely busy in Camden, not surprising as the weather was gloriously sunny and the markets outside were a good incentive for anyone. I started off at the Electric Ballroom before heading out to a couple of the street markets, then spotted one of the record shops just off the market and popped in there for a good browse. There's lots of good stuff to be had, and it was temptation to get so much, and I even had the attention of a ginger and white cat when in there who just loved being fussed over. I made my way along the main road, stopped off at one of the Vinyl Exchange-esque places that was there and had a good look around at the CDs and vinyl, all was good even if I wasn't finding anything I really wanted.

I also then went along to the markets by Camden Locks, and that was rather good all round too. A lot of them are just crammed in under the railway arches and also by the canal side, and it's a rather nice ambience all round. It reminded of how the Corn Exchange in Manchester used to be before it went all posh as the Triangle and kicked all the old traders out. It did seem to be though that in Camden there was a certain "coolness" about being there for some reason, but that's not my thing. I found quite a few decent record and CD stalls and one of them had a great selection of indie 7" singles that if I hadn't have got them already, I'd have definitely been making some purchases.

Walked up then a bit further out of Camden along Chalk Farm Road to take a peek at the Roundhouse, where Morrissey played earlier this year. It seemed quite arty and busy as well, which was good to see that these days the people take their arts seriously. I walked back down Chalk Farm Road and headed for the Lock Tavern, which seemed to have been recommended highly by Time Out magazine. But I wasn't here for a gig, but for lunch. I happened to know from conversations I'd heard from locals that they'd rated the food highly, and it proved to be true. I had the Yorkshire Angus steak pie with chips, peas and gravy, and all was gorgeous. What was nicest of all though was that the chips were hand cut, cooked in their own jackets, and it tasted not just rustic but rather organic too, very very lovely. I simply had to have a quick word with the chef and say "well done". Oh, and they had Deuchars IPA on cask in there too, so pie and pint and lunch sorted, all good!

After all that, it was time to head over to Notting Hill, so it was time to head out on the bus from Chalk Farm and ended up going through Swiss Cottage, Kilburn High Road and Maida Vale on the way there, so that was quite an intriguing journey to go through various parts of London along the way and see them in their more natural environment. It felt like I was more of a local too, so that was the intention. Arrived at Notting Hill, and as you can imagine, everyone was heading over to Portobello Road market to see what all the fuss was about. I'd never been in all my visits to London, but to be honest, I wasn't missing much - it just seemed like it was a row of shops and market stalls and not that much else that you'd get in a decent town centre to be honest.

But, the good thing was that the main road, Notting Hill Gate, did at least have some record shops. Even better was that in the Music and Video Exchange branch there, they actually not only had some vinyl that I didn't have, but it was also at a decent price all round too. It was more temptation but this time I would succumb - and with good reason. First off was the picture disc album version of Pop Will Eat Itself's "The Cure For Sanity". Admittedly it was the re-release of the album with the different versions of "X, Y and Zee" and "92 Degrees" but still quite nice to see if I could frame it I reckon. It was a mere quid after all! Best of all though was spotting a Cabaret Voltaire 12" single which I didn't have, namely the standard 12" version of "Don't Argue". I have the remix 12" Dance version, I have the 7" with the best mix of the lot on it, but didn't have the standard 12", and it was a mere 50p, that had to be immediately worth snagging!

Flushed with success, over to the Notting Hill Arts Club, not the easiest place to find, let me tell you, and down the stairs into the place, which was the Rota late afternoon/early evening gig. It was free, which was good, and it was mainly a showcase for the Lost Music label and their acts, and as Pete Green had just agreed to an EP with them, even better all round really. I spotted Pete straight away and said hello and had a good chat, and also spotted Marianthi from Atomic Beat Records too, who was her usual chirpy happy self. Pete's girlfriend was also there that I remembered from the Manchester gig a few months back, and whilst Pete was tuning up, she and I were discussing the relative merits of The Darling Buds and The Primitives (anyone who remembers anything about C86-era indie will of course have fond memories of either) and lots of other stuff. It all felt rather homely and that I didn't feel old whatsoever.

So, on came Pete Green (official site) - who doesn't have a Myspace as one of his songs will explain - and he did his acoustic goodness rather well. Whoever set up the mixing desk knew what they were doing, as the acoustics sounded great (something Pete and I agreed on later) and it was all round a great set, well worth it. It featured "One Monday Morning" which I had the privelege of hearing Pete play live for the very first time in Manchester some months ago, and still a favourite, along with "I'm Gonna Stay With Her", and "Let It Go By" which is just wonderfully wistful.

However, what I liked best, and therefore tune of the day was "Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves", a tale of how the NME sold out and got corporate sponsorship involved in its award process, thus destroying any credibility of said magazine. I really liked the fact at the end of the chorus there were quirky bits of spoken word as well which just added to its overall feeling, excellent. As indeed was "Take Your Time" which sounded lovely, and "I Need You To Get Drunk With Me Tonight" as the set closer, which also just was the right thing to play, especially as the bar staff were giving the acts plenty of free beer and wine if they so wished to.

I still had some time left before heading back to Euston, so I stuck around with Pete and watched Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring (myspace) - who had proceeded to decorate their stage with lots and lots of flowers, and indeed some Christmas tree lights for the drummer (they should have moved the black Aldi bag by the front though!). They were decent enough, although some of their songs went on a bit too long for their style of music, and I kept thinking "these are just trying to be like I'm From Barcelona, but not as good". They did have a nice happy sounding vibe to them though and certainly it was a case of enjoying the happy moments in their songs (which there were plenty of, I mean having one of your female singers play the xylophone!) so all seemed well too.

After saying my goodbyes (via the record shop opposite so Pete could get his girlfriend a Tottenham FA Cup final single I'd spotted earlier - she's a bit of a Spurs diehard you see) it was time to head on the bus back to Euston, and indeed back homeward bound. I knew as it was the last train back that the return journey would take longer, and so it proved, but this time I was getting at-seat service in First Class too. Munching away on a prawn and mayonnaise sandwich I'd got from M&S before heading on the train, I had that with the crisps, biscuits and coffee and soft drinks so it was a light but enjoyable evening meal. In fact the staff member in First Class checked constantly if I wanted topping up with free drinks, so I ended up having two coffees, a tea, a cola and a water, plus biscuits. In my defence, a) I wanted to milk what I could out of First Class and b) the weather had been boiling and so wanted to stay hydrated. Got into Piccadilly on time and arrived home just after midnight, thoroughly flushed with success. Aren't birthdays great?

Friday 9th May - The Birthday Weekend Starts Here

It was rather nice at work today. Even if we were all under intense pressure because of the student deadlines, and indeed even if things were falling apart and not generally working as intended, we kept what we could going and at least alleviated some of the hassles out there which was good to see. It was very much a case of all hands on deck but we really pulled together loads today, and I was pretty pleased by the end of the day. Nonetheless though it was a nice surprise that my manager produced a bag with four different real ale bottles in there as a little present for my birthday tomorrow, and indeed high quality ones at that. Most excellent.

In fact just as nice was heading out for a break at lunch and noticing that one of the local places we go to had the Sharp's Cornish Coaster ale on cask. My colleague very kindly bought me a pint of the stuff, so that was me sorted. It was just good to be able to enjoy things leisurely but at the same time have good conversation with everyone, and I definitely felt quite valued within the team, which was just a homely feeling. Sometimes it's easy to forget just how important cameraderie is within the workplace, but we all get on great, take the mickey out of each other occasionally, and generally get things done promptly and efficiently.

I would have been out for a meal with some friends tonight, but I had a call to say that one of them had fallen ill and so a couple of them couldn't make it. I simply re-organised everything for next Friday, which means that the birthday gets kind of extended, all good in the end. Mind you, it was a tiring day too, so I took it easy tonight, had my next door neighbour over for a short while who'd also got me a present, and then sat back and relaxed with some excellent music and indeed made a couple of phone calls to people as well. It all just felt rather nice regardless and with the trip down to London tomorrow in mind, I decided to get an early night's sleep and have done with it.

During the evening I'd played some of the stuff that my friend kindly got me for my birthday, namely Jacob Fletcher. Upon every listen the album really does grow on you, and it's one of those that really pulls the emotional heart strings in all the right directions in a good way. I quite like "Nil By Mouth" at the moment, the strings within it are excellent and just gives you that slight melancholy feeling, and sad to say, I quite like that in music. Quick, give it tune of the day before I head to bed!

Thursday 8th May - It's Just Not Cricket

I really felt like heading off to Old Trafford today to watch the Lancashire against Durham game, not least because a) Andrew Flintoff is bowling like a man possessed, b) the county game seems to suit them more than the one dayers and c) it was a hellishly feverish day at work today. It was all going reasonably well and I had managed to install some software for someone that I'd not done for a while (which required a few little tricks I knew to actually get it to behave and work properly, bah) but when I returned to the office the pain was there for all to see - it was rather mad busy to say the least and everything had stopped working as intended. In the end we eventually used the combined power of myself and two colleagues to get it all sorted out, but it just took time and effort, and headed home via Tescos rather mentally drained.

I had to also nip to the local Post Office close to work today to send some tickets back to Ticketline. As you will have read, The Fall gig got rescheduled to Wednesday 21st May after being cancelled from Saturday 3rd May. Now, my friend and I were gutted, and more so when we both looked at our respective diary and found that we've each got a gig that night: and mine happens to be the very lovely Donna Marie at the Green Room, supporting Tom Mansi and the Heartbreakers. Now that is going to be fab for me anyway, as it'll be a great chance to see her in a small intimate venue (again) but also nice and close to the centre of Manchester.

Anyway, back to my Post Office mission. I thought I'd be clever and print out the Special Delivery postage online, thus saving me a trip to the Post Office, but no. Even if you print it out online, you still have to take the envelope to a Post Office to get a slip filled in and indeed for the item to be tracked with suitable tracking reference. Whaaat? That's just crazy. I mean, even Recorded Delivery can be done electronically now from the comfort of your own home. Mind you this way I know that the item will get there, and indeed there's plenty of compensation attached. I should get a refund for the tickets, but despite paying cash at Ticketline, without booking fee, now is that me or is it just wrong?

It's lovely and warm today though, in fact if anything a little too warm. It certainly felt very draining and I've had to take on plenty of liquid to keep me going. I craftily saw that the Schweppes Lemonade was half price though: have some of that! Much better than that Morrisons' Farmers Boy rubbish that I've had the misfortune of sampling, that's for sure. Anyway, as the evening draws in it's at least getting a bit more manageable, and because it's an ace ambient tune, "Liquid Cool" by Apollo 440 gets my tune of the day vote!

Wednesday 7th May - Staying Out For The Summer

The summer is here, with the nice weather, and whilst humming Dodgy's "Staying Out For The Summer" just put me in the right frame of mind for today, being stuck in a hellishly warm office with no air conditioning and plenty of heat generating electrical equipment wasn't exactly the idea of fun. Not least as I was having to really help lots of people out who were desparate to get their plotting done, and also at the same try and sort out a problem with a laptop, which my colleague and I were looking at. It turned out that the onboard wireless adaptor for the laptop was quite old, so not only did it not understand all the latest wireless protocols (didn't even get WPA!) it was rather weak. The USB one attached seemed to be alright, and it did support up to date stuff, but we needed to see also if it would connect to the secure wireless network.

Windows XP Service Pack 3 also got released today and it's an optional update on Windows Update for now, although eventually you won't be able to avoid it! I had given the beta release a few months back a good going over and all seemed well, and indeed we tried it on a spare test PC in the office. And believe it or not, the experience was a heck of a lot faster than the same beastie with SP2! I'm not kidding you. I don't know if anyone's been doing some ninja coding or whatever, but I'll have to see how it performs on the Towers beast as well, see what it does. I think that anything that improves performance for nothing's got to be worth a go, and you can at least uninstall it if it goes belly up, so there's something.

Spent some time tonight listening to Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins' "Rabbit Fur Coat" whilst sorting out the fridge: it needed a good clean and the Cif (bah, call it it's original name!) lemon cream spray cleaner I have really did the job lovely, making it all smell fresh and lemony but also gleaming clean. It was quite nice to mellow out listening to their great cover of "Handle With Care" (and yes I've heard the original, Mum still loves it even now actually) but also to multitask as well, which was good to do. I guess as well with the weather being so lovely, I'll have to start thinking about some evening walks.

New Mills is quite nice, as is Marple, and I definitely think a return trip to Hollingworth Lake just has to be done: might even do two laps of the whole lake instead of the usual one and have a really good walk around. I must see if I've still got that factor 50 spray though as I'm semi conscious of overdoing it and burning, which is not good whatsoever. I might even head out to the likes of Broadbottom and/or Glossop as well: good real ale pubs there and after 6.30pm for most places, an evening all trains ticket is less than a couple of quid, so not only is it a cheap night by transport but also safe and reliable too. Hurrah to that I say.

I was enthusing about the MJ Hibbett gig, and earlier on the current mini-tour, the full band (ie: MJ Hibbett and the Validators) played Lee Rosy's Tea Room in Nottingham, and "Easily Impressed" was played there with audience participation, sort of like this:

It's just still great fun, and I happily take part in the audience participation bit, because I can! As you can imagine, the lyric in that which says "The trams of Sheffield" got a right big cheer on Monday evening. It's just rather ace and top. So there. It's tune of the day - and I do really mean that!

Anyway, as some of you may also know, this week is the Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, an event which sees four top disabled sports get centre stage, enthusiastic fans, and organisation which the athletes themselves absolutely appreciate lots. When a legend such as Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson proclaims that Manchester's 2002 Commonwealth Games set the standard for inclusivity of disabled athletes, and indeed that the Paralympic World Cup event in Manchester was how she wanted to end her athletics career, that says a lot for how much it's regarded worldwide. I'm really pleased and proud of that: one of my fondest memories from the 2002 Commonwealth Games was seeing the blind athlete Adekunle Adesodji break a 100 metre world record in the final night of the athletics, and the cheer he got from the crowd was immense, a truly lump in throat moment. We saw the athlete as the person breaking a world record in his own right, and appreciated that lots, and I'm sure he must have been so proud too. And the only person to have a world record in the stadium too, something he'll always have.

Tuesday 6th May - The Weather's A Love Crime

Well, it was absolute bedlam and madness at work today to be perfectly honest. Why? Well, it was the day after Bank Holiday and indeed with many course hand ins, notably Architecture, all within the next few days, everyone, their friends and their family (well it felt like it) decided to send all their printing to the big plotters, because they can. It really is absolutely manic and I'm sure that it gets busier and busier every year to be perfectly honest. But we shall see. I did manage though to get a few things done today, not least bringing back a PC that had been fixed at one of our departments, which meant walking down Oxford Road with a trolley going there and coming back. And in baking sunshine. Ah, the things you do!

It's at times like this that I really do wish that the building that I work in was air conditioned, it's all very well opening windows and all that but if there's warm air flowing in from that as well, it really makes things slightly less bearable. When I went over to one of the other buildings and sampled the rather nice aircon, it was just wonderful to feel and I am sure that I would work much better if I wasn't thinking about where the next cold drink would be available from if I was able to take a break. Plus the water in our building isn't even drinkable, hence the water cooler coming to the rescue there. I'd rather not use one to be honest (much more greener not to) but it's that or face dissintry. I think I know what I'd rather do.

Headed over to the Northern Cutter where the lovely staff there did their usual wonders with my hair. It needed cutting and as it's just before the old birthday, I thought it'd be good to make it look nice for then. Part of my reasoning was also that in the hot weather, I'd probably feel a bit less hot and bothered if I was able to get it trimmed nice and short, the way I usually have it. And it's also a lot more manageable too which has to be a definite plus point for me. Nonetheles though it was intriguing to see one of the staff in there with shades and Oasis t-shirt on, playing their CDs and singing along Liam Gallagher esque, and admittedly I had to accept that I did remember "Come On Feel The Noize" first time around (ie: Slade) thus showing my age at the same time. Haha!

Still, went and uploaded my pics from last night's gig. However I did notice something: the Flickr uploadr was taking ages, and then I realised why: the bloody thing reset some of the settings! I set them all back to as they were and did the upload again, which worked properly this time. Phew. Nonetheless though I had spent a bit of time with Nero Photo Snap doing some basic red eye reduction which really did work wonders to enhance them nicely, but not change the overall look and feel of the image - I try not to do Photoshop for that. Must admit it's at times like this though I wish I had a better camera, but c'est la vie!

Spent some more time too getting some of the precious vinyl transferred over to the PC, and one of them that I really wanted to do (and tune of the day) was the 12" remix of "Love Crime" by The Cygnet Ring. I love the track and although the 7" remix is on CD, the 12" wasn't, and so it was good to try and make a decent transfer out of it and see what happened. It's quite catchy as a remix, even though the opening drum beats remind me of those used in Fools' Gold by The Stone Roses. Still, no complaints from me as it's still a quality track. I prefer the original Cygnet Ring version above all else, but at least unlike a lot of 12" mixes it keeps the flow of the original in tact, which is what I'm talking about.

Monday 5th May - Fuzzy Duck

It was off to Sheffield today (I seem to be spending rather a lot of time there lately) as the main reason for going was the Sheffield University Fuzz Club/Bleach annual barbecue and general all round gig. Part of the reason for heading out there was for the nice atmosphere, but also because MJ Hibbett would be playing a nice solo acoustic set later in the evening, and so I thought to myself "Well that'll work out nicely" and so off I headed around lunch time on the train. The train was understandably choc full of people that were attempting to make their way to London, as the main line between Manchester and London was being worked on, so it was a case of over to Sheffield and from there to London for most people (although going to Leeds and taking the train from there to Kings Cross also makes sense I guess!)

Anyway, headed into Sheffield and the weather was surprisingly nice, and so after milling around the Crucible before the start of the snooker, where I spotted the MC and compere Rob Walker along with ex-pro Jimmy Michie (who was thrashing everyone on the full sized table in the Cue Zone) as well as the referee Jan Verhaas in the stage door lobby, it was time to get a decent spot in one of the pubs close by Tudor Square and watch the afternoon's action unfold on the big screen outside the Crucible. Sadly, it only reinforced what I thought was going to happen: Ronnie O'Sullivan looked in command and control and even though Ali Carter fought hard, he lost the session 5-3 to make it 16-8 to Ronnie O'Sullivan overall (he would later wrap up the remaining frames to take the title 18-8.)

It was lovely to be sat overlooking the snooker and indeed seeing how many other people had the same idea: the good weather did help as you can imagine, but it was also a really nice relaxed feeling of families with their kids, women out shopping, and generally a much better atmosphere than if it was a live footbal match being screened. And to that I say hurrah, definitely. The snooker wound up for the afternoon session and Jimmy Michie was still panning everyone in the Cue Zone, so it was time to take a nice little stroll around Sheffield city centre before walking up West Street and on to Glossop Road to locate the University's Students Union. I also checked what time the trams were back to the train station as I needed to make sure that I could get back okay.

Headed to the entrance to the students' union and was asked for my student ID card! I felt quite honoured that I looked young enough to be a student (although yes I know I could have been a mature student) but I explained I was here for the gig and the barbecue and they were fine with me, hurrah. I went upstairs to where they were serving the food, and for four quid you got a big baked potato, a burger in a bun with a large sausage, and plenty of salad and pasta if you wanted that. It wasn't that bad value so I was quite pleased I elected for that for my evening meal rather than have to faff about.

I spotted a fellow MJ Hibbett fan at this point and soon got chattering about all sorts before the sun went in and so it was time to head to the Interval bar, where MJ would be playing. I soon spotted what looked like a rather small area fenced off for performance, and a few minutes later, MJ himself would be there and spotted us both and said hello. There were quite a few other fans from Sheffield too that I'd spotted at the Boardwalk gig last year, so it was definitely time for him to mingle with lots of people and generally not feel the fear about performing tonight. And indeed the Abbeydale breweries' Moonshine Ale was on tip top form: a pleasant change to see a Students Union actually serving real ale and not just press a button rubbish: hurrah to them I say! Much better than all the SU bars at Manchester University at the Academy (take note, Manchestrer Uni entertainments department: I prefer Sheffield Uni's fact that they provide what customers want - real ale!)

So it got to around 9pm and with a decent crowd assembled, MJ went and did his stuff. What became apparent was that there were quite a few fans there singing along, and indeed some prospective fans who went and watched and instantly became hooked (well it's hard not to don't you know?) and as the set went on, great things were happening. For example, during the introduction to "The Fight For History", MJ explained that Londoners who voted in Boris Johnson (I mean, why were they so daft?) would be in for a shock and that a lot of voters forget what it was like under Thatcher, and that got a cheer from the audience as you'd expect (always on safe ground up North with that sort of comment).

But not just that: lots of audience participation. In fact, during "Do The Indie Kid" there weren't just people doing The Music of the Future bit, oh no, but actual people in the audience doing all the dance steps and everything! Yes, really. And they looked really cool for doing it, so well done them! "Easily Impressed" got plenty of audience particpation, and by the time his legendary cover of "Boom Shake The Room" came around, it really was everyone just having a lot of fun and encouraging MJ to do his bit at the right time too - and for the pure cameraderie around during that, sod it (let's get p**ed), I'm going to make that tune of the day - cos sometimes we all need a good giggle.

Oh, and "Hey Hey 16K" for the encore. It doesn't get any better than that - kind of wish I'd worn that t-shirt now, but hey ho. Nonetheless it was fab and I felt lucky to be there and make the most of it. Had to say my goodbyes fairly quickly afterwards as I knew I had to get the tram at just after 9.45pm, which I made with a couple of minutes to spare. The good thing is that the tram drops you off at the back of Sheffield station near Platform 8 (which is where most of the Manchester trains go from) but it was platform 6A tonight, and it was rammed! My guess is that people were coming back from London to Manchester. It was almost standing room only on the way back but I found a seat, and before I knew it I was soon home and ready to get some well earned sleep, not before seeing my Sky Plus recording of the last two frames of the snooker final.

Sunday 4th May - You Know It's Sunday, It Really Is!

With the football on later, I am conscious of the fact that yesterday's results mean that a City win at Anfield could place us back up in contention for 6th place at the end of the season, and that's realistically what we need to aim at if we can. It'll feel slightly surreal though as I am sure that many of the City fans there will be cheering on for Eriksson and hoping that there'll be a change of heart so that he'll be asked to stay on instead of being sacked. Liverpool fans will probably join the City fans in their current loathing of Thaksin Shinawatra: he himself had tried to buy Liverpool before some pesky Americans went in and interfered and there were serious doubts about him being able to afford that club back then, so you do have to wonder how it's all going to pan out.

I do think though that a lot of these businessmen want results far too quickly to happen: I mean, there's twenty clubs in the Premiership and not all of them can win the title: indeed for three of them there's relegation to consider as well. Investing money is all very well, but it often takes time and effort to get a return on said investment. Just think say if the Everton board hadn't stuck with David Moyes even when results weren't going to plan, what would have happened now? At least they're pretty much guaranteed fifth slot now and a UEFA Cup slot, which is well earned. And of course what would have happened if the Man U board sacked Sir Alex Ferguson in early 1990? The mind boggles, you know it does, it really does.

Must remind my sister later about the Frank Sidebottom gig at the Academy in September: I just might have to go! Mind you, there's that Timperley tour at the end of June which I might have to consider: the weather will be decent and of course you get to go around a part of Altrincham with Frank as your host, with a gig in the evening to follow. Hmm.. I might have to do it! In fact a quick mooch around Youtube shows lots of classic Frank moments over the years, but live it's still absolutely as funny as ever. Want proof? Well here is doing his fantastic Manchester medley at the Bull and Gate in London.. You know it is, it really is. Thank you.

See? How can you fail with humour like that? It's just the sort of thing you'd either get or you don't, I know, but it probably does help if you either come from up North or actually understand the style of humour involved. I can even remember Frank actually being on Match of the Day when the BBC filmed Altrincham's FA Cup third round game some time ago, and so he can indeed sing "Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day?" with added gusto. Ah, happy days indeed they were. And sometimes you just need those don't you?

Anyway, back to the more serious stuff and I had another play of the Jacob Fletcher CD. It's all rather lovely with lots of cello involved and plenty of emotion in the vocals, which equates to an all good feeling all round. I really like "Don't Go Down", it just has a really nice slightly distorted vocal that works well in the context of things, and it has that feeling of wistfulness too - and pretty dark in places. Ooh, it's nice, that is. But even better is "Midnight Train", which is just beautiful. It's Jacob and a piano in the main part, and because of that, it's beautifully simple and it has lots of gushing feeling. It reminds me somewhat of Nick Cave's "Into My Arms" and as I adore Nick Cave's stuff, that's no bad thing whatsoever. So that one's tune of the day no question. It just seems apt considering it's been chucking it down and quite a sad day weather wise outside when in fact it should be warm and sunny.

Saturday 3rd May - Hit The Cancellation!

Been of a mixed day today to say the least. I spent most of the morning curled up in front of the sofa watching Soccer AM, mainly because it was to feature a telephone interview with Noel Gallagher. Now I don't like Oasis musically, but Noel's a big Man City fan so I wanted to hear what he thought about the whole sorry scenario going on at the club at the moment, and needless to say he wasn't impressed with the goings on. He told it like it was, as City fans generally do. He also wound up Andy Goldstein about his rubbish footwear (and of course as Andy is a Man U fan, even more so!)

My friend came over later on in the day and the two of us were chatting away merrily whilst playing lots of great music as well and having a general catch up, and as we had time planned, we headed out into the centre of Manchester to do some serious CD shopping, and let's face it, there's only one place that we needed to head to and that was Vinyl Exchange. Oh yes. My friend quite likes Americana, alt.country and more rootsy stuff, and so the roots section in there with all of that in was absolute heaven: let's just say that it was a case of "not got that, not got that, so want that!" which was great to see. I was tempted by lots of different CDs as well but tried as much as I could to resist, but did pick up the Control soundtrack and one of the Justin Rutledge albums along the way.

My friend had literally stacked up a fair few CDs to get, but they were all pretty cheap prices and indeed plenty of them was stuff that otherwise was quite hard to find too, so definitely in the element there. Also, it was a case of deciding to pick something for my birthday that my friend could get me, so when I spotted the limited 2CD edition of REM's "In Time" compilation (with the second CD full of obscure B-sides and stuff) that was that sorted - and my friend also insisted that I have the Jacob Fletcher album "All The Dead Roads To The Kingdom" as well - it was an album that is still loved, and indeed mine's number 207 of 250.

Whilst containing ourselves with CD excitement, a call went off on my mobile phone - so I went outside and found out it was Ticketline giving me a call. It turned out that tonight's Fall gig was cancelled for some reason, and the promoter had confirmed it to them so that they could let everyone know. Gutted to say the least, and indeed it was rearranged for a date that I'm not sure either my friend or I can make. Darn and blast. It would have been good to see them but when I did a bit of research later while transferring my friend's Silver Tree Club 7" single to CD, it turned out that Salford Uni are claiming that the building has had to have some asbestos removal work carried out. Ugh.

Undeterred, my friend and I headed to Fopp where I picked up the Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins CD (I'd heard it in my friend's car a while back and it was fab) and then headed homeward back to mine, where it was a case of playing through lots of the new purchases, and really enjoying the music contained therein. Lots of lovely stuff and indeed I just had to whack on a blast of the new MC Solaar album thrown in for good measure, which we both agreed is a slightly marked departure from his previous work. Anyway, as I'd transferred all three tracks from the Silver Tree Club single, I decided to give it a good play from the CD that I'd done - and it sounded great. In fact, let's make "Shakin'" by the band tune of the day because it's such a simple idea but built up dramatically throughout the song, and indeed live by all accounts it sounds even better, hurrah to that I say!

It was a good day all round and with some rather ace Chinese food from one of my local takeaways that we had a bit later, all was lovely anyway regardless of the gig cancellation. It would have been nice to go, but c'est la vie, and I guess my friend and I have plenty of gigs coming up anyway (well I've got one on Monday so that should all be well) so it'll hopefully make up in part for the disappointment. Still, I did keep my eye on the snooker in parts and well done Ali Carter for getting to the final, although he's going to face a very much in-form Ronnie O'Sullivan who has to be a favourite to win. Anything can happen though..

Friday 2nd May - One Step Forward Two Steps Back!

The second and last day of the Office 2007 course today, and one where it was mainly Access and Excel that were being concentrated on. Even though for now at work the conscious decision has been made to stick with Access XP for now, primarily because so many databases have been written using macros and VBA that Access 2007 might not well allow, it's good to take a peek at the new version in more detail and see exactly what it can or can't do. One thing that I do appreciate though is the multi entry per field thing now - where if you had a field with say hobbies or interests, you could select from a lookup wizard and then tick the boxes of those choices, rather than having to select one as previous, which was always a bit of a bind to be perfectly honest.

Excel pretty much looked snazzy too although at least the Pivot Tables have been finally nailed in a way I'd actually call useful without having to put too much thought into it, which does make things easier. It also tends to be a bit quicker in terms of calculations, although I could well see that if you went to its maximum of 1,048,576 rows you might then start to struggle a bit. But nonetheless I did manage to have some fun arranging and sorting data and also making sure that the formatting of cells could be done in such a way that it was actually easy to do as well. If all these great new features were done with being able to use the Ribbon or not, that'd help, but I'm still not convinced as yet by that - but we shall see.

Only one downside to the course though: the food quality has gone down the pan! Now normally when I've been there before you got lovely coffee in proper cups and saucers with biscuits, croissants etc at mid morning and usually a very nice hot lunch with more coffee and biscuits in the afternoon. The budgets must be pretty wafer thin now to be honest because there's lots of paper cutlery, plastic spoons to stir the coffee in paper cups and indeed those little catering tubs of milk that you get instead of a normal glass decanter of the stuff. The lunch was better today than yesterday but I think when filling the feedback form at the end of the day everyone came to a pretty similar conclusion about the food!

Got home tonight and decided to have a massive spring clean of the house: it just needed doing but it was well worth it, as I feel rather flushed with the efforts (and it's given me a good workout as well) and everything looks lovely for the Bank Holiday weekend and beyond. Whilst waiting for the bathroom and kitchen floor to dry after mopping them, I settled in to watch the World Snooker semi final between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry. O'Sullivan had whitewashed the morning session to be 12-4 up and after taking the next one, it meant he'd won 12 frames on the trot, almost equalling Mark Williams' record. However, Hendry hasn't been the world champion seven times for nothing, and his winning the next two frames showed some class. Unfortunately for him O'Sullivan was just too good and rattled off the next floor, albeit with a fluke or two in the second last frame and being a bit lucky in the last that Hendry missed a difficult black, left the ball over the pocket and gracefully conceded.

Been spending time hooking up the turntable to the PC as well both last night and tonight. Part of my reasoning is that I'd really like to have some of the vinyl I have as listenable MP3 files, so I can take them with me on the road - and as I'm heading to gig in London soon, I thought it'd make sense to have some listenable material for the journey. In fact, I did myself and a friend a favour by capturing the 7" B-side of Cabaret Voltaire's "Don't Argue" - the John Robie remix (called "Who's Arguing?") has long been a favourite of ours in terms of CV tracks, and it turned out pretty well in the end.

Managed something even better tonight though, and that was SPK's excellent Industrial anthem that is "Metal Dance" and that has to be tune of the day. If you've never heard it, then really, you need to. It's a real beat driven crash of snares everywhere and a pounding bass line together with vocals that really reinforce the feeling of being in a machine. The main composer, Graeme Revell, went on to do film soundtracks and the like in later years, but I still adored his formative years being one of the Industrial pioneers out there. I even remember doing a trade with the DJ at 42nd Street nightclub in Manchester just so I could get my hands on this (I have the US white label 12" promo) as well as two Die Krupps 12"s on Mute. Ah, those were the days!

Thursday 1st May - Tie An Office Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree

Today is the local council elections, and one of the three local seats in my constituency is up for grabs. As such I had the polling card through the post as well as plenty of local paraphenalia which suddenly appared on my doorstep saying "Yes we've been here all year round, vote for me, I'll change things" and such like. For me, a proper councillor should be visible at all times of the year and not necessarily late April/early May when things seem to be hotting up. Where I live is a bit of a Lib Dem hotbed, in fact a fair chunk of Manchester is, and they're not that far behind Labour in terms of council seats.

So, before I headed off to my Office 2007 Upgrade course in the city centre, I walked over to the local polling station, thankfully not that far from my house whatsoever and very visible in the local area. One thing I do look at on the ballot paper before casting my vote is to see where the candidate comes from - if they don't live in the local area, then why should I vote for them? I mean, I wouldn't want someone who doesn't know everything about the area that they live in to think they can make decisions for me, you know? So that immediately put paid to two of the candidates sitting, because I couldn't put myself to vote for someone like that. I did cast the right vote in my mind, but we shall see how it all pans out in the end.

Straight into Manchester after that and off to the training course. It was a two day course which basically gave you an overview of Office 2007 and all its features, and was designed for those who know Office pretty well right now to be able to know what all the new stuff does and be able to deliver some form of training on it. After a full day or so having a play with mainly Word, Powerpoint and (eek) Outlook, I can see that some of the new features are all very well and beneficial, but my sticking point is still that ribbon. I suppose the idea being that it's contextual to some degree means that at least people should be able to find things that they need to do, but it's also a case of them finding things and clicking that they don't necessarily want to do either.

I know that there's people out there who have used Word since version 6.0 (ah, the old days of Office 4.3!) and from then to Office 2003, Word's remained pretty unchanged and indeed so has its look and feel, which even OpenOffice has copied, as people know where everything is and how it works. With the ribbon, that's changed somewhat in that if you double click in an area of the document containing text or an image, the ribbon menu will change to see if you want to do anything with what you've selected. It's one of those love or hate things to be perfectly honest. What I did pick up though was some handy things. For example, one annoyance is that by default double clicking on a blank space will format the document so the user can place something where they've clicked - but if you then change anything it all goes pear-shaped. You can stop that happening in the options. Oh, and the ribbon colour scheme in black at least looks more pleasing on the eye even if I still don't like it.

Of course, the other nightmare is that not all the Office apps have the ribbon in - Publisher doesn't and works like the old one, so if you're used to using more than one Office program, the inconsistency is going to be a nightmare. And for Access 2007, which I really want to look at in length tomorrow, macros such as the Autorun (which most people use to display a simpler database menu) get disabled by default, along with VBA stuff. That's partly why we've stuck at Access XP for this year and gone 2007 the rest, but at some point it'll have to go, so I'll need to know just what the changes are going to involve for development and deployment.

Got it all done and headed to the Tesco Metro in Central Manchester to pick up some food shopping - I had some vouchers for that store only which meant you got a certain amount off if you spent so much - and that worked well, I mean £3 off for spending over £10? Even better when some of the stuff I do buy was at half price or buy one get one free as well, so that pleased me immensely, so I treated myself to a small pack of dairy cream eclairs which I can keep for friends to have with a coffee when they come round - what a good idea eh?

Played the new MC Solaar album when I got home, which arrived courtesy of Amazon France and made me rather excited all round knowing I'd got the new one. Problem is as that because his laid back hip hop vibes are delivered in his native French (he's actually from Senegal) then generally people assume it doesn't travel, despite the fact that when he played Academy 2 it actually had sold out (and it was a great gig, see my October 2004 diary, I saw him on 1st of that month!) and indeed he is completely spot on with the way that he actually does his stuff. Indeed, "Carpe Diem" from the new album is utterly fab, so give that one tune of the day right now. I might have to see if I can venture over to France to see him live one day...