Dear Diary... May 2009

Sunday 31st May - No Voice Box

I woke up and felt really tired and lethargic, and that worried me. A good shower seemed to do the trick and even nicer was that The Strings On My Guitar did us both a lovely breakfast with scrambled egg, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and some toast, which all tasted very lovely indeed. It felt right somehow and made me realise how lucky I am to have someone so lovely. I had slept for ages overnight and really fely somehow that I needed the sleep even more than usual, and I'm not normally like that.

We then relaxed a bit and headed out to Cheshire Oaks - I wanted to try and get some bits for the holiday. We got there, it was very warm but it was also quite busy, and that parking was a hassle. We went around a few of the shops and it was a case of that all the things I actually wanted were in every other size but not the one that I wanted, so that wasn't good. I even weighed up getting some shorts but it didn't seem right to me somehow, the style just didn't cut it. I also felt very very warm and bothered, something that The Strings noticed, but I wanted to get round everywhere and see if I was able to find anything, but didn't.

I felt gutted but at the same time upset with myself that no sooner had I recovered from all that swollen face malarkey that something else seems to have hit me - I could hardly speak at this point and that was making me feel even more warm inside. We would have stayed a fair bit longer but I think we could both see that I was really not that good, so it was back down the M56. In fact I even nodded off for a bit during the trip back and I felt exhausted. This wasn't good and it was a good job that I wasn't driving, or else that would have been catastrophic to say the least.

The Strings dropped me off and I had a sleep in the afternoon, waking up to catch most of Lancashire's Twenty20 innings against Leicestershire. In fact Lancs did really well and passed the target of 147 with almost four overs to spare, thanks to some excellent hitting from Francois du Plessis, who smacked it round the ground with suitable aplomb. It was also interesting to see that a lot of the fans were really soaking in the atmosphere and the sunshine and getting used to the idea that the World Twenty20 would soon be coming - as long as you live in Nottingham or London. Meh. Why not use Edgbaston, Old Trafford or other venues, I wondered to myself?

I did manage to see some of that Beat The Star with Joe Calzaghe, but to be honest my mind was wandering elsewhere and struggling to stay awake. I only hope I can make it through tomorrow and actually get some sleep, but that is concerning me somewhat. Faithless' "Isomnia" is tune of the day right now - I just can't get some sleep but I'd really like to at the moment...

Saturday 30th May - Bon Anniversaire!

Today marks a very special occasion in my life. It was on this day last year that I met the loveliest person in the world who's changed my life for the better - someone who understands me and has empathy with me, someone who cares and is there, but most of all someone who makes me very happy indeed just by being herself, and that's such a wonderful thing. I can't believe that I am so lucky and that a year has sped by so quickly and all that, but it has, and that's marvellous. So to The Strings On My Guitar, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

We would have had to do the food shopping for me had I not gone on Thursday, but instead it was a case of taking it easy and relaxing in the morning, heading out then to her mum's to have a chat there, but also because her father was having some PC problems he wanted me to have a look at. One of them was that the old McAfee Internet Security wouldn't let you uninstall and clashed with AVG - but one check of the McAfee website and they have a removal tool similar to the one Norton have, so it was a case of run that and restart, and all was well. Everything ran faster and one happy customer indeed, let me tell you, so that was nice. Apparently he was singing my praises to The Strings later on, so that was nice to know.

We headed back to The Strings' place and she sat in the sun with a book and I kept an eye on the cup final. I didn't expect Everton to score so soon but I knew that it would only spur Chelski on and that was the way it proved, with Drogba equalising first for them and then in the second half, I knew that it was just one chance going in which would win it, and Frank Lampard's thunderous drive doing the business. I did want Everton to win, especially for my friend who's a fan, but in the end the heat and conditions suited Chelski a lot more to be honest - it was something like 40 degrees pitch side, ouch!

We got ourselves changed and ready for later and headed out into town, first stop was Kro in Piccadilly and had a good drink and chat in there before heading outwards to Felicini's on Oxford Street. It was a good job we'd reserved a table, as lots of reservations were going on and it certainly seemed a busy atmosphere in there. It reminded us both of being here a year ago (part of the reason we went back) and as ever in there, the food was gorgeous. I had the garlic dough balls to start, the salmon risotto for main, whilst The Strings had the red pepper soup followed by the chargrilled chicken breast for main, and we shared the tiramisu for dessert.

It was then a case of making the night complete and heading to Ra!n Bar for a couple of drinks as well, so it was the Brewers Dark for me. We even spotted the telly on and saw who won Britain's Got Talent, and it wasn't Susan Boyle. Ha! The hype machine failed and the public wasn't fooled after all. But we then had a couple of leisurely drinks and I even put a selection on in the jukebox, and rather differently, I picked a song I liked (Morrissey's "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris") and then two that I know that she would love, namely Will Young's "Changes" and Simon Webbe's "No Worries". I'm not a big fan of either of them but I knew she'd love to hear them, so well I thought "why the hell not eh?"

We then walked back to the bus and back to her place, and even though I was completely tired out, partially because of the heat but also because of a very sore throat, I was very happy indeed and as I was going to sleep one song entered my head which summed up my feelings perfectly, that of "We're In This Together" by Nine Inch Nails - just seemed right for me, so tune of the day it most definitely was. It's one year now, yaay us!

Friday 29th May - How Much In Warrington?

It was another busy day at the office today, as I had my technical group meeting earlier in the day. It was a thankfully air conditioned room and we even had proper coffee in proper mugs as well, so that was a nice surprise to say the least. There was plenty of discussion about the new features of the proposed portal for students, and indeed how much it was in tied with Microsoft stuff. Some of it looked useful but I wanted to see how much it would mean that everything could integrate well. I have a feeling that something's happening and we'll adopt it pretty soon, but I do know that we are able to try it out as a test drive too, which I might have to do at some point.

After work, it was time to head out to a local bar, as one of my friends and colleagues was leaving our team to join another team internally. It is a bind to see him go, especially as he's a good honest decent bloke and also because of his love of F1, so I can't chat to anyone in the office about that anymore. That said, he's on a better grade position and so that has to be congratulated, so good luck to him too of course. Quite a number of staff joined him to wish him well which was rather lovely, and I was joined by The Strings On My Guitar for some drinks as well, and conversation as well as some nice real ale (hurrah) flowed into the equation. It was nice being sat outside but it wasn't too warm, and also being able to have a good natter with everyone at the same time. We even had tea in there and their burgers are pretty decent, I had the chicken one with oodles of proper chicken breast in there, so that was fab.

We headed then to the train in order to get the train to Warrington, as we were seeing Seth Lakeman in the Parr Hall this evening. Of course we've seen Seth before, but we wanted to catch him this time around and especially for The Strings, this time it was seated so it'd be a bit more comfortable to be able to catch the show in a nice intimate venue. The train soon arrived, we headed from Warrington Central to Parr Hall, and when we got there, I heard the dulcet tones of Seth. Were they playing one of his CDs before he came on? No, he was already on. Turned out the show started dead on 7.30pm, we got there around 7.40 so we didn't miss much, but the ticket didn't state that the show was to start, so we assumed it was doors...

Anyway, Seth Lakeman (official site) (myspace) was ace nonetheless. There was no support act at all, it was basically him and the band for a bit, then an interval, and then some more plus encore. As such the gig finished at the still relatively early time of 9.35pm and apart from the interval, he was on for some one and three quarter hours, so no complaints from us about the length of set that we got, or the selection of songs for that matter. In fact he was playing several new songs as well as the old stuff, so I reckon that he's got an album in the pipeline in the future. Parr Hall was pretty chock full and I noticed a small space at the back where eventually people started to dance around, so that was good to see.

The set list was varied, and even included the rather fab "How Much?" from the old Punch Bowl album. It sounded much better here than on record, and Seth really went for it with the band and gave it plenty of oomph, had to be tune of the day for that reason. He also did my favourite track from the Poor Man's Heaven album, "Solomon Browne" which tells of the Penlee lifeboat disaster near Mousehole in Cornwall, and from that same album we also got the likes of "The Hurlers", the title track and a really really fast version of "Race To Be King" during the encore, where everyone went for it at a faster pace and everyone was really going for it on the dance floor too. There was also the likes of "Lady of the Sea", "The Colliers", Riflemen of War" from Freedom Fields, but what was great as usual was when he did "Kitty Jay" solo with just the violin, the atmosphere was electric let me tell you.

We got back to the train station, caught the delayed train back to Manchester Oxford Road (it was twenty minutes late for some bizarre reason) and then headed back to the bar we were at earlier for one final drink - and of course the Black Cat was back and on form so that made me very happy - and I put a selection in the jukebox which included Blondie, The Stone Roses, The Jam, The Undertones and a bit of Morrissey as well, because I could, so that was nice to hear my selection playing as we had a final drink before heading home. Another lovely gig, and to be honest Seth could have played all night and I'd have been happy.

Thursday 28th May - Battling Giants

It was a fairly warm day in the office, and when you're having to run around getting things sorted out, and when you're also having to carry a faulty PC from one office to another (and not a short walk either) it did mean that I was feeling the heat a bit. I've been just trying to get on with things at the moment when everything else seems to be a bit up in the air, but that's the nature of the beast I'm afraid. I suppose at the moment all I can do is get on with it, and as we were short staffed today I really think that the best thing that I could do was cancel a meeting I was at, because we needed cover on the ground.

I went home via the lovely people in The Northern Cutter sorting my hair out (it badly needed doing, let me tell you) and then it was a case of heading off to Tesco and getting the food shopping in. Knowing that time wasn't spare much this weekend I thought that it would be best to try and get it done now so that I had some of the basics in when I had the time. It did mean that I was able to go in, get what I needed and then get home in enough time so that I could dive into the shower before heading out a little later to meet up with The Strings On My Guitar, as we were heading out to a gig tonight.

We met up, and it was a short walk from Piccadilly round the corner to The Ruby Lounge, where we would be seeing Ben's Brother later. I spotted one of my friends from work in there as I knew he was coming along, so it was good to have a chat before the first act came on and bang the world to rights a bit. Conversation flowed freely and all was well with the world. It was also noticable just how many people were in Ruby Lounge tonight, much more than usual and also a much older audience too - maybe the band are a bit Radio 2 friendly, I thoguht to my little self.

On came the support act Rhys Morgan (myspace) and he wasn't too bad at all - although The Strings liked him a fair bit more than me. He sounded singer-songwriter like, and he had a couple of people backing him on drums and guitar. The best song he sung was dedicated to his mum, and how he lost some of his family in the Aberfan disaster, and the song was sung with emotion and true feeling, so that was excellent. I hear he's been signed to a major label - not surprised really because he did have a good voice and plenty of things to say - he did come across as a little bit smug though, which got my goat a bit.

On then came Ben's Brother (official site) (myspace) and the standing area in Ruby Lounge suddenly got very full, and with good reason. With a good selection from both albums, including the recent Battling Giants offering, all was well with the band and they played a very good and solid set. The title track from the album came across very well indeed, and plenty of the crowd were singing along to songs from their debut, "Beta Male Fairytales", including the likes of "Beauty Queen", "Rise" and "Carry On" which had everyone in the right frame of mind. Jamie Hartman of course had plenty of the female fans swooning, although I do wonder how warm it has to get before he takes that cap off.

I was battling giants literally though as it seemed all the tall people in the world were stood in front of myself and The Strings though, and that wasn't good. We did eventually manage to get a good vantage point though - and did manage to see most of the band. My niggle with Ruby Lounge is that the stage is too low compared to the audience, so if you're at the back, you can't really see so well. Anyway, the band played solidly on, and we had the likes of "Let Me Out", "If I Let The Ladder Down", the excellent "What If I" and during the encore, tune of the day, the superb "Live" which had everyone of course joining in the main chorus singing alonng nicely, which just gave it a really good homely feeling of being in a cosy venue. It wound down nicely, we got the bus back home, and it just made for a perfect ending to a lovely day.

Wednesday 27th May - All Roads Lead To Rome - Or The Pub!

It was a busy day for me today in the office - as well as sorting out quite a bit of paperwork and also having to keep on top of all the student printing that we're currently doing (master of the understatement there) I also had to go over to another campus in the afternoon and go through some training with some of the staff in one of the libraries there. To be fair they were all lovely people and it was really nice to be able to talk to them about all sorts and go through the process with them - it gets me out and about to meet people and also to keep a tight rein on the project I am involved with at the moment.

The rest of the afternoon sped by, not least because I was working on a couple of other things as well, such as ensuring some of our documentation was up to date and that all the emails were flowing freely with regards to some of that. I do like to ensure a lot of the processes are adequately documented so that we can pick up good practice and be able to share information quickly and efficiently (well that's the plan anyway).

I was going to nip to the hairdresser's to get my hair cut after work tonight, but realised as I was walking through town that in fact the hairdresser was most likely going to be on the way to the pub to watch Manchester United in the Champions League final later. I still needed to pop into the city centre anyway for a card, so I got what I needed and headed home, ready for watching the final on television myself. As I now of course have the new EPG on Sky, it means I can watch ITV HD as an "other" channel, which seemed to work really well when I added it. Of course for those watching it down the pub (and plenty of pubs around the city centre were full of Man U fans from mid-afternoon, so I can imagine how much beer has been sold!) it was Sky Sports as the weapon of choice for most of them.

The kick off time came round and so it was time to chuck ITV HD on and watch it in glorious high definition. And it certainly made the first few minutes clear to see: Man U were dominant and going for goal at every opportunity, and had five shots in the first ten minutes, none of them went in. And then - the sucker punch, and what effectively changed the game. Barcelona broke forward, the ball was passed to Samuel Eto'o, and he rounded the defence before slotting the ball under Edwin van der Sar to make it 1-0. An absolute sucker punch considering the possession up to that point but it goes to show that sometimes one chance is all you need.

For most of the rest of the half, Barcelona looked relaxed and indeed looked like they were more settled with that goal going in - they had a few chances to double the lead and only some good defending stopped that happening. Although it was hyped as Lionel Messi being their main threat, Xavi and Iniesta in midfield were the ones doing all the creative work and often finding the killer pass to do the business. Add to that Thierry Henry at least tormenting the Man U defence every so often, and for the non Man U fans around, all looked good at half time.

What didn't look good was ITV's shoddy coverage. At one point their HD feed went back to the studio where Steve Rider et al were getting miked up, when what we wanted to see was the game. I don't know if the normal feed did the same, but it was shocking. And I bet it did the same on Freesat, where ITV HD normally lives. Goes to prove those Leeds fans right that ITV are a bit poor when it comes to sports coverage. Thankfully the final was on Sky Sports HD so I turned over to that in time for the second half after making a coffee - and surprise surprise, no glitches from then on.

Second half was pretty much mostly Barcelona and to be honest a second goal was coming all half - and when it came it was an excellent cross from Xavi to pick out Messi, who placed a gorgeous header past van der Sar. It was sublime finishing and a deserved goal too. As hard as Man U tried, at that point it was chasing the game and some of the players' frustration resulted in yellow cards for several of the players, and in the end it was a fairly easy cruise for Barcelona to win 2-0. Not the result a lot of people wanted, but it was a deserved win, it has to be said. Man U fans can't be too upset though, getting to the final again, winning the league, League Cup and the World Club Championship is still an excellent season by anyone's standards.

As for tune of the day well I am getting pretty excited about the forthcoming release of Guitar Hero Metallica on the Wii, especially after playing it in HMV Glasgow the other day. I put on their "S&M" album which was Metallica with an orchestra, and plenty of their tunes got a good working that way. I still adore "Battery" done this way because of the orchestration at the start which gives way to Metallica rocking bloody hard and really giving it some - and I want to play the game with this tune in, that'd be cool. So an easy decision!

Tuesday 26th May - Bank Holiday Bonkers Rush

It seems that whenever there's a bank holiday there's a massive rush for printing where I work, and today was no exception. Everyone was in and attempting to print all their work off for a 12 noon deadline in some cases. I of course knew that realistically that was a non-starter, but it didn't stop everyone really going for it in terms of printing out lots of sheets of A1. I spent a fair bit of the day sorting out queries for students and making sure that everything was going shipshape, even setting up a couple of iPrint printers for one of the students on their Mac laptop, so all was well.

It's certainly a state of flux as the re-organisation continues. My manager has had to flit between both Faculties and try to maintain a staff presence and an efficient service throughout, which as you can imagine isn't easy. Mind you our deputy manager has been in today too and he was pretty good in assisting me with a problem we had - which turned out to be a global issue in terms of login. Mind you, that's nothing compared to what happened to my friend at her workplace today - her PC decided to spontaneously blow up on her, that was pretty scary stuff let me tell you!

I had a long wait for the bus home for some reason, but got home eventually and sorted out a few things as well. What I did note was that the weather seems somehow interchangable for some reason - sun one minute, rain the next and sun again. That scuppered my plan to go for a nice walk along the converted railway path near me and to head to Chorlton, but the sun's out now, so decisions, decisions. Mind you, I've also got a shed load of ironing to do. Again, decisions, decisions there.

I did notice today as well that in the news there was an article about a place in Kent that was going to be a haven for pinball fans. Pinball Parlour in Ramsgate might have to get a visit by me if the news article on BBC News is anything to go by - old classic pinball machines fully restored and playable, and a wide range of classics as well to have a go at. As a pinball fan, I am sure that many of these would be absolutely adorable to have a go of and I could easily spend most of the day in there if I could, let me tell you. It reminds me of the arcade in the centre of Manchester that used to have four pinball machines side by side, normally Theatre of Magic or Star Trek TNG, both of which are 90s pinball classics let me tell you.

As for tune of the day I've been listening to a fair bit of Nine Inch Nails lately, most notably "The Slip" album - in many ways because it was such a contrast to "Ghosts I-IV" it was a brave move to release it so soon after, but in "Echoplex" is one of Trent Reznor's finest compositions - it's edgy, dark but at the same time retains many of the classic NIN chararcteristics - can't wait to see them live in July now.

Monday 25th May - Lyme and Leeds

It was a day of two halves today. The first half of the day was spent very enjoyably with The Sunshine In My Day, as the weather held and was looking pretty nice and so decided to head to Lyme Park for an afternoon out. We hadn't been for a bit, and this time with our National Trust membership, we could of course explore the house and gardens and get free parking, so of course that immediately made the day out much less expensive. Unsurprisingly, as we headed out of Hazel Grove towards High Lane, the traffic was taking its time and slowing a bit, and even when we got to Lyme Park there was a small queue. However, most people were paying the £4.60 fee for the car parking - not us! One show of membership card and the car sticker in the window and we were waved straight through. Ah, I knew that membership was a good idea!

We decided that as we'd both never been to the house it'd be a good idea to walk to the house and gardens. It was lovely to be able to do that, the house looked very resplendent and full of glamour from a bygone era (especially the dining table, that was so luxurious, and it's still in use occasionally!) and the way that it was all lovingly preserved made it so worthwhile. The library is being done up still, but you could sit down in there and read a book whilst looking outside at the lovely scenery, and that was a nice touch, as was the fact that most of the staircases were a bit wonky, which made the building seem even more olde worlde, but in a good way.

We headed then to the gardens and walked around the pond, via all the rhodedendrons, and onward to the little bridge with the stream, before going back along via the upper lawn, Summer house and orangery. It was nice to sit in the Summer house and watch the world go by, and I felt so special having The Sunshine next to me there, felt perfect. Later on we even headed up the hill to The Cage, as we'd spotted that you could actually go inside it and have a look around. The steep spiral staircases were some fun to get up and down, but at the top the view was superb and it also gave you lots of information about how the place would be used as a watching post for the wives whilst their husbands hunted the deer around the place (not that you'd see any of that now of course, thankfully.) It was very nice all round though and we reflected later on an enjoyable afternoon together.

The Sunshine headed home and I made myself something to eat whilst noticing Burnley had won their playoff final and so were heading to the Premiership. Well done them! After eating my tea, it was then time to head out to Piccadilly station and go to Leeds, as I was seeing MJ Hibbett and the Validators as part of their album tour. As an added but lovely bonus, The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut were also on, so it'd be nice to see Pete do his full band thing and enjoy that, so two bands for the price of one, yaay. I got to Piccadilly, used the fast ticket machine to get my ticket sorted, and just about got the 1825 train to Leeds before it sped off, so that was good.

I got to Leeds station, and thankfully the bus to the gig venue, the 95, stopped right there. Turned out it was a special Unilink service that took you from there to the Universities and one of the main halls of residence and back again, and ran very frequently, so that was good. I soon found The Pack Horse and went upstairs to the room that the bands would be in. I saw Pete Green and said hello to him and the rest of the Corporate Juggernaut: Dan and Rob. We had a good football natter for a while and it was good to see him. I also saw the promoter Lauren who seemed full of smiles and was well up for the event.

I needed some change to give them for the admission (it was a fiver) so I went down to the bar and thought "aha, they have Black Sheep! A pint of that!" - but no. It ran out, so it was the Copper Dragon Pippin for me, which still was lovely. I'd spotted Pete at the other end of the downstairs bar, but also sat there were most of MJ Hibbett and the Validators (sans Emma) so I went on over to say hello. With Tim the drummer being a Newcastle fan, obviously he was doing his best to avoid the footy, but we all realised that next season most of the Validators' teams would be playing each other - Tom the violnist (Leicester), Rob aka Frankie Machine the bassist (Derby) and of course MJ (Peterborough) so that would mean plenty of in-band football rivalry next season, hehe. It was good to have a good chatter about all sorts and Tim told me of how he had to sell his spare My Bloody Valentine ticket at the Apollo and only got a fiver for it - ouch!

Still, we all piled up upstairs, paid my dues to Lauren (and got a nice little hand drawn cat instead of a stamp which was a neat touch) and soon on came The Bee's Niece (official site) (myspace). Mainly the brainchild of Norwegian Ragnhild Zeigler, they had a different array of instruments: wine glasses filled with different quantities of water to make a different sound, and a saw with a violin bow that Ragnhild had. They sounded quite twee and cute but I couldn't help but think I'd heard of them before, then when she sung the song about the stolen bike from her student residence in Salford, which ends with where to return it to and calling the thief a "knob head" (which sounded somehow better in a Norwegian accent) it all came to the fore - they'd played at Ruby Lounge before Baskery and The Sunshine and I had caught the last bit of their set at the time.

They were good, but Ragnhild made a bit of a faux pas near the end when she said "every band has a Myspace these days". I looked at Pete and we both grinned - and Pete politely said "oh no they don't!" which made me chuckle. I knew exactly what Pete was thinking and thought "I bet he's going to do his anti-Myspace song now" and he had a quick chat with Rob and Dan and they all agreed that it'd have to be done now. It was just the look of glee on Pete's face too, he knew he was really going to hammer that point home but in a good way and I wanted the full band experience of that song, so win win!

On then went The Pete Green Corporate Juggernaut (official site) and sure enough, the set list had been changed so first they did "I Haven't Got A Myspace Because Myspace F***ing Sucks", which sounded really tight and twee at the same time - tune of the day without a doubt. Pete really sang it with conviction and like he meant it, hehe. He also did plenty of songs which were a staple of his solo set including "Hey Doctor Beeching", "It's Gonna Happen Soon", "Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves" as well as the more recent band stuff like "Tear Down The Daily Mail", "She's An Accountant". It sounded great and I really enjoyed it - more so as Pete mentioned it was one year to the day since the first Corporate Juggernaut gig!

It was getting on a bit and I had to consider the time and hoped that most of the set I could see afterwards, and on came MJ Hibbett and the Validators (official site) (myspace) and all was well with the world. They started with "Red Black Gold" which did sound better live than on the album, it has to be said, and had plenty of stuff from their excellent new album "Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez" including the losing weight anthem of "Do More, Eat Less" (often DMEL on the set list!), "Being Happy Doesn't Make You Stupid" (including everyone singing the immortal line of "Hey there emo boy, give us all a smile", "Best Behaviour", and even some old classics like "Clubbing In The Week" and touchingly, "Leave My Brother Alone" dedicated to MJ's brother, whose other half had had a baby a few days back. We also got "The Lesson of the Smiths" so that was me happy.

Time had ticked on and realistically I knew I had to leave just after 11pm to get the bus, so had to say goodbye before "Do The Indie Kid" which was a shame, but Mark knew the train situation and got everyone to say goodbye to me - awww. I headed to the bus stop and the 95 soon arrived, and I got to Leeds train station to head home safe and sound - with a few minutes to spare. The train got into Piccadilly at twenty to one in the morning and I decided to be safe and take a taxi home, which I wouldn't normally do, but there was no buses and I didn't want to risk walking it home. I arrived home before 1am and flaked out to sleep but safe in the knowledge I'd had a good time.

Sunday 24th May - The Ghost Town Library

It was a nice relaxing morning and afternoon after all that gig excitement last night. I got up and did what I needed to do in terms of domestic chores and then settled down in front of the television. I knew that it was time for what is the F1 race of the year at Monaco and I didn't want any interruptions so I could watch the race and have a good time all round. As it happened, the BBC build up to the race was excellent with lots of talk about the current state of the negotiations with the budget cap, plenty of insight into the race itself and indeed the track, and how well the Brawn cars did in qualifying compared to the fuel loads of other cars. Fascinating stuff let me tell you.

The race itself was pretty good if you were a Brawn fan - Jenson Button stayed in front, Rubens Barrichello got second at the first corner, and it was a case of who could manage the supersoft tyres better. Button did a super job here, although to be fair to Rubens he had Kimi Raikonnen all over him on better tyres (which did mean that Ferrari would suffer later). Mind you, once the first round of stops were complete, the Brawn team were pretty unassailable and Button managed his pace and tyres superbly well to make the win look pretty easy. Apart from that, I felt gutted that Giancarlo Fisichella didn't get 8th place in the Force India - he drove reliably consistent and made the strategy work well to boot, so well done him.

After that I had a bit of a blast of Fifa 09 on the Wii before The Sunshine In My Day came over to see me - which is always lovely. We were off to another gig (my third in three days!) and again it was to see Kristin Hersh, this time at the library in Burnley. The Sunshine very kindly had offered to drive up there, so it wasn't long before we were heading down the M60 then the M66 and A682 towards Burnley, and got there pretty quickly all told. In fact a nice surprise was that on the Sunday all the car parking spaces were free, so that meant no hassle at all trying to park up. We had a walk through to a nice pub, had something to eat in there for tea (chicken and ham pie, very nice!) as well as a nice pint of the Moorhouse's Blond Witch ale.

I also noticed that Sky Sports News was on the telly, albeit with the sound off, but that was enough for me to see not only had Manchester City won 1-0 against Bolton (and if we had beaten Tottenham last week we could have been in the Europa League now!) but also that Middlesbrough and Newcastle had been relegated. I was so chuffed that Newcastle went down - they keep going on about being such a big club etc but to be honest you can pretend to be big all you like, but if the team isn't performing, then that's that. A major overhaul needs to happen there and it's not all Alan Shearer's fault, but players paid far too much who just weren't trying. I bet the first thing anyone will do there is get rid of Joey Barton, which makes our sale to them for £5.5 million a few years back even more satisfying, let me tell you.

After we'd relaxed and had something to eat and drink, we headed over to the Library in the centre of Burnley. It didn't look that big a building and there wasn't a massive crowd waiting to get in, but the doors soon opened and we went in the main entrance. As you went in, the issue desk was on the left side looking towards the stage, with the computers on the right. A space had been allocated in the centre for the crowd and a little stage in front of the non-fiction with a nice sound rig and also two people complete with professional video cameras - looked like they were going to film the thing too, which was a nice touch. Mind you, the rest of Burnley was a ghost town - had everyone already gone off to Wembley for the playoff final?

First up was Christopher Rees (official site) (myspace) who sounded very good indeed, and was actually supporting Kristin Hersh on most of the tour dates (except the ones I'd seen before!) - he was promoting his new album "Devil's Bridge" and really sounded quite crisp and fresh. A lot of the stuff of that album he classed as murder ballads, but he told his stories well and played his guitar with suitable aplomb. Out of the stuff he played, I really liked "Take My Hand" where he would ask the crowd to sing along with the chorus. "What Walks Outside My Window" was also quite a catchy tune too, and his songwriting really made the tunes come to the fore. I was pretty impressed and I'll have to keep an eye on his recordings in future.

After a short delay, and an announcement by Kristin's husband and manager Billy about the merchandise available, it was time for Kristin Hersh (official site) (myspace) to do her thing, and as per usual for me, it did not disappoint. Although a similarish set list to York, it was done in a completely different order so as to keep it all interesting and relevant, together with a few nice surprises. This time I got "Teeth" and "Your Ghost" as part of the main set, as well as some classics such as "Me and My Charms", "Your Dirty Answer" and even newer stuff like "Slippershell" too. One thing I did notice after the soundman had tweaked the levels after the first song was that the quality was razor-sharp in terms of the acoustics - it all sounded at a good level without being too in your face and overly loud, and indeed just right for the room and the crowd.

It was very enjoyable, not least as we got the Throwing Muses classic "Hook in Her Head" as part of the encore, and indeed plenty of appreciative nods from the audience on that one. As for my favourite of the night, well it just had to be "Sno Cat" from her album "The Grotto". The twangs on that one sounded really clear and her voice was just really soft but firm at the same time, so that one's tune of the day for me. I really appreciated The Sunshine coming along - she admitted afterwards that she couldn't quite get into Kristin the same as me, but that she knew what it meant to me to be there too. I think next time she'll urge me to go and see her and I think she understands what it means to me, which is good.

We headed back down the motorway and back to mine, and had a little chat before we went to sleep, knowing that it had been a nice time and that even with the weather being lovely, we hoped it would hold for tomorrow, as it might be worth heading out during the day before a possible fourth gig for me in four days tomorrow evening. In fact, when I think about it, the last time I did four gigs in four days Kristin Hersh was involved in two of them!

Saturday 23rd May - Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey...

Well after a nice lie in this morning it was time to head up and out of bed, be back on the rowing machine and do my goodly work on there (in fact I had managed to do a pretty neat calorie burn rate today) and when I weighed myself on the scales later I was surprised and pleased to see that in fact I had lost some more weight, meaning that I had lost a total of eight pounds over the last four weeks or so. I am hoping to dip below thirteen stone when I go away on holiday, so if I keep this rate up I should do so easily. I do have to be really careful though and as a consequence have not had chocolate during this time. It's certainly made a difference!

Myself and The Star In My Sky then headed to Tesco in Stockport, as I wanted to see if I could get some clothes for the holiday but also see how useful the "double up" voucher scheme was. I had my Clubcard voucher and knew that I could exchange it for money off the clothes in there, and it'd be worth double what the vouchers were. So first things first, I thought, see if there was actually anything that I wanted which would be worth the dosh. I eventually saw a pair of jeans (reduced from £20 to £10) as well as two short sleeved shirts that were £12 and £9 respectively, which meant that it'd be £31 in all. However, this wasn't taking into account that clothes were 20% off this weekend and indeed any discount that I'd get.

I went to the Customer Service desk and exchanged my Clubcard voucher which alowed me to get a nice £10 discount on the clothes as long as I'd spent over £10, which made sense. Anyway, the very kind cashier lady rang the items through the till, and found out that the shirt at £12 was down to £9, so that meant that it'd be £28 for the three items. I then got 20% off that, so that was £5.60, reducing it down to £22.40, and they also knocked the VAT rate reduction in (down to 15% VAT of course) so that was another 60p, meaning £21.80. After using my discount voucher as well this meant that the three items cost a mere £11.80! Wow. That's what I call shopping for bargains.

We headed back to mine and The Star went off home for the afternoon as she had things to do, and I was having my friend over later as it was off to see Morrissey at the Apollo. Part of the afternoon was spent watching Jenson Button kick backside when after a dodgy second qualifying session, he raised his game in the final session and snatched pole from Kimi Raikkonnen, with Rubens Barrichello a good third in the other Brawn car. It really was top rate stuff from the BBC, especially as Jake Humphrey's really settling into his presenter role well and understanding the sport. It was nice too that they interviewed the godlike genius of Murray Walker who was also there for the race and getting his thoughts. Good old Murray, you just can't beat him!!

Later on though it was off to the Apollo with my friend, as Morrissey was in town and we had tickets. It was his 50th birthday yesterday, and although we couldn't get tickets for that night, it worked out well for me because I could get to see Kristin Hersh and Morrissey in one weekend - how good is that eh? Anyway, we managed to get the parking spot for my friend and soon we were making our way into the Apollo and managed to get a pretty good view of the stage from where we were. The first support band were that rubbish I couldn't remember who they were, but the lead singer was clearly inspired by Morissey and was trying to do similar moves - except they just looked rubbish.

Much better were Doll and the Kicks (myspace) who were infectious, spiky and above all knew how to make a good tune and play it to the masses. Doll herself was quite a character, her massive yellow bow on her hair together with a printed outfit seemed content on running around the stage and singing like a cross between Toyah Wilcox and Kate Bush, if you get that idea. They concentrated on short sharp numbers, but also had a good eye for a pop tune along the way. They were actually pretty good indeed, and I'm sure that being on such a tour like this can only help their exposure. The best of their songs was most probably "He Was A Dancer" which has some excellent vocal work along the way as well as sounding quite punk-like with attitude.

Soon however it was to be Morrissey (official site) (fanzine site) and he was in a really good mood and well up for the gig. "What, you again?" he quipped, as he probably spotted people who were there last night, before heading straight into the Smiths' classic, "This Charming Man". Nice move all round. And it wasn't the only Smiths song either, as we got the likes of "I Keep Mine Hidden" (which is a B-side at that!), "How Soon Is Now", "Girlfriend In A Coma" and "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others" in which he changed the second verse, craftily, which otherwise I'd have of course sung along to. We got a smattering of tracks off the recent album "Years of Refusal" including the singles "I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris", "Something Is Squeezing My Skull" as well as album tracks like "When I Last Spoke To Carol" (including some nice hand claps by the Mozster), "I'm OK By Myself" too.

But some of the best stuff of the night was from his earlier solo career. Thankfully there were some nice nods to albums like Southpaw Grammar, Your Arsenal and Vauxhall and I with songs like "Best Friend On The Payroll", "Seasick Yet Still Docked" and the excellent "Why Don't You Find Out By Yourself", but for me the highlight were the songs from "You Are The Quarry". He played a really hard rocking version of "How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?" (tune of the day) and during the lyric "I've had my face dragged in fifteen miles of s***" he really did sound and feel it throughout, which worked superbly well. For the single song encore we got "First Of The Gang To Die" which really sounded loud and proud too, and earlier on, everyone was yelling out "sick to death of Labour and Tories" during "Irish Blood, English Heart".

It was great, it really was, even if two things were to be of note. The set was only one hour and twenty minutes, which to me was at least ten minutes too short to be honest. What was there was excellent, don't get me wrong, but you kind of expect more when you pay over £30. And there were some right idiots near the front who thought it a good idea to throw beer everywhere, and including towards the stage. It makes me wonder if they realise that incidents like that put people off going to venues. Thankfully I was far back enough not to be near that chaos, but it's not a Macc Lads gig, you know? But that didn't detract from what was an excellent Morrissey show and one that almost made me feel full circle since I saw him there back in 1992 (and my friend and I have the t-shirts to prove it, which we wore with pride tonight.) And just to have him doing a varied set and Smiths songs? Priceless, let me tell you.

Friday 22nd May - The Duchess That Is Kristin Hersh

It was a day off work today - and for good reason. Not only was it a day out in York with The Star In My Sky, but also a chance again to see Kristin Hersh as well, at The Duchess. Having never ever been to a gig in York before, that's another town and city that I have seen a gig in. I did some totting up earlier in the day of towns and cities that I have seen a gig in, and clocked up eleven in all: Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Birmingham, London, Nottingham and Bury. So this would be my twelfth, and with a gig to come in Burnley on Sunday that would make it number thirteen.

We headed on the train around noon time and the train journey as ever was speedy and efficient and soon got us into York on time. After The Star had to deal with a couple of phone calls when we got in the station, we decided to have a walk around the walls of York, as the weather was good and there was no rain (unlike in Manchester I should add). It was then a case of being able to walk around the bits that you could walk, as some of them weren't there anymore, and headed up and around various parts of the wall, including the Micklegate bar and then further on to Walmgate Bar, where we stopped off for a very nice coffee. There's actually a little two storey building that's in part of the Bar there, and it's an independent coffee shop, and the coffee for £1.50 was served in a massive mug and was absolutely gorgeous, well worth the stop off if you're round there.

We carried on round the walls past the Red Tower and then through the back of the walls to the Bootham Bar, at which point we then headed through and looked in some of the shops in the city centre. Surprisingly there was no queue in Betty's Tea Rooms, and also it seemed like people had gone off for the Bank Holiday and left the city behind. It did mean we were able to have a nice walk around and be able to relax and take it relatively easy though, and even took some time out to do a little bit of seeing over the bridges on to the river. Had the weather been a little bit nicer it might have been worth us taking the boat trip out!

With time heading on and with rain due any minute, we headed to one of my favourite pubs in York, the Punch Bowl, so we could have something to eat for tea. The good news is that everything was on form, despite the place running out of Black Sheep. I had a very nice Brew Dog ale called Trashy Blonde instead, which was ace, and had together with that a steak and ale pie with mash and veg. And believe me, it was a proper pie too, all square, lovely melty pastry and a proper filling of steak chunks with the ale soaked in it. Oh, and yes, no pastry case rubbish here folks, a proper pie at a proper price, my sort of place that. The Star had a very nice looking well done rump steak, and that got us in the mood.

It was then over to Ye Old Starre Inn, just down the road, and we got a nice comfy chair and seat and before long I spotted a few of the fellow Kristin Hersh fans that I've seen at gigs over the years. What was nice was that one of them has made a new t-shirt for Throwing Muses, and as such the profits are going back to Kristin, so it was good to get one of those for wearing on Sunday (I had my beige "In shock" number for tonight's gig). It was a nice atmosphere in there and plenty of people to chatter to about all sorts, so that got us relaxed before everyone headed off in the general direction of The Duchess to see the gig. Now, The Duchess isn't in the nicest building ever, and you go down this little staircase underground, but the venue's a good size even if the stage is quite small.

First up was Chris Helme (myspace) who wasn't too bad actually. In a way for him it's a return to his York roots, as he was born there, and of course was the front man in John Squire's post-Stone Roses band, The Seahorses. Now though Chris is more back to folk as well, and it was just him with an acoustic guitar doing a number of songs which, although weren't all his own, weren't that bad. Certainly he took great pains to explain every song and was able to at least get the audience with him on it, so that was good. I've heard a lot worse and I just wish he'd have prattled on a little less between songs.

Then up was Kristin Hersh (official site) (myspace) and for me it was nice to see that the set list was a fair bit different to Glasgow on Monday. For example there was no Your Ghost here tonight, but we did get the excellent Teeth instead (make that tune of the day as the delivery of it was spot on). There were staple ones that are always part of a good set, such as Gazebo Tree, Your Dirty Answer and of course the excellent Slippershell, but it was a good range and variety of songs again. I of course was pretty moved and transfixed by it all, as you'd expect, The Star wasn't as keen as me but she didn't hate it either, so I suppose that was something good. What made it all the more worthwhile though was that the audience were really appreciative and were patient, quiet and also applauded a genius at work. She had to come back on for three encores in the end and it got close to us being kicked out before the club night started in earnest straight after the gig!

We made our way back to York station and took the train home via Leeds again, and got into Piccadilly at the really late hour of just after half past midnight and took the night bus back to mine. It had been a long day but a thoroughly rewarding one and that in itself had to make the trip worthwhile. Might have to have a lie in in the morning though, it was tiring work!

Thursday 21st May - A Mixed Bag

Had a bit of a mixed bag of a day at the office today. On the one hand, it was good to be able to get a few things finalised, such as the customised installer for Adobe Reader 9. Adobe actually give you a customisation kit, so that you can tweak everything to your own preference, so if you want to disable updates for corporate use, and if you don't want the EULA displayed every time, and if you also want to make sure that it keeps Reader as the default for opening PDF files, then this is the baby for you. One of our builds includes Acrobat Professional 7, so we've found out over time that if you have a lower version of Pro, you need to make sure Reader is installed first with Pro afterwards, and it all works flawlessly - doing it the other way can cause issues.

I also had to telephone HP about one of their printers not playing ball for one of our members of staff. After negotiating the various options I got through to their nice call centre people in Belfast, who are all lovely. Sadly, they said that I needed to speak to a different department, so it was elsewhere for the call, and to be honest, it was difficult to comprehend what the person on the end of the phone was saying, possibly due to a bad line instead of their accent. But I did discover that the care pack for this one was a collect and repair job, which was intriguing for me. I do think though that it'd be a case of seeing how that goes and going from there.

I got home and watched some of the classic Monaco F1 races on BBC Interactive. I had recorded them to the PC so I could make a DVD of the thing as well, but it was good just to relax and see the races unfold on the telly to wind down the time a bit. It was especially good to see the 1982 highlights in full as you could tell a fair chunk of it was going to be the last few laps without interruption, purely because of what happened during it. I won't spoil it for you, but when Murray Walker calls it one of tbe most exciting Grand Prix he'd ever seen, well that should be enough incentive for you to go and watch it...

In the meantime, I also worked out that over the next few days I've got four gigs in four days, starting tomorrow. It's one way to spend the Bank Holiday weekend that's for sure, although I am sure that these things just come in waves so that everything happens close together. And talking of gigs, I've pre-ordered tickets for Skunk Anansie at Academy 1 on Tuesday 24th November. Oh yes. They are back. And they're going to rock the place bloody hard. I remember seeing them four times in less than a year and indeed their gig at what's now Academy 2 back in 1996 still stands out for me as one of my favourites, and they played "Skunk Song" that night, so that's tune of the day.

Wednesday 20th May - Basking In Ticket Glory

It was back to the office for me today, and it was still in the midst of a shed load of printing on our A1 plotters that we have for the students. Thankfully the worst of the busy period looked like it was soon coming to an end, but even so, it did make me wonder just how manic it was going to be. I had to change all the plotters this morning and managed to keep things going along nicely, and throughout the day it was a case of mainly dealing with student queries and answering them to the best of my ability.

I headed off after work down to the Academy box office, as it's often a good idea to buy the tickets there for any gigs and thus avoid any rip off booking fee other places will charge you. I had suggested to The Star In My Sky's friends a little while back that we should go to see Baskery at Academy 3, and that I'd happily sort the tickets out. One smooth transaction later and all was done, and there mustn't have been that many sold as we have tickets numbered 3, 4, 5 and 6. It makes me wonder where everyone's music taste has gone, or if touring in the middle of June with many students either returning home or heading to Glastonbury would seem such a good idea. But no matter. We're going and that's the main thing.

I got home and noticed I had another letter from United Utilities, following on from the one I received when I got home yesterday. You see, they're having to change some electricity meters and are working with the suppliers of the electricity to ensure a smooth changeover. Having rung to arrange a suitable visit date yesterday, getting another letter with another date kind of worried me a bit. One phone call later and all was explained - the system was a bit too eager in sending out multiple letter runs and crashed during one of them and so sent them all again. Thankfully I was able to confirm the correct date for the visit and so all was well, thankfully.

What I did also notice was the sheer amount of political propaganda posted through the door in the run up to the European elections coming soon. I counted one from the Liberal Democrats, one from the Green Party, and most alarming of all, one from the British National Party. I felt sick to the stomach, and also sorry for the post delivery people who would have had to deliver them. Some of them in certain areas made a stand and refused to deliver them on the account of it possibly being inflammatory, and it only took me a quick glance to realise how inflammatory it actually was. While a lot of us are fed up with the state of the country in some ways, kicking everyone out who isn't Anglo-Saxon pure white doesn't appear to be the answer either. The simple answer is that everyone, regardless of race, colour, religion or whatever, should just get along with each other, accept that we're all different people and respect one another, and that'd be it all sorted. If only it was that easy in reality..

Anyway, tune of the day is 50 Foot Wave's "Pneuma", a) because I like the fact that Kristin rocks very hard in this song, b) because she yells "shut the f*** up" like she really means it in complete anger, and c) because she doesn't hold back. If only everyone could be the same really. And considering the political bull we're all being fed at the moment from all parties, telling them to shut up actually doesn't sound like a bad idea after all. We shall see what happens...

Tuesday 19th May - Thundering Home

I woke up relatively relaxed in the Ibis hotel room, and thought to myself "well, a good job I was crafty last night then!". You see, on the way back to the hotel after having tea last night, I stopped off at the local Tesco Express on Sauchiehall Street and got myself some yoghurt, croissants and some orange juice, the idea being that I could have my own continental style breakfast in the privacy of my own room at a fraction of the price of elsewhere. And that ploy worked well - it allowed me to wake up a bit later and generally wake up in my own time and have some lovely breakfast whilst watching Lorraine Kelly on GMTV. Ah, bliss, that.

It was soon time for me to leave and head back to the train station for the trip homeward, so it was one final check to make sure I'd got everything and off for a small walk back to Glasgow Central. The train was due to come in from Manchester Airport, but hadn't been assigned a platform as yet, and had to wait till close on 10am before I knew what platform it was (considering the train was due to leave at 1010, didn't give everyone that much time!). I headed down to the First Class carriage and found my seat, and there were only three reservations in the whole carriage, which meant if I wanted to I could spread the legs a bit. The train left on time despite there being signal power failures just south of the station, and off we went.

I had wondered why the coaches on the train were lettered D to F instead of A to C. At Carlisle, the answer came. It had to wait for the service from Edinburgh to come along and join our train and connect up, so it became a six carriage number from Carlisle down to Manchester. In the meantime, the lovely lady who was doing the catering trolley had served me with my second coffee, and previously had also given me the option of a cranberrry and apple cereal bar (which was gorgeous) as well as the crisps and cake I had later, so all proved pretty worthwhile. However, as the train was almost ten minutes late leaving Carlisle due to the wait for the Edinburgh train, it meant that it got stuck after Preston as it was now behind a local stopping service. Oh joy! As such the train terminated at Manchester Piccadilly instead of the airport and crawled in some twenty minutes late into Piccadilly. Ah well, I had a comfy seat and the iPod on, so it wasn't that bad.

In fact when I had the iPod on random, it seemed to play quite a few Kristin Hersh songs (including some I heard last night), as well as some Baskery, Seth Lakeman and best of all (hence tune of the day) Sandie Shaw's "Nothing Less Than Brilliant" which is exactly as described, it's such a nice uplifting number and made me think of The Star In My Sky even more. Admittedly, I was missing her a fair bit and it would have been lovely to have her there with me last night seeing Kristin, but I guess you can't have everything!

I got home later just as the thunderstorms started, and it was a very loud clap of thunder followed by some absolutely incessant rain that didn't look like it was stopping till later, when the sun decided to head out all of a sudden, the rainbows hit the local area and all seemed pretty well again. It was one of the loudest claps of thunder that I'd heard though, and that for sure made me feel like it was a good time not to be heading out anywhere either. And as it stopped later, it was a good time to go and meet The Star In My Sky from work, and we had a quick drink in The Waterhouse before heading back to hers, where a lovely tea was on the cards, which was gorgeous.

In fact, Coast was on BBC2, and as it mentioned Cornwall, we both watched excitedly, not least as it mentioned about Porthcurno and how it was the home to the age of wired telegraphs and how many of these wires run under the beach there (and who'd have thought such a lovely beach hides the secret like that?). It also showed off a few other places I plan to take her, such as St Ives, with its three beaches (Porthminster, Porthgwidden and Porthmeor, in case you wondered) and was just the thing to get us in the mood for going, which now we have the train tickets is filling us with excitement and wonder, let me tell you.

Monday 18th May - Me And My Charms In Glasgow

It was off to Glasgow for me today, as I had booked the time off some time ago, as well as the Ibis hotel and the trains as necessary to go and see Kristin Hersh at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in the city. I have fond memories of the last visit to Glasgow - I stayed at the Ibis that time too and it was the first night of MJ Hibbett's "A Million Ukeleles" totally acoustic tour with Pete Green. Happy days they were, let me tell you. So it was with excitement that I left the Towers for Piccadilly station in order to get the 1010 departure for Glasgow Central. This would mean I'd have plenty of time for seeing some of the city before the gig and get to Ibis in good time.

The train journey was effortless and relaxing, as it should be. I had booked the train tickets way in advance so that First Class was a mere £18 each way (cheapest standard is £10 each way) and to be honest, it was worth the extra. Not only are the seats a lot more comfortable, as well as the fact they recline, you also get some nice freebies in terms of coffee (or tea), mineral water, and on this journey even a little fruit cake to go with the coffee, as well as some crisps. A sandwich was on offer for lunch too but I declined as it was egg and cress, which is just vile as sandwich combinations go. Still, it was as journeys should be, and all the staff were friendly, helpful and polite too, so kudos to Transpennine Express there.

The train got in to Glasgow Central on time and I thought that some lunch may be in order. However, Marks and Spencer stopped their excellent £2 meal deal, so it was next door to Boots to get all the goodies for their meal deal (even had a blackcurrant granola yoghurt thing, was lovely). I took the lunch with me to Ibis so that I could have it in the comfort of the hotel room, and soon walked through the city centre to the Ibis and remembered my way, which made me feel pretty chuffed. I checked in the Ibis and the member of staff there thought that he recognised me from somewhere for some reason, despite my last stay being eighteen months ago. Spooky or what eh? Well I'd like to think so.

I had lunch and then headed out along Sauchiehall Street, admiring the architecture and also noting that there were many pound shops along here. One of them virtually faces the iconic Willow Tea Rooms, and also has a claim to be the biggest pound store in the UK. I went in and it looked okay, and certainly it was full of shoppers attempting to grab a veritable bargain, although the CDs and DVDs for that price didn't look like up to much to be honest, probably some reworked versions of songs not by the original artists (and we know how rubbish they can be, eh?)

After this it was time for a break (especially as I'd climbed the 20% hill up to the Glasgow School of Art to have a walk around there and it was a pretty hefty climb!) and so it was into the Willow Tea Rooms. The bottom floor is home to Henderson's Jewellers, and unsurprisingly, had tons of Rennie Mackintosh stuff on sale. The Tea Rooms on the first floor is a step back in time, gorgeous china plates and mugs, plenty of delicious cakes, and like Betty's Tea Rooms in York, they also do a mean afternoon tea, which I saw someone having and gasped at the amount piled on there. I decided a nice pot of tea and a carrot cake would do the job, and both of which were really rather lovely, well worth the trip in. It was tempting to stay in there for longer and admire the Rennie Mackintosh artworks, but felt the need to press on.

I walked then down to the far end of Sauchiehall Street, down Buchanan Street with its gorgeous shops and architecture of the buildings, before walking past the still being built new St Enoch Centre, and along the riverbank past the suspension pedestrian bridge and onward past the 13th Note café, well loved by the indie fraternity in the city (and I did go in there last time I was here, so wanted to get reacquainted). Then it was back along one of the main streets towards Glasgow Central station, and I stopped in HMV to have a look at the games for the Wii. They also had Guitar Hero Metallica on demo for the Xbox 360, so I had to have a blast and do one of the songs there, namely Suicidal Tendencies' "War Inside My Head". I did pretty well and left the game on selecting that tune, so that the staff in HMV could bow to the superior rock act that is ST (I texted my ST-mad friend, needless to say he was well pleased!)

After more walking round the city, it was back to the Ibis and then I headed out to one of the local pubs to have something to eat for tea. When I saw the menu I smiled as it was the same menu as one of the pubs near work has, and for the same prices too. So it was a smothered chicken for me and some mineral water to go along with it, which did the job wonderfully well. Then back to watch the cricket and get myself showered and ready for the relatively short walk round the corner to King Tut's Wah Wah Hut.

On first were Beerjacket (myspace) which was basically one man and his acoustic guitar, and also a kick tambourine which he'd hit to have a beat and timing. He sounded pretty good and most of the stuff he played was off his forthcoming album, and that sounded promising. Lots of tales of sadness and, as he admitted, some of it might be scary, but he had a good voice and a grasp of the acoustic guitar as well as being able to really captivate an appreciative audience with what he sang. Out of what he played, "Barricade" was my favourite, as he built up the beat and sounded more passionate throughout the track.

Soon it was time for Kristin Hersh (official site) (myspace) and she did not disappoint one bit. I was right at the front as well and the audience were completely silent for the gig, none of this talking malarkey, which I was very pleased about. As well as playing some of her recent solo stuff (available via CASH Music for free, folks) there was a smattering of Appalachian folk songs, some of which reminded me of her "Murder Misery and Goodnight" album which is of the same ilk, and of course plenty of classic solo stuff as well. It was really hard to take it all in because it all felt so intimate and lovely, which is a good thing of course.

If I had to pick some favourites from the selection, well there was "Pearl" from Throwing Muses' "Red Heaven" album, and her intro to explain the song really did make everyone smile, there was the gorgeously delicate "Sno Cat" and "Deep Wilson" from "The Grotto" album, which sounded really nice stripped bare, but most of all the wonderful "Me and My Charms" from "Hips and Makers" which, even with one solo electric guitar, sounded stunning, so that's tune of the day for me. Nice also that she did "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" as I really like the treatment that she gave that song, and especially so here. You also got the likes of "Slippershell" as well as the all time classic "Your Ghost" (which she tends to play in a different key).

The gig was supposed to finish at 11pm but she kept going till 11.15pm and everyone had to leave quickly, but it was an excellent gig and really sets the scene well for when I go to York on Friday and Burnley on Sunday, complete with The Star In My Sky, so that'll be something to look forward to (as well as Morrissey in between on the Saturday). Hurrah for gigs!

Sunday 17th May - We're On The Telly!

It was a very relaxing Saturday evening in the company of The Star In My Sky, as she came over, we had some pork with honey and mustard sauce and rice (which worked really well actually) and then settled in for a couple of games of Scrabble, my best move being ZINC and CHEAT, scoring a massive 70 points (the Z was on double letter, and both words were double word, yaay) but it was all good fun. I played some of the new CDs I'd picked up, and she quite liked the Ryan Adams one but wasn't too sure about Seasick Steve. We turned on the telly just as the Eurovision voting was taking place, and surprise surprise, it wasn't as rigged as it usually is, although there were still plenty of occasions of countries giving their friends top marks. The UK finished fifth which is pretty decent, and Norway was the deserved winner, even if he was trying to be Seth Lakeman or Athene from 3 Daft Monkeys and failing.

We decided to head out to Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, not least because it was National Trust so we'd get in and get parking for free. We set off and the rain started to hammer down, which didn't please us so much, but it did stop when we got there. We got our tickets so we could go round the mill and The Apprentice House (timed guided tours only for that one) and so went round the mill first. It was fascinating stuff, especially as I remembered going as a child and not having enough time to see all the mill, so it was good to see everything working, especially all the massive looms that would process the cotton, and indeed several of the water features, notably the absolutely massive water wheel, a thing of immense size and beauty.

We had a look at some of the way steam was being used to power some of the machinery, and some of that was used in a room giving you an example of steam power, with a pan lid almost coming off its pan, which was good stuff all round. We also crawled (literally) to where the chimney of the mill is, so you could look up and see the sky from right at the top while you're stood in a tiny enclosure at the bottom (and it's one at a time in there, let me tell you). When we walked outside afterwards, we noted that the water wheel was maintained by sponsorship in that each of its "buckets" were donated or paid for. Being a Factory Records fan, I couldn't help but smile when I noticed FAC 148 was one of the sponsors - one of Factory's usual tricks so that no collector could collect everything by them! Actually it's one of forty eight buckets, so the numbering does actually make some sense as well.

After a spot of lunch, which was very nice, it was then a walk uphill to the Apprentice House, close to where you come to the main entrance. There was a guide ringing a bell just before 3pm and everyone went in to have a look. He explained each room and what it was used for, including the girls' dorms, where sixty girls in thirty beds (two per bed) would share a room. There was a family with two girls, and the look on their faces when our guide explained about the little buckets used for collectiing faeces (and in the middle of the night) as well as the fact that if you wet the bed, you knew about it, was a classic look of "noooo!". It made us both smile anyway. We went downstairs also to see the Superintendent's living area, and the kitchen, which looked very impressive with its fire and its two cookers that looked very pre-Aga type indeed.

Unfortunately it was throwing it down by the time we left there, so it was a case of heading back to the car and going back to mine. I put on FIFA 09 for the Wii and did one of the Footii modes, where you juggle a ball by responding to the control commands on screen. The Star had a go, and to see her little Mii character doing serious skills with the ball made us both smile, and she did very well. In fact I had a go too and got to level six, so that made me feel pretty good. We tried the 8 versus 8 Footii Match, with us both on the England team, and beat USA 4-0 with some great strikes from us both. She was getting the hang of it nicely, and said that she didn't mind that as the controls were pretty good and that being able to play as your Mii makes it a bit better. I'd be inclined to agree, although later I did start the FA Cup as Manchester City to see how far I'd get!

Then it was on with Sky One for Don't Forget The Lyrics. When the contestant came on we knew that it was the one that we'd been to the recording of some time ago, and we watched eagerly to spot ourselves on the telly. And there we were! In fact we saw ourselves several times, as we were the end of the row just to the right of the scoreboard, about four rows up. It's amazing just how easy it is to spot yourself on there when you know what you're looking for. It was good fun, of course, and I distinctly remember asking for "Off The Telly" on numerous occasions until the contestant decided to have a go of it, and then to my disgust he shunned Vonda Shepard's "Searching My Soul" (tune of the day incidentally, I played that later and it was ace!) - for the theme tune from Friends. Still, no accounting for taste eh?

Saturday 16th May - Gift Card Mania

I decided after breakfast and tablets to head into the city centre, as I wanted to use my gift cards that people had very kindly got for my birthday (including several on The Star In My Sky's side of the family) and also see what I could get. What I decided to do was combine by birthday lists and take that with me, so if I did get anything that it would be from the list, thus meaning that I'd satisfied my wishlist nicely. I guess when you listen to music as much as I do often, it's definitely a case of being able to keep an eye on what's out there and get things that you like.

So, first stop, Fopp. My brother had got me a gift card for there and he did tell me last night that they had several t-shirts from two quid, not least a Guitar Hero one and some Joy Division ones. The Joy Division ones were all small (meh) but found the Guitar Hero one for two quid, and that fitted the bill nicely. I also picked up three CDs too: Seasick Steve's "I Started Out With Nothin' And Still Got Most Of It Left", which I'd been after for a while, Ryan Adams' "Gold" (which I was also after too - especially as I really like "Easy Tiger") and one that had been on my list for absolutely ages, Juliette and the Licks' "You Speak My Language", which of course rocks. I even had a latte in Fopp to celebrate the bargain purchases.

It was then on to all three Manchester branches of HMV (they bought out the old Zavvi in the Arndale, so they have that one, the big one on Market Street and the small one on Market Street, which was the only branch of HMV for ages and I used to buy a lot of singles in there. I really wanted Guitar Hero World Tour for the Wii (surprise surprise eh?) and so thought that it'd be quite good to get hold of it. Well, the big Market Street one didn't have it, the Arndale one had it but for forty quid (ouch!) and the little Market Street one had one in their "re-played" section for twenty eight quid. I checked it out and seemed almost perfect new condition, so that was mine along with the Joy Division DVD (the documentary one, not Control, already got that) which used up three of the four HMV gift cards that I had.

I used the other gift card in the larger HMV, getting PJ Harvey and John Parish's album "A Woman A Man Walked By". I've got a soft spot for PJ Harvey's music to be honest (I have "Dress" on 12" single, in fact) and so it made sense to get hold of the album now, effectively for free, so I could enjoy that one. I even got the more limited card sleeve variation thrown into the bargain, cos I can. Well, why the hell not eh? I got the 50 bus later, as I wanted to stop by the local Blockbuster near me, and that worked out well. I wanted to get "Boogie" with the microphone, cos I could use the microphone on Guitar Hero World Tour and having played the game at my friend's, it was pretty okay. I noticed it was £18 or two for thirty, so can you guess what I did? Yep. I bought Fifa 09 at the same time for the Wii as well! Well, why not, a little treat to myself on pay day after all.

I got home, had lunch, and admired my purchases before starting to catch up on the diary and indeed listen to some of the CDs that I'd purchased. I felt pretty chuffed all round with the Seasick Steve album and tune of the day is "Just Like A King", which has no less than Nick Cave co-writing the song and he and the rest of the Grinderman project helping out on the song. Ah, such is bliss when you listen to two geniuses on one song. Now to get to Fifa 09 and try out the Footii mode with the Mii characters...

Friday 15th May - Three Levels Of Waiting

When is a waiting room not a waiting room? When it's at Manchester Royal Infimary of course. After I'd been to A and E and be seen by the ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor on Tuesday, I had an appointment to go back this morning and get checked out properly and to see if the tablets that I was taking were doing any good. I had noticed a lump building on my left side which I was hoping just the gland expanding a little like the one on the right side feels like, and thought it best to mention it to the doctor a little later just to be sure he knew about it.

Anyway, I checked in at the desk, and had a waiting room there with chairs. I then was called in to a second waiting room, where the ENT specialists were, and they would then call you from there either to see the specialist or wait outside their office in order to be seen by the specialist, which happened to me, so three levels of waiting. Is that me, or does it seem extraordinarily long-winded just to actually get to be seen by someone? And worse was to come, which didn't make me happy one bit. The ENT nurse had given my file to the specialist, but didn't tell him I was outside waiting and so called in two more patients' appointments before mine. I had to remind the nurse that I was next and she was apologetic, but how the bloody hell can they make such basic mistakes?

Thankfully the ENT specialist was at least friendly, and he checked me over, I mentioned the left side lump and he probably said it was dealing with the infection or responding to the drugs I was taking, so not to worry too much. He did however suggest that I return back in a month or so for a blood test, which the receptionist had no idea about, and so it was a case of them saying "oh, we'll just mail you out the appointment". Nice to see I was being taken seriously then. It does make me wonder though if this is the level of health care that I've had in this one experience, whether it shows just how bad things have become and how that the basics aren't being handled correctly. I now everyone isn't like this (indeed my cousin and her husband both do a wonderful job in their line of work and I know they'd be praised highly up here) and indeed the local GP is a bloody good one, which is why I wanted to stay with them when I moved house (and thankfully I'm just inside their coverage area too, hurrah!)

Enough ranting. I got back to the office, nailed the last bit of the EndNoteWeb extension puzzle (you have to log in to EndNoteWeb first before you can click the "capture" button and the capture then works, otherwise it doesn't handle things correctly) and emailed one of my colleagues who was looking at it. She asked how I was and was very nice about everything, which makes life so much easier to be honest. Hurrah! I went to lunch in Sandbar with three of my colleagues, and I asked our webmaster about Cheltenham Spa station (he has family there). He told me it's just one platform each way and relatively small, which got me thinking. You see, I wanted to avoid changing at Birmingham New Street station when heading to Cornwall in July, and to be honest, the 14 minute changeover involves stairs, escalators etc, which I didn't want to do.

Later on I had booked the trains down to Cornwall and all was sorted. The train I wanted didn't seem to have a cheap advance fare, so instead I craftily booked the 0800 Manchester to Cheltenham Spa, then from there the 1052 Cheltenham Spa to Penzance train. I had to do them separately, but this meant a nicer twenty five minute changeover at Cheltenham Spa, and no change of platform, which when lugging your cases, is bloody handy. It also meant that the total fare for First Class Advance (well, we're allowed a bit of luxury on the journey aren't we?) was £50.50 each (£20 for Manchester to Cheltenham Spa, £30.50 for Cheltenham Spa to Penzance) so that was good, and in fact when the advance tickets were released for the 0827 change at Birmingham effort (which is the same train that is Cheltenham Spa to Penzance) the first class was £55.50 advance, so I'd also saved a fiver into the bargain. What makes me smile most is that CrossCountry try to advise you to avoid Birmingham and Cheltenham Spa is one of their choices, so I'd done the right thing too. Needless to say The Star In My Sky was well chuffed.

After I'd gone home, nipped on the bus to Tesco Extra Gorton and got the food shopping etc, it was then a case of wrap up presents, write out card and head over to see my relation. They only live round the corner from me, so it was good to see everyone, and indeed to see how their loft conversion was going on. It looked well, the staircase was spot on, and the room looked light and airy, especially with the skylight and all. In fact almost all of the family came over, so it was nice to see everyone, and especially the little ones, who were all playful and excited too. Awww. I had a fair bit of food and chatted to everyone, and it was good to see such a nice turnout. It was a good time really, and my female relation thanked me lots for her presents, and even asked where The Star was (she was working late) which I didn't expect - not least cos you don't assume they're invited really.

Got home later and felt pretty tired as the antibiotics and tablets were kicking in and I wanted an early night, so it was a case of checking mails, listening to some Prodigy ("Action Radar" is tune of the day because it sounds explosive, punky and not at all necessarily that easy to dance to - ha!) and then seeing what the night had to offer in terms of late night telly before heading to bed and relaxing a fair bit. It was nice to sleep in nice crisp clean sheets, that's for sure!

Thursday 14th May - Every Little Helps

I felt pretty good when I woke up this morning, and so decided to head back to work. I don't like taking time off poorly, especially if I know that I should be able to manage the day. In any case, I felt rather productive as I re-arranged some training and also when that was done looked at setting the configuration for Mozilla Firefox 3 and getting that nailed. One last thing to do was to include the extension for the EndNote Web plugin so that it worked for all users. You see, because the plugin's actually a Firefox extension, it'll normally install on a per-user basis. Now, we lock down the config so that users can't add all sorts of crap (which is absolutely essential let me tell you) and so it was a case of seeing how the extension installed itself. It actually made two config changes to the preferences in prefs.js, so I needed to re-export that and also then test.

It all seemed fine, the buttons did what they were supposed to do, and indeed everything worked. Incidentally, for Firefox 3, you can stop it creating the Recent Tags and Recent Bookmarks and saving them to the bookmarks file every time, and also keep the bookmarks portable in one html file. You will though need to hack nsBrowserGlue.js to be able to do it, and know which lines to remove. Once you've managed that, it won't add them at all, which means exporting the bookmarks back to html on exit (instead of sqlite that it now uses) doesn't include them - as then logging back in as a user would attempt to recreate all that recent stuff which you don't need. See? Clever, isn't it? If you're interested, get in touch and I can send you the file for version 3.0.10, so you can see which bits have been removed.

After all that excitement, it was off to the city centre after work, as it was one of my relations' birthdays tomorrow and I wanted to get them something nice. They had been at Mum's on Sunday, and had missed The Da Vinci Code, and so I thought "easy solution - get them the DVD!". My relation also had dropped hints some wine would be nice too, and I thought also that a little Lush gift box would round it off perfectly. Anyway, headed into the Tesco Metro on Market Street, and they had the Da Vinci Code DVD for a good price, and also the Hardy's Crest Chardonnay Pinot Noir. It's cracking stuff if you want a sparkly wine with some quality (and let's face it, Hardy's Crest is bloody good stuff - check the shiraz if you don't believe me) - and then I found a nice card and wrapping paper roll, so almost everything in one go. I went through the checkout, and all sorted, and the DVD was even ten percent extra off. Every little does help, then!

I went to Lush, got a nice little gift box sorted (they're just so lovely) and then headed home, attempting as much as possible to avoid the incessant rain. Thankfully there was no rain later on as The Star In My Sky headed over, and I made us some pasta and meatballs for tea whilst she divulged about work and how it was getting her down. I did note a job at Cheshire East Council which might be just the job for her, so I mentioned it and we had a look on the Wii later to see what the specification was. I have a feeling she might apply, not least to see what's out there but also as I have a feeling that there's more than she's letting on about how things are - we shall see.

We ended up with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Wii for bit and both did the javelin, where me as Knuckles broke the world record twice, and having checked online, my 114 plus metres puts me in the top four thousand or so in the world, which isn't too bad at all. It's a case of getting everything right and then releasing right at the last second to get the distance spot on, but it worked well, as did the table tennis later. I think The Star would prefer the controls on that one to be more like the tennis on Wii Sports (would have been nice to have that option) but the serving, unless you know what you're doing, proves to be not that easy as it could be really. As for tune of the day, it's got to be "The Number of the Beast" by Iron Maiden, purely because in HMV I saw someone playing Guitar Hero III, and even though it wasn't that tune, it just reminded me of me playing that song for the first time attempting to rock out to Maiden. Oh yes. Cue Butthead: "Maiden rule!". He's not far wrong, you know.

Wednesday 13th May - Rest And Relaxation

I rang the office this morning and told them that I wasn't coming in, and they were completely understanding about the whole thing. For them, they had seen how not good I was and so they knew I wasn't faking anything whatsoever. The plan of action was to get the duvet, sit comfortably on the sofa, watch some telly and DVDs, and take it relatively easy, which is pretty much it. I really wanted to avoid any daytime television, as it saps the soul big time, so it was a case of whacking on the "Formula 1 - Racing Through Time" DVD that The Star In My Sky had got for me for my birthday. It has a history of three great circuits, along with clips of the races from a bygone era, so the old Nürburgring, Monaco and Silverstone, which from its humble beginnings was a real racers' track and of course held the distinction of holding the first ever Formula 1 race back in 1950. And yet Bernie Ecclestone still wants it to move to Donington. Sheesh.

After that it was a quick blast of Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games on the Wii, and I just wanted to see if I could win all field events as one of the characters, so I chose Tails as I'd already won a couple of those events with him. Soon I'd won the rest and unlocked an emblem for playing through a gold medal on all the athletics field events, and that seemed to work pretty well. What works for me for that game is the controls - they're pretty intuitive most of the time and you know what you're doing when you play it - even if the trampolining is a combination move and a half of A, B and twisting the remote to get the moves done well.

I nipped over to the local bakery and got myself a nice sandwich for lunch and took the tablets I needed to take, and then it was a case of making myself a coffee and settling in for the afternoon, switching between the horse racing and latterly the cricket, as Lancashire were at Derbyshire in the Friends Provident Trophy, and if Lancashire won they would be in the quarterfinals, so all to play for. The racing at Exeter was a bit odd at first as the fog over the track made it hard to see, but cleared up later, and of course there's Fontwell. It's a bizarre track, the hurdles goes round the outside, and the chase course is a figure of eight with two batches of three fences on each of the straights, and in each case is just over a mile long, it's a really different place and often form goes out of the window - as it did today.

After Lancashire had put together a very nifty two hundred and ninety-odd from their alotted fifty overs, it was time to whack on a DVD during the break, so I put on the rather nice Wallace and Gromit DVD "A Matter of Loaf and Death" that I'd got, and watched that, which made me smile. I really like Gromit, he's one of my little heroes out there, says all he needs to without saying anything, which is what we all could do with doing sometimes. And the theme tune by Julian Nott is tune of the day because it's so intrinsically Northern (remembering that Wallace and Gromit are supposed to live in Wigan, of course) and because you know that when it's on, it's time for the two heroes. Yaay.

Back to the cricket on Sky Sports HD3 (moved from HD1 to accommodate Man U, meh) it was a case of the occasional rain interruption, but on the whole, a case of Lancashire trying to keep the Derbyshire batsmen at bay. The key moment happened before one rain stoppage, it was the first over of spin from Gary Keedy and he managed to get Chris Rogers of Derbyshire caught and bowled. Rogers had made sixty odd in almost as many balls and it was a relief that he was out. From then Derbyshire collapsed, due to some good consistent bowling from Keedy, Sajid Mahmood et al, and before that Rogers wicket, it was 99 for 1, which eventually became 139 for 9. Although there was a last wicket stand of some description, it ended up being a 114 run win under those Duckworth and Lewis people, as the rain had reduced it to 48 overs instead of the full 50. It was a really good effort though and Lancashire hopefully can try to get a home draw for the quarters, so we shall see how that works in reality.

I turned over just as the final whistle went at Wigan, and Man U had won 2-1 despite being a goal down, so that wasn't good. At all. A point at home against Arsenal on Saturday would be enough for them to win the title now, so I switched that right over and caught up with Ashes to Ashes that I'd somehow missed on the Monday evening for some reason, so all was good really.

Tuesday 12th May - A and E and I

Well, today was, shall we say, rather eventful to say the least. I was at work, and working on doing some training for library staff later in the day, when at lunchtime, I felt quite tired but also quite sore, particularly in the right hand side of my face. When I looked, all the swelling on the face from the infection had got worse, and it didn't somehow feel quite right to me. I rang the local GP and thankfully was able to get an appointment for 3.50pm, and was allowed to finish early so that I could go there and get things checked out. Something wasn't right: the right side of the face also felt very warm to the touch and I knew somehow that the antibiotics weren't doing right.

I saw one of the doctors at the GP's, and she said to me immediately that it didn't look good whatsoever and may be an abcess as well as an infection, and she wanted me to go straight to the Manchester Royal Infirmary to see a specialist in ENT (ear nose and throat) and that I should admit myself in Accident and Emergency as soon as possible. Now, the local GP is thankfully only down the road from the Infirmary, so within around fifteen minutes I had checked in to A and E (they still had my Mum's address for some reason so needed to get that sorted first) and then waited just to be checked out by one of the nurses in triage.

By this point in time, The Star In My Sky had got herself home from work and checked with me if I wanted her to come over to the hospital. I did, to be honest, if anyone was going to keep me sane during this period it would be her. I'd let Mum know what was going on and she spoke to me as well (had to of course go outside as the use of phones aren't allowed) and I said that I'd keep her posted and for her not to worry. I felt it best, because I didn't want Mum dashing down (even though I know she would at the drop of a hat) as she had my sister's son, and that would be a massive upheval to be honest, so I felt that if she knew I was okay that would appease her.

Considering I'd been seen by triage at 4.15pm, by 6pm I was starting to think that they had all forgotten about me, so I enquired nicely at the desk if anyone from ENT was coming. The receptionist calmly explained that they were usually on clinic till then, so someone should come over. And ten minutes later, they did. In fact the nurse did apologise as she'd only been informed at that point that I was in there waiting. Full marks to the receptionist, as I think she double checked and to her horror had found no one was coming, but you have to ask somehow how long I would have been waiting otherwise.

The nurse wasn't the nicest person in the world to be honest, I opened the mouth, said "awww" and all the usual stuff, but it felt really like she would rather be at home with a cup of tea. Well, erm, so would I, but it's clear to see I wasn't too good. At one point I did hear discussion about keeping me in overnight (which I wouldn't have minded and was prepared for to be honest) and then whilst I was sat in the chair the nurse went off and didn't come back for over ten minutes, which made me wonder just what the hell was going on. Eventually she came back, told me they still reckoned it was just an infection and gave me some new tablets - two sets of them actually. She told me to stop the other ones and just take these - one three times a day and the other two times a day. I worked out in the head how I'd achieve this and went from there.

The Star very kindly was waiting for me all this time - she is such a star you know - and we then headed back in her car, first to my Mum's, so that Mum could stop fretting and see that I was actually okay and well enough, and then back to mine, where we had a quick chat and then she gave me a massive hug, told me that I needed to make myself some tea, get myself off to bed and make sure that I take the tablets. She said it with such calmness that it made me feel less panicky about the tablets - one of them is massive and no wonder it was film coated to make swallowing that little bit easier. I made myself some chicken and rice, had the tablets and relaxed with some music before I headed to bed, with tune of the day "Sleep" by Marion in my head, cos that's what I wanted to do right now. And besides, the harmonica on that track is superb. So there.

Monday 11th May - All Over Now For Little Tesco

Back to work for me today and a bit of a shock as I got to the bus stop and spotted one of my colleagues who gets on the same bus, who told me that overnight there'd been a fire and that the local Tesco Metro, which of course was my regular shopping haunt now, had been damaged badly and with most of the roof off. I at first thought it was in jest, but then as he divulged all the details, I realised that actually he wasn't kidding at all and that it was all very real. Seeing that on the BBC Manchester news site later only confirmed how gutted I was going to feel.

Let me explain: where I live, Tesco Metro is the only supermarket we have. The nearest others are all a bit of a distance: Netto's around a half mile or so, Lidl and Asda a mile away and as for Sainsbury's and Morrison's, the distance isnt even worth thinking about. So when Tesco opened the Metro much closer to me, it was win win. I could recycle my shopping bags, thus endorsing some green credentials, and earn points at the same time. And it also meant that I could walk it to and from there, thus giving me some useful weight training carrying the shopping home again. Anyone who's had to carry their food shopping on the bus knows how much fun it isn't.

As the day wore on, it transpired that it looks like it had been started deliberately, and that didn't surprise me. All round there at the moment the gas pipes and such like are being replaced, so it's only going to take one scroat with an ounce of thought to fill a canister, set it alight, place it somewhere handy and away you go. But on the other hand, the mindless actions of some has caused pain to others: where will the locals go now, I wonder? And will indeed Tesco even re-open? After all, if you know something like this is set to happen, you just know that it's a lost cause. My colleague told me of some kids causing the security people all sorts of hassle recently. Makes me despair.

Anyway, so after work and after I'd got my recyclable bags, it was a decision: do I go to Cooltrader, which is okay for little things now and then, or do I venture out to another place? I ended up on the bus to another Tesco, and managed to get what I needed in pretty quick time so I could then head on the bus back homeward. But still, that didn't feel as convenient, and of course if you're not used to a layout, you end up attempting to find stuff that you would normally know where it is, but still.

As for tune of the day, well I decided that I wanted to go on an old school indie trail, so saw what I'd transferred to the iPod and whacked on the likes of Bennet, The Breeders, Pixies, and so on, before going back to The Breeders' lovely "No Aloha", just summed up the feelings of the day really. No bye, no aloha, and that's how it feels for those near me with nowhere to go for their weekly shop.

Sunday 10th May - Come In Number Thirty Seven

So it's my thirty-seventh birthday today (not that I like keeping count) and woke up in Ibis Euston with the best birthday present of all snuggled up next to me - The Wrapping On My Presents. Awww. She had been wanting me to wake up as she was so excited about giving me some of my presents, which she had brought with her in her overnight case so that I could open them on the morning. How nice was that of her? Very. It made me feel so humble that she had spent so much on me and treated me with so much kindness. I got a lovely card which made me feel very special indeed, and the words inside were sweet, and then she was practically pleading with me to open the presents. And wow!

I felt like a big kid at Christmas (and it's not even Christmas, woo!). I opened the presents there and there was the Weezer red album CD, a two hour DVD of three great Grand Prix tracks (including Monaco and the original Nürburgring!), the old retro Manchester City red and black away shirt, the Ted Baker skinwear eau de toilette and shower gel set, and 3 Daft Monkeys' "Social Vertigo" on CD as well. Wow. I felt so chuffed to bits with all that lot, and that would have been more than enough but she said there was something at her place later. She spoilt me!!

We had a nice relaxing shower each and then got ourselves all changed and ready, and headed out via a little café for a croissant and on to Euston to get the 0920 train to Manchester. We did at least treat ourselves this time to First Class, and good job we did - of course as the Manchester derby was on later that day, guess what the train was full of? Yes, you guessed it - Man U fans, proving that once and for all they don't come from Manchester. It made me smile knowing that my theory was being proven right before my eyes and that. We did get some free coffee and soft drinks, of course the weekend service is nowhere near like what it normally is in the week in First Class, but still decent enough I suppose.

We got back into Manchester on time and headed on the bus back to The Wrapping's place, so we could drop off what we needed and then after a quick pit stop head back out on the road to the other side of Chorley, where we'd meet up with some of her family for something that's important to their side, and something I wanted to be at with The Wrapping because I felt strongly it was the right thing to do (even though both The Wrapping and her sister said they didn't mind if I didn't go.) Before that, I opened the last couple of presents - the Rosina Wachtmeister place mats and coasters that I'd seen ages ago (and they look gorgeous!!) and a little Lush Honey I Washed The Kids soap as well - how nice was all that?

We did the family thing and joined them near Chorley, and that all went well, and then went to a local pub nearby. Everyone was eating but as my Mum was feeding us later, we joined them for a drink beforehand. I got collared over by The Wrapping's nephews and nieces to help them on the quiz machine to win some money, but that was quite flattering: most of them have met me before and so it was good that they felt like they could approach me for some assistance and thought that I was clever enough. Yaay! All The Wrapping's family even got me some nice HMV vouchers and indeed some nice cards, and a little F1 DVD and book too, which was so nice of them. I feel really accepted and that means a lot to me.

We headed back down the M61 and off to me Mum's, where Mum was making us both a Sunday roast and birthday tea, and that all worked out rather well. We had a good natter to Mum for ages, and to my two brothers, and the food was delicious, even if Mum served way too much even though I asked her for less, it was still so lovely to have. It was nice to have the five of us for tea and having such a nice time of it overall, and Mum even brought in a cake with candles to sing Happy Birthday. Awwwww. I know! Mum got me the Deluxe Edition of Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" CD, my brother got me the Audrey Hepburn DVD box set (five of her films in, yaay) and my other brother got me a gift card for Fopp. Win win win all round!

After tea, my uncle and auntie came round with their two kids as well, and had a good chat to them, showed everyone the pics about Knutsford Royal May Day and they'd got the the Killers' "Day and Age" CD and a gift card for HMV, so that was nice too. In fact I'm going to give The Killers' "Human" tune of the day cos it's a great tune, and I felt like I wasn't human a couple of days ago but much better now and being able to celebrate properly. Yaay! The day was all good, and reflected back at mine later with The Wrapping on how lovely it all was and how lucky I was really. I felt so happy and so priveleged that everyone's been so nice - and it's been such a good birthday all round. So, how old am I again? ;)

Saturday 9th May - Doing The Indie Kid

As part of the whole birthday weekend, I'd booked a trip down to London a couple of months back - and with good reason. It was no less than the album launch gig for MJ Hibbett and the Validators' new album "Regardez Ecoutez et Repetez" and I of course wanted to be there to enjoy the whole show and indeed see a gig as close to my birthday as possible (last year as you know I saw Pete Green at Notting Hill Arts Club on the actual day, woo!). I had booked the trains so that I'd be coming back on the Sunday, and also the Ibis hotel at Euston so that it was an easy walk from the station to the hotel and back again on Sunday morning, as the train back tomorrow was setting off early (there's reasons for that, of course!)

As I knew the day was going to be long and because I wasn't quite 100%, especially with the antibiotics starting their course, I had a lie in, and I must admit that did feel good to have a bit of rest and relaxation along the way, because I felt inside that I'd needed a good long sleep to fight the pain off a fair bit. Anyway, I woke up and it was pretty much action stations, so shaved, showered, overnight bag packed and then off to the train station, remembering the all important hotel reservation and train tickets as well as the trusty Oyster card, or else I wasn't going anywhere fast when I was down there. I met up with The Wrapping On My Presents and we got ourselves a lunchtime meal deal in Marks and Spencer Food and stocking as required for the train journey ahead - as we were standard class on the way there for a mere £8 each (couldn't argue with that!)

The journey down to London was typically efficient Virgin - in fact the 1215 departure even got into Euston some five minutes early, so that was a good bonus. We left Euston station and walked around the corner - literally - to where Ibis is, and checked in. The Wrapping was impressed with the room, nice firm comfortable bed, LCD television in front with a good channel selection, space to hang your stuff, a good sized shower/bath with toilet, and tea and coffee making etc, all you needed really. Certainly it felt a step up from the Travelodge anyway and so that felt good to do (although I did book the Ibis in Glasgow when seeing Kristin Hersh later this month as it was only a couple of pounds dearer than Travelodge, and I've stayed there before, so I knew what to expect) and with stuff dropped off, it was time to head out into the Spring sunshine.

We decided to walk up to Regent's Park, and that for me was nice to do in that for all my visits to London, I'd never been there, surprisingly. We walked down one of the main boulevards, admiring the plants and also the little cafés et al, and soon reached the point of being close to London Zoo. It was pretty busy and indeed plenty of people were paying the vastly overpriced fee as well, more fool them we reckoned, and we headed along and back through the west side of the park, and towards the Hub, where we could have an orange juice and watch the cricket matches going on - and plenty of women's cricket too, emphasising that the Women's World Cup win really has given the sport a boost and a half.

After that stop, it was then along the path Southwards, round the outer edge of the boating lake and over the Hanover bridges, and alongside the boating lake for a while, where plenty of people were attempting (but failing!) to show off on their pedaloes, especially when they couldn't even steer it properly and had to get their little ones to show them how the steering was done, which made us chuckle. Also what surprised me were the herons all around there and indeed how close up the ducks wanted to come to say hello, which was all good. We then exited the park, walked past the millions of American tourists outside Madame Tussaud's and Baker Street, and headed on the bus back to Euston and to Ibis for a bit of a break and a change before we headed out to the gig later on.

My brainwave was that it'd be worth us finding something close to the Ibis to eat and then go to the gig, as being in New Oxford Street, all the eateries around there would most likely be pretty busy all round and also might not serve us as well or as quickly. It turned out to be a good move as we walked along Drummond Street from the Ibis and past Calumet and further down was the gorgeous The Crown and Anchor. Describing itself as Euston's best kept secret, it's not wrong, let me tell you. The bar had plenty of drinks choice, and the fact that they asked The Wrapping which white wine she wanted said a lot. In fact had I been allowed to drink, the cask ales on offer all looked rather appetising too, and the selection of drink overall was great. But not just that. Oh no. The food was something else.

Those of you who read my diatribes will know that I often complain about pies, notably when they have a pastry case lid on with the filling in a dish, and are just a cop out for a real pie as they should be made. Well, if you want a proper pie, get down to the Crown and Anchor. One of the specials was another variation that they do: a chicken and bacon pie with red wine, and it was that with some home made mash and some seasonal vegetables. How nice? Well, very. It was wholesome, filling, the pastry was melty, and in fact it is my second favourite pie at the moment (only The White Hart in St Austell's unbelievably good steak and Tribute ale one wins against it). The Wrapping told me the look of happiness on my face when I saw that it was a proper pie said it all - and it did. Her burger was massive too - goat's cheese and red onion came with it, and a slab of goat's cheese at that. The burger needed a wooden stake through the middle to keep it upright!! Add to that some skin on chips which looked delicious, and win win all round. So, if you're ever around there, get down there!!

Suitably filled, it was off on the bus to the The Fly where tonight's action was happening, and we soon found it on New Oxford Street and paid the £5 in to be ready to rock big time. We got a drink at the bar and I spotted Pete, who normally goes to the Totally Acoustic nights at The Lamb. He was telling us how it was a whole Yahoo! hack convention down the road so had been there with the laptop and stacked up on caffeine etc before heading to the gig as well as had a bit of fun, sounded all good. Then Typewriter came on. Oh dear. It was one guy with a guitar and backing tracks. His voice was okay but to be honest he droned on a bit like he wanted to be in My Bloody Valentine. Not so good really.

We got another drink and by this time MJ Hibbett and the Validators had all arrived, and I introduced The Wrapping to the members of the band as I saw them, and also to Mark's The Monday Of His Bank Holiday Weekend - and the two girls had a good natter about Dirty Dancing The Musical and how good it was, with of course The Wrapping telling The Monday to get down there with a few girls as time and chance allows. We also heartily recommended Calendar Girls, not least as we'd seen it at The Lowry on tour before settling into the West End, so all was well with the world there I reckoned to my self.

On came The Kiara Elles (myspace) and we both enjoyed them - they were good honest edgy indie pop punk fun. In fact the lead singer Chiara Lucchini reminded me a lot of the singer from The Ting Tings, that same sort of style and attitude and also the vocal delivery, but with a bit more harmony in the voice. I noted that to The Monday and The Wrapping who both agreed with my observation, so all good. Their best tune was probably "Supergroupie" as that really had a good pop edge to it, and certainly the trip down from Leeds was well worth it if they've gained a number of fans from the gig. (One point to note though: always stay to see the main act, so you can pick up from them!)

After a good chat to Frankie Machine about Derby's football season and how not to mention to Tim the drummer about Newcastle United's decline and especially that thug Joey Barton, it was soon time for MJ Hibbett and the Validators (official site) (myspace) to take the stage, and it was a grand gig and a half, let me tell you. In fact The Wrapping enjoyed it more as a group than seeing Mark on his toddles, but that only made me feel better about taking her all the way down here to see an indie band from the Midlands. Starting off with the excellent "The Lesson of the Smiths" (and Mark commented about the best two bands from Manchester, which made me feel homely humble, aww), it was a nice mix of stuff from the new album, including the luscious "Do More, Eat Less", the swooning "We Can Start Having Fun", the fun of "My Boss Was In An Indie Band Once" and the theme of us men aren't all horrible, you just don't know where to look for us anthem of "All The Good Men", to which I pointed at myself when Mark mentioned "we're all down the real ale pub" (cos that would have been me!!) and grinned.

It didn't end there either, we even got the old classic "Billy Jones Is Dead" followed by the even older and played with band (oooh!) "Clubbing in the Week", and ending before the encore with the anthemic as hell "Do The Indie Kid" at which point several of us, including my good self I should note, were actually doing the dance step. I didn't feel daft at all, I just felt like it was all good fun and that those joining in were having a whale of a time. So there. Tune of the day - easily. Add to that an encore of "It Only Works Becuase You're Here" and "Easily Impressed" where everyone in unison yelled out "Oi! Hibbett!" at the right time, and all was well with the world too. Hurrah!

The DJ, who had been playing a selection of top tunes all night, including Roxy Music, The Smiths, Buzzcocks and plenty of alternative classics, didn't want to have to play a mere few minutes' more before we had to be all kicked out before the club night started, but he and the mixing bloke did a great job too, and that just added to the whole feeling of it being a great night, and certainly as the two of us said our farewells and walked back to Euston and to Ibis, I felt ever so happy and proud that I'd been able to share this night with someone special. Yaay for gigs, and yaay for MJ Hibbett and the Validators. And happy birthday to "Tiger" Tom McClure the violinist too, hurrah!

Friday 8th May - The Birthday Weekend Starts Here - Just About!

I woke up this morning, having slept reasonably okay, and realised that the lump that I had felt the other night had positively ballooned over the last couple of nights or so. It really did stick out now and felt quite hard to the touch, and something somewhere didn't feel quite right to me. It was hurting me when I was eating and I didn't really want to face work, but knew that I wasn't on death's door and that I can't really be too mardy in these situations and to get to work. I did though ring the local doctor's, and amazingly on a Friday managed to get a 2pm appointment, so that was a relief.

At the doctor's later, I was checked out and he seemed to confirm what my research on the web early morning before I went to work had brought up - it was a swollen gland and possibly a small infection that was the cause - he called it a sub-something gland, whatever it was. In any case I had to remind the doctor about my allergy to penicillin and for the second time in a couple of months it was me on the erythromycin again - only this time it was the larger 500mg tablet variety. When I looked at the tablets I almost choked at the thought of having to take one of them four times a day, but once I'd calmed down a bit I realised that this was at least going to sort me out so to have done with it and get on with the course.

I did feel like it was proving harder and harder to eat, and I did contemplate cancelling tonight's meal with friends. However, I knew that Italian food wasn't always so difficult to munch, and that I had the antibiotics with me to kick in and get better, so I thought that this would be the worse I'd feel and to go. I got changed into a nice outfit and met The Wrapping On My Presents for a nice quiet drink beforehand. Of course, the antibiotics meant that I wouldn't be able to drink tonight, or on my birthday, so it was soft drinks only for me even though the real ale did look very very tempting, let me tell you.

In the end, the meal at Don Giovanni's was top notch, and certainly well worth the effort. All the food looked and smelt good, and certainly what I had tasted delicious. The staff were very attentive indeed and that was a lovely thing, and they weren't too in your face either. I know my friend told me later that it was the best meal he'd had for a while (we used to go there sometimes with the place we used to work at, when the restaurant was literally over the road from where it is now) and I could well believe that. I had a very wholesome minestrone soup to start followed by a creamy mushroom risotto that had just the right side of richness not to be too much, but there was so much of it that admittedly I couldn't finish it, not because I didn't want to, but because I felt very full indeed. The Wrapping had these really nice mozzarella fingers followed by a gorgeous looking canneloni, and I was sticking with diet and no desserts, although the ones that were on offer all looked darned good.

We had a drink and a chat and generally it was all very lovely indeed, which is how nights out with friends should be. I can heartily recommend going there if you want a good Italian meal for a good price (it was around £110 for the five of us, and that included drinks too, so there you go) and if you want to be well looked after. My friends kindly brought presents for me too, which was lovely, and I was so made up with what they got me: Wallace and Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death, Sledge Hammer Series 2 on DVD, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games and Who wants To Be A Millionaire for the Wii, Elbow's "The Seldom Seen Kid" on CD, and these really nice Morrissey coasters as well, perfect to put your brew on. Excellent all round there, has to be said. It was so nice of them, and The Wrapping admitted to me later that she knew about the coasters: the sneaky sneak! I couldn't help but hum the Wallace and Gromit theme on the way home, so that's tune of the day - it somehow seemed right.

Thursday 7th May - The Power Is In My Hand

It was straight off to my friend's after work, as I was sorting out the PC for him and his wife (my friend too, yaay, isn't life great sometimes?). It turned out a while ago that we discovered that one of the PCs, although it had been running well for some time, only had a measly 300 watt power supply, so when using the nifty Geforce graphics card on there, playing certain games like Lord of the Rings Online resulted in a fair bit of crashing and sometimes the power going off. My estimation was that it was stressing under load and the best solution would be a replacement supply at the very least to ensure the load was good.

My friend decided to go for it in the end: they went to Micro Direct earlier in the day and had bought a 600W power supply beastie, plus two Radeon HD4670 graphics cards and even a device for capturing incoming video, such as the S-Video output of the Sky Plus box (I guess for archiving here, hehe). Anyway, I got there, it all was in bags and ready, but.. when we looked at the power supply's box, it looked like they'd been given a 650W one. Normally this would be reason to be cheerful, but the 600W one had two SATA power connectors, this one only one, and as her CD drive and hard drive were both SATA, a slight problem as to what to do until I suggested we get a SATA power convertor connector and run with that - as the stronger PSU might work out better in the long run anyway.

It turned out that it was a trapise down to PC World in Old Trafford for one, but they had a good branded one and - shock horror - at reasonable price thrown in as well. Who would have thought that, eh? Not certainly me anyway. So it was back to their place and I set about putting the new power supply in, connecting all the drives, inserting the new graphics card (having of course uninstalled the old card drivers before its removal) and badabing, all seemed well. I installed the newest drivers, gave it a bit of a blast and stress tested it with a bit of Lord of the Rings Online and all seemed very well indeed. We then put the new graphics card in my friend's machine, and got that running before connecting the capture USB dongle, and all seemed well there.

My friend noted that he'd heard of the existance a recording of the Ultravox concert from Manchester Apollo that we'd been to, and that the quality was pretty decent. I guess in this day and age anyone could have theoretically sneaked a digital recorder in (even though security are supposed to check these things) or known their mate on the mixing desk, but it always amazes me how often these end up being distributed and indeed when we used to go the old record fairs at New Century Hall, how these bootlegs would be marketed by the traders concerned as "limited edition live CDs" when in fact they clearly weren't, but there you go.

That said, lots of artists are now adopting a model first used in the early 2000s, which used to be called Instant Live (I have the Pop Will Eat Itself CD from the gig I went to in 2005, and the DVD from the night after) and these days you can check out as Concert Live. This way you can either get the recordings a mere 10-15 minutes after the gig, or order them online for a limited time afterwards and get a memento of the event. It does make a lot of sense to me especially as this way you're actually getting the genuine article and putting the money back into the artist - no wonder a fair few acts have signed up. Thinking about the Ultravox gig again, the memories of the brilliant opener "Astradyne" are vivid - not least because my friend's wife and The Wind In My Sails were both unsure if Midge Ure would come on to a massive cheer and sing instead of take part in an epic instrumental. Aha. Tune of the day easy peasy.

Wednesday 6th May - We Can Start Having Fun

It was another pretty rushed around day at the office for me, but nothing that I couldn't really handle. I even had to try and log a call with HP support as one of the A3 printers had decided to go belly flop and go for a dicky fit along the way, and thus logged the call accordingly. However, for some reason, despite us purchasing a HP Care Pack when we got the printer, it didn't seem to think it had been registered, so I had to log the call and mention the fact. Struck me as a bit odd especially as the other printers have the necessary packs registered and all working, but there you go.

Thankfully a much more relaxed me was over to see The Wind In My Sails later, as she had offered to cook for me (and seeing as her cooking is rather lovely it was too good an opportunity to miss, let me tell you). It was a really nice meal of some chicken with mushrooms and barbecue sauce along with some potatoes, carrots and broccoli and all done really nicely. It certainly made me feel a lot more full and content inside, that's for sure, and it's nice that someone makes as much effort as I'd like to do when I am cooking - makes you appreciate the little things like that a heck of a lot more to be honest.

Anyway, we settled in and The Apprentice was on, and is it me, or does the lack of common sense shown by some of the contestants each week just strike you as wondering how these people actually got where they were? It did to us both and at the end I had a funny feeling that Lorraine was going to spill the beans about Kate and Philip's contre-temps just to save her own skin - and it worked too. Of course the knock on effect of that is that it won't necessarily make her very popular in the apartment that the contestants share, but hey, you do have to be ruthless in business don't you?

I did settle to sleep feeling a small lump on my neck and just hoping that I'd bruised it or something, but it didn't spoil what was a nice evening all round. I kept thinking about the weekend to come and how nice that'd all be, and it reminded me of one of the MJ Hibbett and the Validators' songs from their new album "We Can Start Having Fun", a great little song about how growing old disgracefully suddenly seems like a rather great idea and to forget everything else. It's kind of how I feel now in this new guise so it's tune of the day all round for me, that's for sure.

Tuesday 5th May - I've Got The Power

It was back to the office for me today, and I knew that somehow it was going to be pretty busy all round. And so it proved. May is usually the month when our deadlines for a lot of the courses are, and it means that some of the printers are absolutely hammered with requests for printing and such like. But it's something we're used to, and indeed I know that where possible it's always good to be on hand to deliver a good service and to be encouraging to the masses and give them support.

I also managed to locate a spare power supply so I could try and test it on the PC at home and see if it fired up back to life, and I'd bring it back tomorrow (sometimes if a PC is really old and the motherboard dies, it's always worth keeping the other parts as spares you know, well handy) if anything became of it, so at least it meant I could see if my theory was right or not before forking out any money in the meantime. I got home from work later after a good chat with one of my colleagues on the bus about all sorts, and then tried out the power supply, ensuring that I'd removed the connections from the old one to the PC etc first. And.. it fired up. I had tried in vain last night to reset the BIOS settings to default, but that failed, but at least now it said "defaults loaded.." etc.

It was then a case of heading off up the road to one of my local PC retailers, and their warehouse shop isn't too far from me, so I was there in less than ten minutes. They had a bog standard 450W number with all the power connectors I needed, plus even a SATA power connector and a 24 pin motherboard connector for newer boards (a 20 plus 4 too, so I could just use the 20 on my board) and that was pretty fine and dandy all round. I screwed in the new power supply, connected all the cables, and.. badabing! It all came on and was working again. I breathed a sigh of relief and was pretty pleased with myself. I then cable tied all the cables so everything was pretty neat and tidy, even changing the main IDE cable as it looked a bit worse for wear, and it all seemed good. In fact it allowed me to really give the insides a good clean free of dust.

In retrospect, I've had the current rig almost six years and it's the first part to go on me after all that time. My rock solid choice of a MSI board complete with Athlon XP 3000+, 1GB RAM and 120GB hard disk might have cost a bit back then, but it's all working beautifully still. I've changed the CD drive of course since, there's now an LG DVD writer in there, but in essence everything's still as was. The case even has a top and side fan and the motherboard has firewire built in, so that coupled with the Geforce FX5600 graphics card means that it's a pretty old hat unit now, but it works, it's still pretty quick, and certainly does the job well for what I want it to do. We'd all like an über-PC, but for now, it's still doing the job nicely so I can't complain. Result all round!

I felt like I had the power to fix anything after that, and tune of the day is Win's 80s classic "You've Got The Power" which is a great tune full of rocking and even some Industrial sounding drums. Some of you may remember it as the tune from a very famous advert for McEwan's Lager, where people are pushing boulders around in an MC Escher designed building, till they get wind of it and smash the boulder through the screen - classic stuff, that.

Monday 4th May - It Only Rains Because You're Here

It was the May Bank Holiday, and like last year, I was off to Sheffield. No, I wasn't off to watch the snooker final, oh no. I was off to the Sheffield University Fuzz Club barbecue to see MJ Hibbett do his stuff solo. And unlike last year, he'd been given an afternoon slot, so it felt a bit more traditional than last year as well, which was good. And this time The Queen Of The Carnival was coming with me - which would be a perfect live introduction to MJ before seeing the full Validators do their thing in London on Saturday evening (and I am already pretty excited about that you know.)

So, I had planned to upload some of the pictures from Victoria Baths the day before on the PC before we set off. I started to upload them and managed to get all but one of them up (even though the Uploadr decided to muck things up a bit) when.. the PC went off, and just heard the spinning round of a fan. I tried to restart - still nothing. I checked a few other things out and realised that in fact there may be an issue with either the power supply, the motherboard, the processor, or all three. I did check out the processor and that seemed to be okay, so we shall see. But I wasn't going to miss the train, and so we headed off to Piccadilly station in good time for the 1120 train over to Sheffield.

Once we'd got in Sheffield, it was a case of taking the tram to Sheffield University. In theory, we could have walked, but it's a fair distance and all almost uphill, and I wanted The Queen to give the tram a go and see how it was compared to Manchester's ones. It won hands down, the Sheffield trams were lovely, with real people inspectors and friendly faces and everything. We soon got off at the stop for the University and walked up to the Fuzz Club place there - it's actually a night run inside Bar One, one of the main student bars in the complex. No one was around so we headed to the Interval Bar next door and grabbed a very nice coffee in there.

The weather had gotten a bit cold and windy by this point (boo) so it was a case of grab the food on the barbecue and then munch it under as much cover as possible. To be fair, it wasn't too bad - you got a selection of chicken wings, sausage and a burger, and onion rings and coleslaw if you wanted it, and you got a voucher for a pint of Fosters or Strongbow, all for four quid, so that didn't work out too bad. I had to resort to having the Fosters, but hey, it was thrown in, so I guess once is palatable. I spotted MJ Hibbett and had a brief chat but that was being drowned out by the rubbish thrash doom metal that was being played by spotty blokes all in black. Like, we want people to come, not be scared off, you know?

Thankfully, normal order was restored when MJ Hibbett took to the stage, a nice sprightly just over half hour set with a good mix of old and new songs done acoustic, so the likes of Clubbing In The Week, the still superb It Only Works Because You're Here (I even managed to film that on the camera, it'll be on my Youtube channel soon I hope), Easily Impressed, The Lesson of the Smiths, and of course, as is the wont, his unique version of Boom Shake The Room at the end. Stuff from the new album got an airing too, so that was nice, including tune of the day "My Boss Was In An Indie Band Once", a delightful little tale and a half. Wonder if my boss was in an indie band?

After the gig, we said our goodbyes (including Pete Green, who had come with his girlfriend and new baby for the gig - good to see you, Pete) and back on the tram into the centre of Sheffield, where we walked around the Winter Gardens, saw all those balls and off to the Peace Garden, before heading via John Lewis to a local pub, having a nice pint of Skinner's Hunny Bunny (oh yes, Cornish beer in Sheffield, wow) and also seeing the last frames of the afternoon session of the snooker at the same time. Suffice to say, it looked like John Higgins was going to win, and that was the case when we watched the final session back at mine later in the day. But all was well, and I didn't want to say goodbye to The Queen really...

Sunday 3rd May - Back To The Baths

It was a very enjoyable day out today as well, as we were thinking of a couple of places: either Quarry Bank Mill in Styal or Victoria Baths for a re-visit. We did have a text from The Queen Of The Carnival's friend who said that she was going and so we thought it'd be good to meet up and have a good natter and go round. We had a leisurely breakfast and then got ourselves ready for the bus to head down to the Baths themselves. We timed it quite well so that we were able to go straight in, pay the recommended £2 as a donation, and then head off and do a tour.

The basement was open as well, so it was quite intriguing to be able to go round. As it turned out there was an art exhibition going on down there, and indeed I recognised one of the students from my workplace as well, so had a quick chat with him about the exhibition and had a look around - all very nice projections and moving images as well as some interactive stuff, and very modern indeed. We also took a peek at some of the restored stained glass in some of the rooms, and then me and The Queen managed to find her friend and her husband - they were doing the guided tour, which worked out well for her because she was having a reminisce. It turned out that The Queen's friend used to live round the corner from the baths, and so used to go when she was younger, and even went in the aerotone as well, which was good to hear her memories (and I think the guide appreciated that too).

After a bit more of the guided tour, the four of us had a good look around and certainly there's been a fair few things done since last year: the middle covered pool now has a nice paint job on the roof and looks much nicer for it, and has been tidied up very nicely above, the entrances are all clean and two of the former Turkish Bath rooms are now kitted out as the shop and café, making a much more usable space, and indeed the café has some very sensible pricing that's affordable: kudos to them for that. In fact, we had a cuppa in there after all the walking around, which was rather lovely to be honest: just what we all needed, and good to chat.

More chatter continued as we headed out for a meal as well. The Queen's friend and her husband were planning curry, and asked us to join them which was very nice, and we thought "why not?" - save us cooking and all as it was getting on a bit. We were going to venture into the Royal Naz, but it had been closed down, but I knew what to do in this situation and headed down Wilmslow Road to Lal Haweli, somewhere I'd been a few times before and where the curry was decent (and they offered mushroom based ones, handy if you were veggie). The food went down very well, I had the chicken pakora and then mushroom korma, and over food and drink we all had plenty of things to talk about.

Apparently, when I went to the toilet, The Queen's friend said that she thought I was nice and that I think I got their approval, which was nice to see. That said, they were both very lovely people anyway and getting on with them wasn't a problem whatsoever. We said our goodbyes and headed home later, but had had a very nice day indeed. In fact the picture I took of The Queen's friend at the Baths really came out well - she's peeping over one of the cubicles and what you can't see is that she was full of the giggles afterwards, which was all lovely indeedy. Oh yes. And we got back in home in good time to watch Don't Forget The Lyrics.

We had to laugh during that, because some of the contestants were amazingly.. thick! In fact one of them had to guess the next line to M People's "How Can I Love You More?" and even after using the lifeline of the backup singer and the two words, they didn't have an idea, and so guessed something way off what it actually was (which was "I give you a love so pure", being a Manc I should know that of course). It just made us both smile. In fact, you know what? To haunt the contestant I'm going to make that song tune of the day and because the original club version (not the re-released single) is actually a good dance choon, so ner. The original has tons of piano and basslines, that's how you will know.

Saturday 2nd May – May Day! May Day! Northern Rail Are Bobbins!

Myself and The Queen Of The Carnival decided that it would be nice to head out to Knutsford to sample their Royal May Day. It’s been going since Victorian times, and even has Royal assent thrown in, and usually has a large scale parade going through the town centre, along with a large fun fair in one of the main fields close to the centre along with craft stalls et al, in other words, a proper festival and carnival atmosphere. I was particularly intrigued by the parade part of it, as I went many years ago but ended up on the fun fair for most of the day and missing the main parade (blame the arcade machines at the time, I suppose).

Now, in order to make life easier, we decided to head on the train – this meant a local train to Stockport and then changing there for the service to Chester via Altrincham, which stops at Knutsford along the way. Getting to Stockport was the easy bit, but getting from there to Knutsford? Not so easy. The train was pretty busy at Stockport, so we didn’t mind standing up and allowing the older folk to have a seat, being polite and all. By the time we left Altrincham it was dangerously full and so much so that not everyone at Hale could get on, leaving some parents and children quite distressed, and understandably so. Now is it me, or could anyone with an ounce of planning have realised that this annual event always draws in the crowds and that people will take the train and make a day out of it? So what do Northern Rail do? Run two carriages. That’s just not enough, full stop, it should have been at least double that for most of the day.

We got off at Knutsford and walked back on ourselves slightly and under the railway and along King Street, the main shopping street of the town. We noticed plenty of nice restaurants and very cute little shops full of gifts, but also an abundance of wedding shops as well – do the Cheshire set shop here for their bridal designs, I wonder? The Queen also noticed that many of the charity shops were not only very well organised in the clothes department, but even co-ordinated the rails by colour! That sounded pretty posh to us both and we wondered how many quality items you could find in a right treasure trove that some of the shops would have, probably quite a few to be honest!

With the time of the parade approaching, we got a good vantage point close to The Angel pub, and I nipped in there to get some beer and wine so we had something to drink as the parade went past. What we were both impressed with was the organisation of the whole thing: the roads were closed off in good time and stewards ensured that the street was clear enough for the participants to walk safely along, and indeed so that the children had ample space to go chasing after coins (copper coins are thrown on to the street by the onlookers, some form of tradition apparently.)

Some of the best floats as part of the parade involved the children, and it was so good to see that many of them were involved. My personal favourite was the one that depicted The Wizard of Oz, with the children as the various characters, and the Wicked Witch of the West noticed me with the camera and attempted to look a little evil before having a bit of a giggle on her face, which was lovely. Not too far behind that was the “Sing a song of sixpence” rhyme float, with some of the children as the four and twenty blackbirds, which was a good move all round. Other children were depicted as gladiators, various countries of the world’s cultures and even the six wives of Henry VIII as well. For the adults, there were various brass bands and sets of clog and morris dancers along the way, a proper traditional sort of parade.

One tradition Knutsford keeps alive is that of the Royal May Queen, and this year it was Katie Smith who had been chosen. The carriage is resplendent and it means that her and the ladies in waiting travel in the carriage before watching all the show unfold on The Heath later on. It all looked very splendid and we couldn’t help but notice a little girl in one of the cafés looking out to the parade, looking longingly thinking “I want to be the May Queen one day!” I can well imagine that being treated like a Queen might have had something to do with it, but the parade going past was almost for an hour, so an indication of the size and scale of the whole thing. It was grand.

We headed to the fun fair later, and it was pretty large, but couldn’t help notice that some of the fairground games were a right rip off. One of them involved darts and you had to hit above a certain score to win. All well scoring above 7 for the small toy, but with doubles and trebles etc counting as 8, and you had to score more than 57 to win the large toy, no one could effectively win the large toy – you could score 20, 19 and 18 with separate darts but that would be only 57. Another con was on the ring toss – you had to throw the ring above prizes and then round a box to win – but it implied that you won all the prizes on that box. When someone won, it was only one of them – so four teenage girls who thought they’d won four bottles of wine and chocolates got one bottle. Meh. Nightmare.

We saw the conclusion of the ceremonies which involved the may pole and indeed the dancers who were carefully using their ribbons, and the end May Queen procession where she leaves the throne and goes to a waiting Silver Rolls Royce – all very nice and very ruralified, that’s for sure. It was a good day all round, and we headed for a drink before then back on the cattle truck of a train and stood all the way to Altrincham before getting a seat to Stockport. I feel a letter to Northern Rail coming on somehow.

I have to hand it to the organisers of the Royal May Day though, it was a very enjoyable event indeed and one that definitely deserves all accolades that it will be given. I certainly got good use out of the camera today for the shots, and when uploading them I certainly noticed that there was a real sense of colour and brightness about the whole day. The sun even shone – how nice is that? – and I know that it was something well worth the trip out. I can’t really give tune of the day to anything else but “Beautiful Day” by the Levellers, cos that’s exactly what it was. Hurrah!

Friday 1st May - Doing The Len Ganley Stance

I had heard from the job interview that I went for yesterday. I was supposed to hear late last night but unfortunately the powers that be decided to delegate stuff to their local line managers, which meant after my technical meeting this morning, my manager had a quiet word with me and said that I hadn't got it, but they recomnended that if something comes up further down the line when I have more experience of project and people management, that I'd be able to apply, and they said my interview was excellent and I gave a good account of myself. I might be able to get some feedback, and I might just do that so that I can learn where I went wrong and how I can improve.

I had to visit another site this afternoon and go through with them what I'd been working on as part of my current project, and gave a demonstration as well as be able to ask some questions, provide some technical documentation and also network more with staff so that I can understand how they work. One of them was really pleased that I'd been over and said "we've been waiting for this!" which was good, and they were enthusiastic. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good feedback and see how things work in reality and go from there - good job I had a coat with a hood on though as it was peeing it down with rain.

After work it was a dash down to Oxford Road station - I figured I had an outside chance of making the 1639 train from there to Sheffield and that getting on said train at Piccadilly might not be the wisest move ever. I got to the station, used the quick pay thing to buy my ticket, went through the ticket gates and on to platform 4 (thankfully no bridges to go over) and within a minute, the train I wanted had arrived, so the timing and jogging down the road was actually well worth it. I did find a seat, and by the time the train left Piccadilly, it was rather full to say the least and I was relieved when we all emptied out at Sheffield after stopping at Chinley and Dore along the way.

I made the usual walk up Howard Street and past Sheffield Hallam University, past the Millennium Galleries and on to the Crucible, and was queueing up for my ticket when I saw a figure approaching the entrance. I recognised who it was and so left the queue and managed to get a shot - it was no less than semifinalist Mark Allen, who I was watching in the evening session later on. I went back to the queue, got my ticket, and then saw if anyone was around the stage door. Neil Robertson came out and seemed pretty chatty to people after he'd fought back to be 9-7 down against Shaun Murphy, and after a tip off two of us fans saw John Higgins get out of the courtesy car and then walk into one of the back entrances at the Crucible - there was only 20 minutes or so to the start of the session at that point and I did wonder whether that was enough time to practice.

I was soon to find out. Mark Allen somehow had found his form, got a bit lucky in the first frame of the session when Higgins missed the black, and managed to make the most of his chances to win the first part of the session 3-1 and so make the gap 14-6 instead of 13-3 at the start. He did fluke a couple of times and did hold his hand up, and the atmosphere with just the one table was something else, let me tell you - tons better. Lots of the crowd were getting behind Mark, not least as we wanted all eight frames of the session!

After the interval, Higgins won the next and 15-6 looked like a mountain to climb. Indeed, if Higgins won two out of the next three, it'd be over with a session to spare. What he didn't account for was his loss of form and indeed the battling of Mark Allen, who in a tense second to last frame that lasted well past the half hour, was able to claw his way through some safety play and eventually pot the balls needed to win the frame. Indeed, that was the second of the final three of the evening that he won, and so 13-3 became 15-9 and Allen had won the session 6-2. Both players got a standing ovation for their efforts, and although Higgins seemed cheesed off with how he'd played, Allen looked like he'd had a new lease of life. When I saw him earlier, it looked like he had nothing to lose, but you never know.

Managed to walk back down to Sheffield station and get the 2211 fast train back to Manchester, so that was good. I got home, checked the pics out and started to hum words of Half Man Half Biscuit's "The Len Ganley Stance" (tune of the day) and so was able to remind myself of just why he was a great ref and indeed how Jan Verhaas did so well tonight as ref of this match - you've got to love a bit of HMHB, haven't you? I wonder if I can convince MJ HIbbett to play it Monday...