Dear Diary... May 2010

Monday 31st May - Speke Now, Or Forever Hold Your Airline

Myself and The Love In My Heart were heading to Liverpool today. One of her family were heading off for a week away, and so we agreed to head over to Liverpool Airport so that a Ryanair flight could be caught from there. Obviously it meant that the flight was cheaper, but it also meant that we had to get there in good time to be sure that the gate didn't close. So it was around 11am when we set off from The Love's place and headed in the direction of the M602 out of Manchester and then the M62 towards Liverpool.

The Love hadn't driven to Liverpool Airport before, but I had some directions I'd worked out, and it was dead easy: off at junction 6 for the A5300 road, all the way down there to the A561, tun right and head towards Liverpool through Halewood and Speke itself before taking the turnoff for the airport. We got there in plenty of time and went through the drop off point, which was free for 10 minutes whilst you dropped someone off. We did notice though that anything longer than 10 minutes and you were charged £2 for each 10 minutes after that, so of course we made sure it was a good quick drop off.

The Love and I were then heading to Speke Hall as it was a National Trust property, so our membership would mean free entry, and we were amazed at how close the airport was to the Hall. You came out of the road for the airport, turned left at the roundabout for Speke Hall and around half a mile later you were at the car park for the Hall. In fact you could hear the aeroplanes not that far away, and this was soon to be evident as we went through the ticket office and followed the countryside path around the outside of the Speke Hall's garden estate. The path took you uphill and you could see perfectly the runway in the distance, and indeed the flight path to the runway was right in front of you.

No wonder then that all the benches on this part of the path were occupied by people with binoculars or long range zoom camera lenses to try and capture the planes as they approached inwards! We carried on walking down the path and eventually this took you around the corner, following one of the emergency entrances to the runway, but then to the back of the gardens of Speke Hall where you could see the gardens leading to the hall itself, and a pond where you would walked around and spotted people fishing and also some ducks leading their babies to the water and keeping them close.

We then walked through and around the gardens of the Hall, as the main Hall wasn't open till 1pm and only allowed in a certain number at a time. We walked around the immaculate hedges and even under a tunnel which went under the main path to the Hall and spotted the stable block with the plants for sale. It was then time to join the queue to get into the Hall and be guided around there and this took a little time to clear, but the sun was at least out so that was good. We had to go through a little gap in the gate to enter the hall and a guide showed you the courtyard and the hole in the eaves of the roof to listen in to visitors, hence the phrase "eavesdropping", so now we know.

The Hall itself was an intriguing house: one side of the house had high windows so that the servants couldn't see the occupants of the house whilst they were working. There was also in one of the upstairs rooms a ladder, concealed in the walls, which would take the priest up to the priests' hole so he could be stored safely away from those who wanted to harm the priest. However, Speke Hall also had an escape out of this hole and so no priests were caught who were in the Hall. It was intriguing to hear that and how it all worked, as well as seeing how one of the stained glass windows had the initials of the Hall's residents, but the N was the wrong way around. Oops.

It was good to see all the rooms in the hall that were open and see the bedrooms, the costumes that the servants wore and indeed the kitchen room which was delightfully unspoilt with its large cooker, copper pans with the hall's name engraved on it, the old pantry and indeed even parts of the old laundry as well as the dairy next door for butter and cream. It was a really nice old historic house and well worth venturing in, and as we walked back out via the courtyard and the shop, we both agreed that we'd had a good time and it was a nice thing to do - and being so close to the airport, perfect "while we're there" territory.

We headed back a different way, instead of turning towards the M62 we headed along the A561 which eventually we left and carried on down the A533 and over The Bridge (yes, it's called "The Bridge") which carried us over the River Mersey and down into Runcorn, where we joined the A557 Weston Expressway and towards the M56. But, as it was lunch time, we carried on down the A557 to the A56 and headed to Frodsham, where we spotted a couple of nice pubs to have lunch at, and ended up going to The Bears' Paw for lunch. Two good things: the Black Sheep was a mere £1.95 a pint (bargain) and the food we had was good too. I had the chicken and bacon foccacia with chips, and it was lovely. We had a nice chatter and the pub seemed a lovely and relaxed place that the locals went to and ate at too, so that was good.

On the way back from there we went via the A56 instead of the motorway, so we went through the likes of Daresbury, then Stockton Heath (which looked very nice and classy) as well as Thelwall before heading through Lymm and then to the roundabout where you'd normally come off the M56 to take the shortcut to the M6. It was then back along the motorway and to my place, where we had a coffee and saw some of the bitchfest that was Celebrity Four Weddings and generally thought about how lovely the whole weekend was - and it was, believe me!

Tune of the day in the meantime is "Imagine" by John Lennon. Liverpool's airport is actually called Liverpool John Lennon Airport, with the slogan "above us only sky" which is, as I explained to The Love, one of the lines from the said song. It made me realise too how good a song it actually is, and so made me watch the video on Youtube later on tonight. The simplicity of the opening piano is magical too - just shows that sometimes, less is more isn't it? And as for Oasis' blatant rip off of the opening on "Don't Look Back In Anger", well.. the less said about that the better.

Sunday 30th May - Anniversary At Castle Howard

Today is a very special day for me, and it'll always be a special day, hopefully. Two years ago today I met a beautiful and adorable woman who has become the love of my life. She's so gorgeous and yet so down to earth, funny, intelligent, warm and above all else she's just herself. I love her to bits and I know that she feels the same way about me (which makes things even sweeter) and when I look back I think how quick time has gone and yet there's been so much that we've done together. So, to The Love In My Heart, just to let you know that I absolutely love you so much and don't want that feeling to change.

In fact the two of us had headed out with my Mum last night for the evening, heading to The Elizabethan in Heaton Chapel to have some tea. I had their steak and ale pie (which of course is a proper pie!) and the chicken Mum had looked rather lovely as well. We had plenty of chatter over drinks and then headed back to mine for the ladies to have some more wine and for me to have a Coronation Street beer from my own grip glass whilst keeping an eye on that new Channel 4 game show "The Million Pound Drop" which I'd have enjoyed more without the annoying as hell Davina McCall in it. Ah well.

Myself and The Love woke up this morning pretty early as we knew it was a long day ahead of us, and we swapped our little anniversary cards. Hers to me was lovely, it had the writing "l'amour" on with different shades of red hearts on, simple but elegant and classy. My hunch was right that at the craft stalls last week in the Shepley Spring Festival, her and her friend had gone to look at stuff and was the perfect time for her to get me a card. She liked the card I got her too, and it was a lovely start to the morning as we had some croissants and orange juice before heading out.

We'd decided a few weeks ago that for today, no matter what the weather was going to do, that we'd head to Castle Howard. Some of you will know that it was used as Brideshead for the 1981 TV series Brideshead Revisited, a series that The Love adores (she has it on DVD now in fact) and as she hadn't been for a long long time and I'd never been, it'd be good for us to go. We like going round old historic places and walking in their gardens, it feels like a lovely day out for us. So with Beth Rowley on a tape in the car and ready to go, we headed off to her place to drop some things off, then on to the M62, over the tops and skirted around Leeds and then on the M1, A1(M) for a little bit, then the A64 towards York.

Just as we got to the roundabout with the A1237 east of York, the traffic was queueing and we were stuck for around twenty minutes as for some reason two lanes into one followed by some village traffic at cross junctions made for going slow, but yet a mile later it was back to full speed. It was a little odd and I wondered if there'd been a car pulling out or something. Anyway, we soon spotted the turnoff for Castle Howard and wended the way through a hilly road and then through some very narrow stone arches (in fact wide vehicles are diverted to avoid them) and then at the obelisk, a right turn and there was the entrance to the Castle Howard estate.

We got our tickets and headed in, first walking around the Rose Gardens and seeing the lovely work gone into keeping them all shipshape. We loved the fountain with the man seemingly carrying a dolphin, and spitting from the dolphin's mouth was the water. There were ways around the garden as you walked through gaps in the hedges, cut to be like a little tunnel, and as we exited through one of the wall gates, we headed down the path and to the Atlas Fountain. The fountain is also pretty large and impressive, not least because of the stone statues that have a horn that spit out water, and the globe in the centre having water coming from the top of it.

Of course, looking beyond the fountain was the legendary view of the house at Castle Howard itself - a really impressive stately home from anyone's point of view. When the sun shines, it looked even more impressive, with a real feel of history. We walked around the side via the Wild Boar statue to the entrance to the house and had a good walk around there. In fact, the house's staff encouraged you to take pictures as long as you turned off the flash if possible - a nice change from other houses that don't let you take any at all whatsoever. We walked through some of the main rooms and then came to The Great Hall, and that looked simply stunning.

You could see right up to the balcony and the ceiling detail in the restored dome was impressive enough, and up the stairs was an exhibition showing how some of the former burned out rooms were restored and used as locations for Brideshead Revisited - fascinating stuff that. Looking over from the first floor to the Great Hall below seemed even more impressive, and as you then walked around the house and saw the Crimson Room - a dining room that does get used at Christmas, and the Turquoise Drawing Room with all the games laid on tables and the very bright wallpaper that adorns it.

Even then you weren't prepared for the long corridor that houses the library and several pianos along the way that looked simply stunning and the chapel with the stained glass windows that even opened to let air in to the chapel itself, all was beautiful and you could see how well looked after the house was. After all that, we walked round the other side of the house and the view of the house from there looked just as lovely as well - in fact you got to see some more detail including the clock on one of the inner towers and the view from there down to the Great Lake below.

We walked down the grass and followed the path round, avoiding the little road train carried by a tractor (true) and ended up at the Lakeside Café where we decided to have lunch overlooking the lake itself - as the café had some seats and some nice decking outside. I went for a salmon and cream cheese sandwich, and I have to say it's the best sandwich of that type I've ever had. For £3.20 you got a massive barmcake, absolutely shed loads of salmon (in fact probably as much as Felicini's put in their salmon calzone pizza, and that's a lot, let me tell you) and a sizeable amount of cream cheese. No skimping on anything and that with some nice hand cooked crisps felt very lovely, especially watching the world go by as we looked towards the lake.

With lunch consumed it was then back up the hill, but this time through the woods, spotting the reservoir and then from there taking the woodland walk. At the end of the woods you come to The Temple of the Four Winds at the far end of the estate, and that's a lovely temple with gorgeous views surrounding the countryside. In fact there's a walk along the grass from there back down towards the main house, with a smaller lake on the left that has the Prince of Wales fountain in the middle. You can also see the Atlas Fountain in the distance, and thankfully most of this was downhill after clambering up around the woods, so that was good to see.

We got to the bottom of here and to the house and went in the exhibition which detailed the building of the house and indeed the women who lived there, and how one of them in particular went on to be a campaigner for woman's rights which was a good thing in my view. We also then walked back up via the statue of the Wild Boar and then along via the Rose Gardens again to the coutyard which you can walk around freely and not pay (the house estate entrance is usually after this). This had some nice little shops including some hand made glass sculptures, some hand made chocolate and a proper farm shop which had a proper butcher in it, and the meat on sale there looked very tempting for us to take home and consume, let me tell you.

It was around 4pm when myself and The Love left there, having had a throroughly wonderful day. The traffic was better heading back and we stopped off near Tadcaster to put more petrol in the car and even with that short stop, it only took just under an hour and three quarters to head back to The Love's place, with after the 80s tape finishing, it was back to Beth Rowley and so "So Sublime" has to be tune of the day - as The Love explained that why she loved Beth over Kristin Hersh, in that she likes the words to Beth's songs but also they're much more happy songs and perfect to drive along to. Can't argue with her reasoning - I prefer Kristin myself because of the more thought, but Beth's lovely too and that song is probably both our favourite ones off the album. Yaay.

The Love made us a lovely tea too (aww bless, isn't she lovely?) with a really nice steak with sauce, potatoes and some vegetables along with mushrooms. The F1 highlights were on and I spotted Webber and Vettel take each other off handing a McLaren 1-2 to that team, with Hamilton edging Button for the win. I didn't like the comments from Red Bull boss Christian Horner though - it was clear that he and the team were favouring Vettel when universally everyone in the know said that the crash was Vettel's fault (which it was) and Eddie Jordan was not best pleased with Horner after that comment. Good old Eddie, he doesn't mince his words!

We watched some telly after that - mainly Countryfile, because we both love that and even though it focussed on Adam's farm this meant much less of the annoying as hell Julia Bradbury (Matt Baker is fine by me, he at least lived on a farm and understands the whole countryside thing) and seeing the agony of the bovine TB was pretty tough watching, but perserverance was the key and when Adam got the first all clear you could see how much it meant to him as an animal lover generally - and oh yes, those little lambs were so cute, I have to say. We also saw the Personality Test thing with the 10 year old Child Of Our Time children showing the personalities you could be. It was intriguing stuff.

All in all, a lovely day and by the time we headed to sleep and cuddled up, it was a wonderful time had by us both and it showed me just how happy I feel at the moment and how much I feel like the last two years have easily been the best times of my life. I have family and friends to thank for so many good times but most of all The Love In My Heart for being such a wonderful, lovely, kind and most of all intimate and caring person. I feel very very lucky indeed and I don't ever forget that, and the whole day was lovely. Just want more of the same to be honest, and as long as we love each other, I know that's what we'll have.

Saturday 29th May - Cleaning Through The Rain

I decided that as I had some time today before heading out with The Sunshine In My Sky and my Mum for tea later that it would be a good idea to give the place a bit of a mid-Spring clean, as I felt that although I do keep the house nice and tidy, that it's good sometimes to blitz the whole cleaning thing and get it all done. I got the bathroom sorted out and I was pleased that the floor wipes for the floor did their job and got up some dirt that needed cleaning off, and was about to start dusting down surfaces wth the fluffy duster until I realised I was out of them, and the last one on my current duster was looking a bit rubbish and full of dirt. Not good.

As I needed some bits from Tesco anyway, I felt it best to head there and get it all sorted, and so through the pouring rain I headed to Tesco and got the Pledge fluffy duster set with two dusters to go with it, so I was then able to get started and get dusting down. My TV cabinet from IKEA always seems to pick up a chunk of dust, or maybe it's easier to see it because it's black, and so I spent some time making sure that was all done, and dusted down all the skirting boards, the staircase, the metal frame on the bed, all that sort of thing. I wanted to make sure it was all good before using the trusty Dyson on the rooms and indeed the floor wipe for the kitchen and the surface wipe for the kitchen tops to get it all spick and span.

I spent some more time listening to The Unthanks CD today too after the events of last night, and realised that the album does grow on you somewhat with further listens. "Sad February" seems to be the one that's hit a nerve with me somewhat, primarily because of the minimal feel to start with, the stamping of the feet is the percussion instrument and really underpins the whole thing well with the piano. Sometimes less is more, I think. It's interesting to hear too just how North East the tones of the Unthanks can be - for someone like me, not a problem, but maybe other parts of the country might have fun understanding that at times. I'm pleased though that they've hung on to their Northern-ness, makes it more appealing in my view.

However, I also decided for a bit of rock today and so tune of the day is the epic eleven minutes of covers of Mercyful Fate songs as done by Metallica, aptly entitled "Mercyful Fate". The original band were from Denmark and Lars Ulrich of Metallica happens to be a big fan, hence of course one of their songs appearing in Guitar Hero Metallica and of course Metallica doing this cover medley for their Garage Inc album (and the full eleven minutes also appears in the same game too, and is bloody hard to do on expert drums!) is all good fun, believe me!

Friday 28th May - I Unthank You

I made a snap decision this morning when I got up. I'd been thinking whether to go and see The Unthanks at The Lowry tonight, and after a chat with The Sunshine In My Sky last night, I thought "well if there's tickets left, why don't I go?". I checked The Lowry website and there was tickets left, and indeed the show started at 8pm so it gave me enough time to be able to do some shopping and have tea before heading out, so that was good. I sorted the ticket out online and made a mental note to pick the ticket up from the box office later on, and then headed to work all excited.

Work was a mixed bag - we had a team meeting in the morning and I managed to put some points across fairly and succinctly, which was good to see. I then spent some time this afternoon working out how much we'd spent on consumables for our student printers - and it wasn't a cheap amount that had been spent. Then I considered the facts and when you did, it made sense. The large format plotters we have have printed over twenty miles' worth of paper rolls over the course of the academic year - and that's a lot when you consider it that way. It's quite a good statistic that.

I headed home and then to Tesco and got everything that I needed, and then got home and packed all the shopping away, put the tea in the oven and had a shower and got changed which made use of the time as the tea was cooking. I had my tea and then it was time to head out, so I got the bus to the city centre and then the tram out to Harbour City, the nearest stop for The Lowry. I noticed that work on the Media City spur was almost complete, meaning that'll then be the nearest stop and indeed it all looks nice and modern. Twas an old tram for me though as I headed there, not a nice new one like last time.

I got my ticket sorted out and headed for the bar and had an Old Speckled Hen. I do think though that The Lowry staff should pay attention to the next few sentences. First, as it's a real ale, it should not be, under any circumstances, stored in the fridge. All real ales should be room temperature. Also, what's with charging a mere £3.95 for a 355ml bottle? That's only just over half a pint for that price meaning that if I calculated it back, the cost per pint would be an astronomical £6.32. What the hell? Must make a mental note to stick to the bottled soft drinks in future until they do a price review.

The support band were a local band called Table (myspace) who were quite an intriguing band. Their lead singer was the pianist and his voice reminded me of Guy Garvey of Elbow - same sort of twang to it. One of my favourite songs of theirs was the affectionate "Daddy" which had the right amount of bright and dark moments to boot. I also quite liked "Songs You Can Sing" which is their debut 7" single as well. It had a warm and hopeful feel to it that sounded all well put together. It seemed a little unusual having four of the blokes in the band doing vocal harmonies, but it worked. I quite liked them and I'd happily see them again - the near forty minute set was lovely.

They even had occasional instruments from Hannah Peel, who was playing with The Unthanks later. She was supporting on other dates too, and after seeing her at Duke Special I'd have liked to have heard her and the music box again. In fact Becky Unthank came on at first and introduced Table and said how lovely that they were which was a rather nice thing all round. It made the whole thing feel that little more intimate than it aleady was in The Quays Theatre (the smaller of the two in The Lowry) and time soon flew by during the interval. I even spotted Becky walking up to the bar but was too shy to say hello to her, darn!

On came The Unthanks (official site) (myspace) and for the next hour and three quarters, everyone was entertained with a lengthy but entertaining set, which felt intimate and special. The live band was a ten piece overall, and apart fromt the regulars of Becky and Rachel Unthank, Adrian McNally (pianist and birthday boy as it turned out), Niopha Keegan on fiddle, and Chris Price on drums and ukelele, there was Hannah Peel doing violin and trombone, they had a cello player, a double bassist, another woodwind player and another violinist. It filled the room with a lovely folk sound that didn't sound too overly folky, if you know what I mean.

It was a beautiful set, with even Rachel and Becky getting their clogs on and dancing during certain parts of songs, and amongst the highlights were the title track of their recent album "Here's The Tender Coming", the lovely story of being a mine worker, "The Testimony of Patience Kershaw" which had Rachel's Northern twang sounding perfect for the story throughout (tune of the day for that reason), a hauntingly lovely "Sad February" as well as "At First She Starts", the uptempo "Lucky Gilchrist" which they joked sounded very Penguin Cafe Orchestra, as well as a cover of Robert Wyatt's "Sea Song". The sound man had it spot on and it all sounded gorgeous in the theatre.

One beautiful moment was one song which Becky and Rachel sang alone, acapella, and to make it even more lovely, without the microphone close by, so it was just them and nothing else. Everyone was beautifully silent and as they sang you could feel the hairs on the neck stand on end - it was that sort of moment to be honest. It made you feel appreciative of what they do, and later on when they burst into "Betsy Bell" you couldn't help but smile as Becky told you all about not getting love as per the words to the song, but with such joy. It was a thoroughly lovely gig, and I'll highly recommend seeing them if you can. It might be right up there with my best gig of the year - yes, it was that good.

Thursday 27th May - Tea For Two

It was lovely to see The Sunshine In The Sky tonight, and after having a brief chat at my place, we decided that we'd head out to have something to eat for tea. I was waiting though for a little tape to finish which I was sorting out for The Sunshine's car. On one side, it was the Beth Rowley album (which she also has on CD too) - and I'd paid for all the single B-sides etc so I placed them on the tape as well - so you got "Little Dreamer" which wasn't on the album of the same name but bloody ace nonetheless - so tune of the day that most certainly is. Even her cover of "Catch A Falling Star" made it on there too, and managed to fill the tape with the most recent Vonda Shepard album, so all good there.

I'd signed up for the email list for The Didsbury pub, a place we sometimes head in after a walk around Fletcher Moss, and when you sign up, you get an offer of one main meal free when you order another one - so that sounded too good to miss to us. Soon we were heading out there and although there was a slight wait for a table, we got a drink from the bar and relaxed and chatted whilst we were waiting. We soon had a table sorted and it was a case of deciding on the main course - I went for the cod and chips and The Sunshine for the Chicago Chicken.

I must admit that when the cod came I made the right choice - it was massive, and lovely and light too. The chips and peas with it were spot on. The Chicago Chicken was okay but it needed to be a little bit hotter in our view, but still pretty good. There were people being nice and attentive though so that was good, and we were able to chat away in relative peace and quiet, with no annoying pub jukebox or anything like that, the focus instead being on good conversation and beer and the important stuff. It was a nice little soujourn out so that was all good.

We headed back to mine and watched some of the Seth Lakeman Live At The Minack DVD. Of course for us, having been to the Minack Theatre last year, it was a chance to think "awww look at that" and remember the gorgeous view we'd admire when watching the show. I'd have loved to have gone and seen Seth play there though - that would have been fabulous, and certainly from the DVD it certainly seems that way. The likes of "Kitty Jay" sounded electric there and it was a lovely poignant rendition of "Solomon Browne" too, notably as Penlee Point is only a few miles away from the Minack.

We also saw a bit of the Coast DVD box set I got, concentrating on the episode with the South West in it, so plenty about Devon and Cornwall for us to enjoy. It was good to see that they featured Newlyn and its fishing heritage, and indeed a nice helicopter shot of St Michael's Mount to go with it. Of course it's a place we love too and so it made us both think "we want to go back to Cornwall now" as you'd well be inclined to do of course. I also admired the fact that Neil Oliver went right into the heart of one of the old tin mines under the sea - pretty brave really and something that I'd have loved to have done myself!

Wednesday 26th May - Back Up And Running

I had one of my friends come over tonight - and my mission was to sort out an annoying niggle that she had. She runs her own website dedicated to crafts, crochet and tea, and for some reason, being able to access that along with the site admin to be able to upload stuff seemed to take forever. If anyone else she knew, such as her boyfriend or me tried to access it on our machines, all appeared well, and having tried some things chatting on Skype last week and getting nowhere, I suggested that she head over.

I had the kettle on when my friend arrived and it was good to see her - it gave us chance to catch up and chat as well as have a cuppa and a cupcake (a nice lemon one, because we can) whilst trying to get to the root of the problem. Both IE and Firefox had the same problems, and indeed browsing other websites appeared to be pretty much fine too on both of the laptop and the netbook. I did wonder if there was anything obvious in the network card settings but all that was fine, and I even updated the wireless card driver just incase it was that on one of them.

Her boyfriend had sent her an email with a command to try and reset the ip interface with the netsh command, but I wondered also if anything installed had messed around with either the winsock or the firewall. I looked at programs running on both bits of kit and noticed this WTGService in the services. That turned out to be related to the Orange Broadband mobile dongle that gets used occasionally, but the service appeared weird. Then a moment struck me - if that was installed on both, it's running on both and it's a common denominator. I tried to stop the service and tried the website again - no luck.

Thinking ahead though, my friend did say that it wasn't long after installing the dongle when things started playing up. So I then thought "hmm.. maybe if I remember there's a netsh command for resetting stuff like that?" so I ended up trying the following commands in order to see what each would possibly do. On reflection, it might have been the last one of the four that might have done the trick, but here's what I ended up typing in at the command prompt:

netsh winsock reset
netsh interface ip reset C:\resetlog.txt
netsh routing reset
netsh firewall reset

Once all that was done, the PC was restarted. Windows Firewall was now switched on (it had been off) and it was then asking if the likes of Skype and MSN Messenger etc were okay to unblock, indicating that the firewall had been reset to factory default. I unblocked what was needed, and then went to the website admin on the netbook that I tried first. And - badabing! It loaded like it should. I then had to remember which way round I did the commands, and eventually got that one working too on the laptop, and so site access was rather good all round. So I'm sure that there'll be a post on her site about getting it all sorted - glad to be of assistance :)

By this time Junior Apprentice was on, so we kept an eye on that - and ironically it was about cupcakes and making money selling them (considering we'd had another one later with a cuppa, even more so). It was a bit of a shame that only one of them just about made money, but it was clear that there were failures in the task. I thought that Tim would go as he always appears to be on the periphery somewhat, but he didn't go - however he was then given the task of having to be a team leader next time so he'll have to shape up methinks. It was interesting to see how it all worked in terms of the sales but spending almost 10 mins on one cupcake wasn't quite right to us somehow.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the a throwback to the 1980s as I was flicking through the music channels earlier in the evening, no less than the excellent "Feels Like Heaven" by Fiction Factory. It's one of those songs that you'd recognise once the chorus comes on, and it kind of says how I feel right now - rather heavenly in that I got things sorted out and also had a nice chat to The Flowers In My Garden after that, which was lovely. And for those of you who think the 1980s was bobbins, think again!

Tuesday 25th May - A Walk In The Park

It was still reasonably nice weather tonight, so it was a chance for some quality time with The Flowers In My Garden and to enjoy being together. Before she arrived, I had time to play some more vinyl on the Pioneer PL-514X turntable, and it sounded spot on. I had the first side of Roxy Music's "For Your Pleasure" and of course that's got some quality songs on there. "Do The Strand" sounds so beautifully analogue and warm on it, and full of all the weird effects as well that it has to be tune of the day - really nice.

The Flowers came, I made us some pasta and sauce for tea, and that all went down nicely, and she had suggested that we head out for a walk, so we headed to Fletcher Moss in Didsbury, walked down the path from Stenner Lane to the river bank, along the river for a little while and then through the path to the far end of Stenner Woods, and cut across a little bridge made of wood and then on to another path which took you to the end of Fletcher Moss Park, and we then walked via the grass and the shale tennis courts, and along to The Didsbury pub.

Of course, it'd be rude not to stop there and have a drink and so I had to try a nice real ale in there - not least with such a great name as Fox's Nob (yes, really, what a cracking name) and that tasted spot on. It was good too to sit outside the pub and they had little heaters in the parasols so it meant that you got a little heat as the evening chill kicked in. It was good to chat about all sorts too and to take it easy, and for a Tuesday evening the pub was busy but not like it is at weekends, where it is completely mad in there.

We headed back to mine and we soon had a game of Scrabble whilst listening to Natalie Merchant on the CD, I played the first CD of the "Leave Your Sleep" set, which I think The Flowers thought was okay but nothing special. I did manage to convince her a bit more later when I put some of the tracks from the "Ophelia" album on, but it did provide nice background music for us playing the game. Her move of HONEY making HE as well for 30 points was an excellent move (it also blocked me playing a large move too, so win win) and I felt pretty pleased with JOB making OZONE for 44, so that was nice to use some large letters in there.

I felt really sad when she left for home - I know she had to leave earlier because of being on an early shift at work, and I think when you spend quality time with someone, it means a heck of a lot to do so and to be able to have as much time as possible is a rather nice and special thing to do. As time goes by I know how I feel about being together, and the more I realise how lovely it is, the more I want to make sure I keep it that way. It's been the happiest time of my life to be honest, and it also shows me just how much having that recovery period of mine a few years ago really was the best move I made - it helped me a lot.

Monday 24th May - Leaving Your Sleep

After a warm day at work and indeed getting plenty of things fixed in not that much time, including getting a nasty virus off one PC during the day, it was time to head home, get myself changed and ready before my friend arrived later on, as we were due to head over to The Lowry to see Natalie Merchant do her stuff. The last time we saw her in Manchester was 31st October 1998 (not 2000 as we thought - I've just checked the Manchester Academy website) which was far too long ago for my liking. Her new double CD release "Leave Your Sleep" is one I've had on regular rotation since I got it for my birthday so I'd be intrigued to see how the songs came across live.

As we got to The Lowry, there was an announcement that there'd be no support act and that Natalie would be on at 8pm with the show finishing around 10.15 or so. My friend did tell me that he'd heard the show was around two hours plus, based on previous performances, and at the merchandise stand there was even the 2CD version of the new album, and signed by Natalie as well. So my friend picked that up whilst he was there and got himself a signed copy - and why not? We had a drink and a chat and before long it was time to head into the theatre to see what would happen.

On came Natalie Merchant (official site) and she had two blokes playing different acoustic guitars and a woman with the cello doing the string thing with it. She had a slideshow and explained all about the poets that inspired her to write songs based on their words (the concept of the Leave Your Sleep album) so that you had an idea of each one before she sung the song. This worked out nicely as it gave you some background before she and the band performed. I really liked her explanation about them all, and the songs that were performed sounded as cute and well produced at the album.

It was hard to pick out an individual highlight per se, but seeing Natalie dance around the stage imitating a kicking horse during "Equestrienne" was sweet, and her happy smiles during "Calico Pie" were evident as you could see the enjoyment within. "Maggie and Millie and Mollie and May" was beautifully sweeping with her sat close to the front of the stage for most of it, describing things with a still gorgeous voice and drawing you in as a listener. It was good of her to explain "Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience" and the story behind it, as it gave you an attentive focus whilst listening. My favourite of the songs played from "Leave Your Sleep" on the night was most possibly "The Janitor's Boy" as she sung it so sweetly like a little love song in an almost joyous fashion, so that's tune of the day.

It wasn't just all about the new album though. An hour and a half in, she then did the first of two encores and it was a case of focussing on her solo stuff, so we got the likes of "Carnival" (which sounded impressive stripped down), "Motherland", with ever so subtle digs at the petrol companies, and also a brilliantly stripped down "Tell Yourself". And that carried on through both encores, so nice too to hear "River" and still sounded gorgeous now as it did then, "Kind and Generous" at the end which had everyone clapping along, "Break Your Heart" and for me nicest of all "Life Is Sweet" which sounded so beautiful it made me almost want to cry. Honestly, it's that lovely. Yaay Natalie.

She and the band had a standing ovation at the end of "Kind and Generous" and glancing at the watch it was just gone 10.10pm, so two hours and ten minutes of pure musical genius. It felt all lovely and I'm hoping that the queue at the merchandise stall were people buying her new album and hopefully spreading the word about how good she is - because she is, let me tell you. I just hope it's not another twelve years before I see her again...

Sunday 23rd May - A Day At The Lake

Myself and The Factor 50 On My Skin got up and headed for a quick shower before heading downstairs at my friend's place, where she and her partner were already up and about. We had a coffee and a good chatter before tucking in to a very lovely breakfast - some gorgeous bacon and sausages on a massive barm cake. It was a proper bacon and sausage sarnie to have and it got us up and full of energy ready to face the day. We sat outside in their place and had the parasol up to keep me from overheating but had plenty of more chat and coffee before we headed off. It was lovely to see them both and I'm sure that we'll have to get together in the near future methinks!

We decided that as it was on the way homeward, we could head straight to Hollingworth Lake on the way back and go for a walk around the lake together, which in the lovely weather might be a nice thing to do. We went the alternate route, carrying on the A640 instead of down the M62. This meant heading over the tops and on the other side of Scammonden Water and heading down a hairy hill before getting to Denshaw, and then through to Newhey and under the M62 to Milnrow, to head to Hollingworth Lake. This worked out fine although had I known that the A640 would have got you to junction 21 anyway, I'd have used the motorway. My bad.

We got to the car park and found a spot, although it was pretty busy, and as we'd gone past the main section of the lake with the shops on etc, we noticed it was already thriving. We decided to walk around the lake clockwise, so that meant going towards Rakewood first, following the lake round to the shop and café in the middle, then heading past the sailing club on the far side of the lake, over past the stone wall protecting the lake from the lower ground on the other side, and then round with the back gardens of houses overlooking the lake to the left of us, and soon past The Beach Pub and back on the road again.

We stopped by the lake to have a chat and have a cold drink that we'd got, and admired the view over the lake with the many sailing boats bobbing by and being around. Plenty of families and children were out here also so it was good to see that so many of them were enjoying the weather with their sun cream on, and of course having a supervised paddle by the bit of beach near the rowing club. It was a nice atmosphere and we decided to head for a drink in The Wine Press on the other side of the lake, a popular haunt with bikers too who were off out for the day.

We had a drink in there and after a while I said to The Factor 50 "I'm sure I spotted our friends outside" and indeed we had! They had decided to head on their bikes for a ride and I think our suggestion of going there rang true for them too - so we had a quick chat and then left them to it as we headed from the lake car park back through Newhey, Shaw and then round the side of Oldham and on to The Factor 50's place, and had a relaxed afternoon with the windows open and with a much more relaxed feel. I was very hot and was glad I put some sun cream on, let me tell you.

Tune of the day for me has to be "Fire" by Kasabian, as certainly the heat today could have been close to a fire, and indeed the tune would have been perfect to have blasting out of The Factor 50's car at full pelt as we headed through the hills and on to Hollingworth Lake as well. It just has that really nice bounce along factor when the song gets going from its slow bit, and of course as you can well imagine, with the summer festivals coming along, that might be getting played a few times by DJs or the band!

Saturday 22nd May - Shepley Spring Festival

It was a nice warm day ahead, and that was going to make today even more lovely than it already was planned. I had to nip over to the local sorting office as I had a recorded delivery package to sign for, and it turned out to be the stylus I was after for the Audio Technica cartridge in my Pioneer PL-514X turntable that I picked up the other day. I had to of course give it a good go and I had managed to get the counterbalance set spot on, so that the records played without any issues or indeed any tracking problems. It was just good to see it come to life and sound good - and that I hoped was the start of a good day all round.

I headed over to see The Factor 50 On My Skin later and once we had some sandwiches for a light lunch, we then headed via the local cobblers to pick up some of her re-heeled shoes on to the motorway, and soon on to the M62 and on the way over to Huddersfield. My friend had given me directions to her place, and it was spot on - off the M62 at junction 23, down the A640 to Huddersfield centre, navigate the ring road, turn right on to a main road out of town and then turn left at the right junction needed, right to their drive, and all sorted. It was a good run and managed to get there easily on time.

It was lovely to see my friend and her partner, and she was in on her own as her partner was at his Mum's sorting things out. We had a good chat over a drink and I was glad that it was pretty cool in the house, as outside was blisteringly hot, especially for May. Once he arrived back the four of us got ourselves all sorted out and headed in the direction of the village of Shepley, around five miles from their place, and then up the hill and to the festival. The layout was a little odd in that the car park was at one end, and you had to walk along the main road past the entrance to the campsite and then to the pedestrian entrance to the festival itself. Why you couldn't walk through the fields from car park to site and then site to festival was a bit beyond me, but hey ho.

We soon swapped our printed receipts for the wristbands for the Saturday day pass, and although contemplating a walk down to the Village Hall to see The Jim Moray Trio, we decided instead to stay at the main base, the other side of the cricket club where there were various market and craft stalls, plenty of food stalls and the bar. We got a good spot and had a blanket with us, so was able to sit down and relax and have a nice beer (the Shepley Spring ale, along with the other real ales, were done by the Elland Brewery) and a proper cask beer at that. We saw an entertainer try to spin plates and absolutely fail to bits, with crockery heading everywhere, and as the weather was lovely we sat down and chatted whilst listening to the open mic session musicians coming from the direction of the bar.

After a while, we were starting to get a bit peckish so three of us scoped out the food and my friend stayed there so she could relax and then we'd let her know what was available. As The Factor 50 and I were waiting to have our hot sausage sandwich (notably I had wild boar) she spotted no less then Seth Lakeman, who'd just been warming up with his band, heading to the Indian food stall and just chatting with his brother Sean whilst doing so. We got served the food and headed back to the blanket, and both The Factor 50 and my friend were in swoon(ish) mode. She fancied the Indian food and so headed to the queue, and Seth was right in front of her. She even managed to have a quick chat with Seth himself, so that was rather good and I think she was ever so slightly buzzing when she got back!

We had a drink and it was nice to hear the open mic band do some good stuff - they even did a cover of The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" which I spotted straight away. With it being Morrissey's birthday today, it also seemed pretty apt to me that they'd play it - so kudos to them to be honest. It got to around 7pm and we knew that we wanted to get to the concert marquee early for the evening show, as Seth Lakeman would be headlining and we wanted to be in good position to see him do his stuff, as you'd rightly expect. We heard lots of trumpets and drums from the tent so thought "best check this out"..

And on first were Frumptarn Guggenband (official site) (myspace) and they were great fun. There must have been almost thirty of them in the band with various horn instrument, drums, percussion and all sorts. They did uptempo versions with horns, drums etc of quite a few songs including that one you always hear at football matches (Dario G's "Carnival de Paris" in case you ever wondered what it is) and also "Beat It" as well, done in that style. They sounded really good and plenty of smiles were on everyone's faces as they played their stuff. Shame they weren't on longer, that'd have been brilliant, but was thorougly impressed. They did seem pretty warm in their Beefeater-esque outfits but really went for it at full pelt. Good for them!

After that were a young quartet from the Orkney Islands, Skalder (myspace) who although musically sounded very tight, did I think need to improve their stage craft a little bit. All of their songs were instrumental and whilst showing off their talents, it made me wonder if some of them might have benefitted from some vocals now and then. Most beautiful though was the title track to their album "Cora" which sounded hauntingly simple yet had a lovely piano feel throughout, and really did make you imagine you were by the sea. Louise on the fiddle was really good and you could tell that she had learned properly, now she just needs to loosen up a bit and improvise a bit more. I'm sure the watching Seth Lakeman might have just told her that afterwards.

Next it wasn't so good, as a two piece took to the stage - Jonny Kearney and Lucy Farrell (official site) (myspace) and although musically it sounded good, and Lucy's vocals were pitch perfect and with a soft yet beautiful voices, the songs were a little bit too depressing to contemplate on a Saturday evening. When they were tinged with some humour, such as the song about a street that Jonny used to live at in Newcastle, or "Lullaby" where they explained about how you would take your partner home when they were drunk, and that certainly got the audience's attention. Musically fine, needs more work on some of the other songs though.

That coldn't be levelled though at Saltfishforty (official site) (myspace) who despite being just a two piece, knew how to get the audience up and joining in with their songs, and playing them at a really fast pace. With Douglas on fiddle and Brian on guitar or mandolin and vocals, their songs had flow and were played well, and musically it all made sense. One example of this was "Burray Strathspey and Reel" where the track got going and soon with some foot stomping had most of the audience clapping along. They even joked about one of the songs referring to Brian's Dad (also called Brian) and had good banter with the audience. Toe tapping stuff, and definitely the perfect warm up for what was to follow.

And that, of course, was Seth Lakeman (official site) (myspace) and as you can well imagine, many a young lady headed to the front by the stage to see him close up. However this was much to the annoyance of a family in front of me and indeed The Factor 50. The marquee was laid out as an all seated gig with enough room for safety reasons round the front and sides, so what gave people the right to just barge to the front for the sake of swooning over Seth was beyond me. The organisers in my view should have made the decision either way and stuck with it, so I had to peek through heads initially till we found a spot against the side of the marquee where we could see the lot.

That aside though, Seth played an excellent set all round, despite not having his double bass player with him in the band due to the wife of said player due to give birth. He did play some new stuff from the forthcoming album "Hearts and Minds" including the title track, did a lovely version of "The Hurlers" to start along with "Solomon Browne" and also the excellent "Ye Mariners All" from his debut solo album "The Punch Bowl" which was a nice surprise. And "Send Yourself Away" as well - excellent. And added to that a blistering version of "Riflemen of War" too, so all was looking good there.

Naturally we just had to get "Kitty Jay" (tune of the day that one) and that came on board near the end of the main set, with him really laying it down rather fast and intense, which was superb to hear, not least because of the way that it got everyone stamping the feet in unison and feeling the beat so well. For the encore, we got the likes of "Blood Upon Copper" and right at the end a faster than usual version of "Race To Be King" which certainly got the floor moving too. It was a shortish set for a main act though at around an hour and a quarter, although there had to be a midnight curfew on the music and as it was getting around 11.45pm I could see why it needed to wrap up.

We walked back along the main road and found the car park surrounded in almost total darkness and headed to there slowly before then heading back to my friend's place, and we had a chatter about all sorts before finally heading to sleep around 1am, thoroughly satisfied with the day's festival and indeed the family friendly feel it had. We all agreed that having plenty of families there showed just how a small and friendly thing like that can be better than trying to battle with 150,000 others at the main stage of other fests. And who knows, I might have discovered some new bands I like into the bargain!

Friday 21st May - This Is The End

I feel all emotional. And not because I've spoken to The Stars In My Sky tonight to tell her how much than I love her (which always makes me feel emotional) and not either because I've just had some bad news or anything like that. No, I've just watched the finale of Ashes to Ashes, and it really did bring everything together and solve all the mysteries throughout that and Life on Mars in a way that we've had clues about throughout the series but finally all came together in an hour packed of revelations, twists and turns that left you on the edge of your seat.

I won't spoil it for you for anyone that's recorded it or is going to catch up on iPlayer sometime, but let's put it this way - it's a sad loss for television that the series has come to an end. The legend of the series will always be that it was a drama packed with great acting, well written scripts and a slight unease and darkness that the final series had - almost giving way to the last episode and leading to it with various guesses and conspiracy theories by plenty of people on Internet message boards. It's the sort of programme that gets you talking and wondering in equal measure.

What I will tell you is that fairly early on you will find out about who Gene Hunt is - and it's a stunning revelation. Just when you think that it's going to be Sam Tyler that's found - it isn't - it's something much more mindblowing than that. It's the major piece that starts to make sense and once those videotapes are watched, the rest of it also does make sense then and why they're all there. And as if you didn't already guess Jim Keats is the bad man - in a real bad man way. You'll see plenty of clues in the final episode even more so, but what you will also note is the way that over the last few episodes it's gone from being sneaky to showing the true colours.

If this series doesn't win any sort of award, we do have to wonder what is wrong with the TV critics. Many fans swamped Internet message boards tonight and on the whole it was vastly in favour of the ending being satisfying. Although I quite liked the end of Life on Mars, it never felt complete because the ending seemed to be tacked on a little (primarily because John Simm couldn't be signed up for a third series) - and as good as that ending worked out, it still left plenty of questions. Now, in a good way, those questions have been answered and put to bed, so they didn't need to bring Sam back at the end (although the idea of Sam shooting Keats would have been absolutely ace if that happened)

I'm also glad that it wasn't dragged out on and on, a la Lost for example, and it's often said that the best TV series are the ones that don't need lots of episodes, just quality ones that made you go back and watch them again. The likes of Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones only had two series, and that was enough. Life on Mars had two - Ashes to Ashes had three, and that was plenty to explain most things. Of course there'll be some who'll be really missing the charcters and want more, but that's also the sign that it did what it set out to do.

I'm still stunned and shocked - it was a brilliant ending and on second watch it even made for more compelling viewing and got me just as emotional. What Dean Andrews (who plays Ray Carling) said a few weeks back was true - it was genius and you did find out all the questions at the end. With that in mind, the song over the closing credits, David Bowie's "Heroes" has to be tune of the day - they were all heroes in their own way, and although Friday nights won't be as good anymore, I can rest safe in the knowledge that it ended on a glorious high point.

Thursday 20th May - Oh The Anticipation

In a strange way, today's been all about anticipation for this weekend. For a start, there's the last ever episode of Ashes to Ashes tomorrow night, which will bring the events of that and its predecessor Life on Mars to a close and explain pretty much most of the important stuff. I sincerely hope it does, as despite it being a superb series I always found the ending of Life on Mars a bit of a cop-out (no pun intended) so if things can be made more clear, then job done. It's going to be hard in the space of an hour but everything is set for 9pm tomorrow night - can't wait.

There's also the weekend's live gig to look forward to as well. Myself and The Stars In My Sky are heading off to the Shepley Spring Festival near Huddersfield and the headlining act we're going to mainly see is Seth Lakeman. It's a bit annoying that after we'd booked the tickets for the Saturday that they'd then make tickets available for the Saturday evening only (which would have been better all round) but there you go. That said, seeing Seth in the semi-rural countryside late at night and outside does seem rather appealing, and we'll be with friends too, so that'll be lovely all round.

I was keeping an eye on some of the sports tonight, mainly the play-off second leg between Morecambe and Dagenham and Redbridge. Morecambe were 6-0 down from the first leg but at least played their hearts out tonight and won 2-1 on the night, losing 7-2 on aggregate. It was clear that it was an emotional occasion though, it was the last ever game at their ground Christie Park, a ground I visited last year when I saw Morecambe play Barrow. It was good of them to see a win though on the final ever visit to the ground.

I also spent some time listening to some of my new CDs, first of all Barenaked Ladies' "All In Good Time". It's really growing on me and I think that it's a definite but positive change in direction for them all. I also whacked on the present I got from my brother after it arrived in the post earlier this week and collected at Mum's last night: Paramore's "Riot". I've always liked a few of their songs and thought that this album would be good to get some of the ones I adore. And yes, they do sound rather nice hooked up to the rig. "Misery Business" for some reason just connects with me, so that's tune of the day, although "Crush Crush Crush" does run it quite close. Mind you, the whole album's a solid piece of work and highly listenable. Yaay.

Wednesday 19th May - Kicking It Old School

It was a bit of a retro and old school sort of evening for me tonight as I took the opportunity to relax after a hard day at the office. First off, I had recently rediscovered the joys of Slam Tilt, a great pinball game for the PC. It was always fun playing two of the four tables on that because I could rack up massive scores. Then I remembered: I still had the Pinball Power pack compilation which had Pinball Fantasies and Pinball Illusions. Memories came flooding back to playing Pinball Illusions on my friend's Amiga 1200 and indeed many years ago when I first got my PC how I loved Pinball Fantasies too, mainly the excellent Stones and Bones table.

Of course, back in the days of PC gaming, you had to have a sound card which would run under good old DOS, and on top of that, enough base memory to run the game. That meant fiddling around with the various loading of files like HIMEM.SYS and good old EMM386.EXE to try and get that last ounce of extended memory to be able to play the game. What a nightmare, eh? It was a challenge in itself to get the game to run, so of course when Windows 95 and Direct X started taking over, everyone breathed a sigh of relief all round. Nonetheless, I wanted to kick it old school and play Pinball Fantasies, so I wondered how exactly I'd get it to run in Windows.

The answer, naturally, was DOSBox, one of the leading emulators of DOS. The recently released 0.74 version looks pretty stable to me, and it's pretty configurable so you can set it as you want. Of course if you don't fancy typing in commands on the command line or fiddling with a text file, you can use various frontends as well. However I didn't mind dabbling a little with the command line, so soon was able to mount the CD drive, install Pinball Fantasies from that and then once installed run it from there. And it worked, flawlessly too, and soon Stones and Bones was mine. And it was enjoyable - almost too much so.

The Stars In My Sky came over later and after some pasta for tea we soon headed over to see my Mum. It was nice being sat outside in the back garden with a cool drink and being able to have a chat about all sorts. Mum also wanted me to take home with me a rather nice classic Pioneer turntable that she didn't have any use any more for, and knowing that I still play my vinyl, she wanted to hand it to someone that would use it. It's still in pretty good shape all round, and once I looked at it I knew it needed a bit of a clean as well as possibly a new stylus, and it'd be good to go.

I got it back home later, and sure enough the tonearm looked in excellent shape when the turntable was cleaned carefully. I got the belt all on correctly, and indeed got the tonearm pointing pretty straight as well so the stylus when on would be nice and level with the record, so all good there. I worked out that the stylus and cartridge was a classic Audio Technica AT91, not what Pioneer would have had on originally but a good classic cartridge nonetheless, and a quick peek at their website shows that you can still order the stylus from them directly (and it was the cheapest price, shopping around) so that's exactly what I did.

Tune of the day in the meantime is the rather still cool "Love is the Drug" by Roxy Music. Mum and The Stars got talking about the band and indeed Bryan Ferry tonight, and I had to gently remind them of some of the hit singles and classic songs that they'd had. It's also where The Stars and I disagree - I love their early more arty stuff, and she likes the songs like "Dance Away" and "Avalon". Mind you, we both like this one and as I recently picked up the album on CD, it's a pretty good side one track one as it would have been back then on the vinyl release - and of course, it was also used on a Debenhams ad not so long ago. Art-rock, indeed.

Tuesday 18th May - Listening In

Another pretty busy day for me today - although it started in rather unusual circumstances - me getting a taxi to work! I had admittedly overslept and I didn't want to be late, especially as that wouldn't be a good impression on anyone, so once I was up and out I had to make a quick decision to head to the local taxi place and see if they could get me to work quickly. And they did - and only charged me a reasonable amount for it. I wouldn't want to do that every day of course but at least it showed that I do have some kind of loyalties when it comes to work, methinks.

It was a good day though as I managed to work out just why one of the multifunction printers wasn't feeding paper through the document feeder - it was all down to some rollers which had plenty of toner and dirt on them and as such were almost coated in a greasy-like film, meaning that no traction from the rollers was able to grab the paper. Once I'd cleaned these up, the feeding worked an absolute treat and everything seemed to work nicely. I also did an install of this excellent little Epson sheet feed scanner, which scanned rather quickly and in excellent quality - I so want one now!

I did a diversion on the way home via the city centre - I had a gift card for Fopp and I wasn't afraid to use it - and ended up getting the new Barenaked Ladies album as well as the Roxy Music "Siren" album as well. It worked out perfect as that meant that the gift card from my sister covered those purchases, so in essence that's what she'd have got me. Yaay. It meant I could add those to the CDs that I was going to spend time listening to tonight, as I had some time and space on my own to be able to do so. And why not, eh?

I had a bit of a chilled out music night planned and so on went the Barenaked Ladies album "All In Good Time" first, and it's a grower on me. It might seem strange to some fans that the band have got a little more serious, but that's not a coincidence with the departure of founding member Steven Page. I actually think they're better off, with the maturity of the opener "You Run Away" and the beauty of Kevin Hearn on vocals during "Another Heartbreak" (make that one tune of the day) really does add a dimension to them. It's going to grow on me even more before I head out in September to see them live, I think.

I also spent some time with Natalie Merchant's "Leave Your Sleep" double CD. It's quite intriguing as to how the songs were written: adaptations of poems about childhood from the 19th and 20th century into a musical form. It's intriguing and lush and beautiful, and when I see her live next week I can only imagine just how it'll sound then. She's spent time on the album and it shows, it's just stunning. I'll have to spend some more time listening to the album again!

Monday 17th May - Getting Rid of the Daemons

After a day at work I went over to see one of my friends as he had been having problems with his PC. I fired it up and I could see what he was talking about - everything was running pretty slowly and some programs wouldn't even open. It seemed a little odd, like something was taking over the system. I thought for a second and thought "right, Sophos Anti-Rootkit might do the job". It's a free download and it's pretty good at spotting potential rootkits and getting rid of them if required. So I fired that up and see what it found.

It did notice a file called sptd.sys, and when I looked it up, it seemed to be a driver that sometimes installs with the likes of Daemon Tools, Alcohol and other software that lets you extract stuff from CDs or act like a virtual CD drive. Sophos Anti-Rootkit spotted it as a hidden system file and seriously thought that it might not be too good, so I let it get rid of the file, and just to be sure, I checked the registry for any entries (notably in the CurrentControlSet part) and then got rid of those too - well, eventually. You see, some of the entries in there were set so that you couldn't delete them, so I gave it full control to be deleted and all was working fine then, thankfully.

We restarted the PC and everything loaded up as intended, and just to be sure it was no fluke, tried it a few times more over the space of the next couple of hours - and it worked fine too. I have a feeling that Windows was loading the file as a service, and when it loaded, it was hogging the processor with requests for virtual CDs and also slowing the network down too. Everything now launches properly and as intended, and so I felt quite pleased with myself that I was able to sort that one out.

We had a good chat about rocking on the Wii and seeing what tracks had been released for Rock Band 2 recently, in case he decided to get it. I did notice plenty of Judas Priest live tracks from the 30th anniversary edition of their British Steel album, but I kind of wish it was the originals - wouldn't mind playing the 1980 original of "Breaking the Law" so I can go like Beavis and Butthead during the chorus. In fact, make that one tune of the day. It's still a classic even now although let's be perfectly honest here, the video is completely cheesy as anything! Mind you, if my friend gets it, could well be rocking online as a little band. Woohoo!

Sunday 16th May - Monaco to Marple

It was the Monaco Grand Prix this afternoon, and The Star In My Sky left me to it so she could head home and do some stuff around the house, saving her time later on. This meant I could grab a coffee and relax in front of the telly with Martin Brundle's pit walk and seeing how many famous people he could bump into (he did speak to Gerard Butler and The Sugababes as well as some of the drivers) and prepare myself for what many people is the race in F1 to win - and for some reason despite the narrow streets, the difficulty in overtaking and the closeness of the barriers, it's a challenge like no other.

The race was pretty good mainly because of some safety car incidents which brought the pack closer together - Nico Hulkenberg had a faling Williams coming out of the tunnel, and that was hairy, and later on Rubens Barrichello in the other Williams ended up facing the wrong way due to a track rod failure, and he headed up Beau Rivage the wrong way and into the barrier. He threw the steering wheel out in disgust and almost immediately that was run over by Adrian Sutil in the Force India. Whoops, expensive bit of kit gone right there!

Mark Webber though was imperious in the Red Bull car all day and thoroughly deserved his win with team mate Sebastian Vettel second. Robert Kubica did keep Vettel very honest in third and kept hassling him all race, which was good to see. Lewis Hamilton was the best of the Brits in fifth, and kept the car under good control despite having brake issues. What ended up being the controversy though was right at the end - the safety car came in on the final lap, and there's a white line on the track where you can start racing again. Michael Schumacher saw Fernando Alonso skid round La Rascasse and passing the white line took him for sixth. However, one of the rules says that you can't do that if it's the final lap and the safety car comes in, meaning that Schumacher took a 20 second penalty and ended up classified 12th. One of the stewards at Monaco was no less than Damon Hill - sweet revenge perchance?

After that and with The Star back at my place, we headed out to Marple on the bus for a nice walk. We headed up the canal locks up to the top lock first, and admired the view from there over the hills and to the Macclesfield Canal, where the Ring O'Bells pub is. It was then a nice downhill walk from lock 16 all the way down through to lock 1, admiring the views, the ducks waddling around and completely at ease with everything, and then down through a path onto a walkway that takes you back to the entrance of Brabyns Park, and from there into Marple Bridge and in to The Midland, where an orange juice was waiting for me and a glass of wine for The Star.

The weather was set fair and it was a nice afternoon walk out, and some of the canal locks looked like they were being re-painted as well - the numbers were missing. Also, what was noticable for me was just how many people were out walking their pets or indeed taking a walk along the locks. I think next time we'll have to walk through Brabyns Park and down to the Iron Bridge over the river at the far end, then maybe back via Compstall. It was nice just to escape for a bit and before we knew it, we were back on the bus and back to mine for tea, where I did chicken wrapped in bacon and some vegetables to go with it.

Tune of the day is an easy choice for me to be honest, it's "Sugar Sweet" by those US indie popsters The Icicles. It's just a lovely Summery song to sing along to (if you want to sing that is) but it's also just good fun to have in the background when the sun's out and you're walking in the countryside. I should have taken the iPod with me and put that on as we were walking, and the chorus line "You're just about my everything" sums up my feelings for The Star right now - she is my everything, and I love her tons. So there.

Saturday 15th May - Panna Cotta Crazy

It was nice to have a little bit of a lie in this morning before heading to Tesco and getting some food in. There were no croissants for breakfast tomorrow, so instead I got some bacon and some bread, and I'd make some nice little bacon toasties in the morning. I also got some chicken which I could make a nice meal with tomorrow night as well if I needed - and once I'd got the lottery tickets sorted, it was back home, dropping off my shopping and then heading into the city centre with some of my gift vouchers to treat myself.

I headed first into Fopp and if anything there was too much choice, and decided in the end to wait and see what I'd get from my friends tonight and then know what I can get after that as I'd have more stuff to pick from my list - and of course it also meant that I could also save them for when new stuff came out. I had two gift cards for there but also one for HMV for my cousin, so I headed in there. There were plenty of 2 CDs for £10 on offer, and in the end I got two I was after - one on my list, one not - namely Metallica's "Garage Inc" 2CD set and the limited CD and DVD of Kasabian's "West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum" which looked like a nice set with the embossed cover and everything.

I headed home and played the Metallica set, and it was nice to hear some of their excellent covers across the set, including versions of Nick Cave's "Loverman", Queen's "Stone Cold Crazy" (I'll make the original tune of the day as that's great fun on Guitar Hero Metallica), Bob Seger's "Turn The Page" and Motorhead's "Overkill" amongst others. The Mercyful Fate medley of covers by that band is also on Guitar Hero Metallica and it's some eleven minutes long - pretty knackering if you're on drums for that one methinks.

I settled down to watch the Monaco GP qualifying - and Mark Webber pulled off a stunning lap at the end to snatch pole from Robert Kubica, whom I thought did excellent in his Renault. Jenson Button was off the pace though and that was a concern for me to say the least. Then I headed to see my auntie as it was her birthday today - we'd got her a gift card for Waterstones so that she could buy some books for herself, and we ended up spotting two online she was after, and used the gift card online to get them! So that worked out rather nicely all round.

Later on The Star In My Sky came over, and I then got myself showered and changed for the meal out. I put on my nice black silver and white striped shirt which I've not worn for a bit, and The Star looked lovely in her new top that she'd got from Debenhams the other day. It was then off to the Cornerhouse first for a drink, and on the one hand I was pleased that they did have bottles of Landlord. Unfortunately, two major minuses - first, it was a mere £4 per bottle (when you can get three for £4 in your local Morrisons, that's poor) and also they kept it in the fridge, which was a bad move. Real ale should be at room temperature, even in bottled form. Meh.

It was then over the road to Felicini's to meet up with my friends. As it turned out, my friend's boyfriend had his birthday next Friday, so we decided it'd be nice to make it a double celebration. So six of us were sat at a really nice booth table, and we had plenty of chatter and food to enjoy. The new menu certainly proved interesting with the tapas style starters for some of us. I had the bread tin, with various different breads and some olive oil to dip it in, which was good fun. The Star's tomato and bruschetta was lovely too, and that set us up all nicely for the main meal. I had the chicken and wild mushroom penne, which was spot on, and The Star's carbonara looked good too from what I could see of it.

We all (apart from The Star who was nicely full) decided that dessert was good, so two of us went for the profiterole stacks, one for the ice cream with the coffee espresso, and two of us including me for the panna cotta, and that turned out to be a good move. I loved the panna cotta and the raspberries were sharp and tart as ever. And I love the jar container it comes in - it's rather unique that. With that done, we swapped presents and I allowed my friend's boyfriend to open his first, I only thought it was fair to be honest - and he was pretty chuffed with what we had.

It was then my turn, and it was so nice to have lovely presents from my friends, let me tell you. I got a gift card for Debenhams, the Madagascar Penguins series on DVD, Coast Series 1 on DVD, and plenty of CDs: Frank Black's "93-03" 2CD set, La Roux's self titled album, John Mayer's "Battle Studies", Morrissey's reissue of "Maladjusted" and Richard Hawley's "Truelove's Gutter". One of my friends also got me The God of Rock figure from Guitar Hero as well, which was quite a neat and quirky thing. Needless to say I was very happy indeed with all that and that made my day complete very nicely.

It was a really relaxed me as we headed home on the bus, but I thought to myself what a great time I'd had and indeed how nice everyone was to me. I consider myself lucky to have such good friends, and in The Star, someone who makes me smile - lots too. I thought about it as we headed to sleep and I just wanted to dream lovely dreams about being with everyone and having a lovely time as I did tonght. Trust me - when you get good friends, make sure you hold on to them and be there for them - as it's such a good feeling to know that you've got good people around you.

Friday 14th May - You Won't Have To Work With That Bitch Again

It was a fairly hard day at the office, not least because most of my time was either spent in meetings, fixing problems or then spending time showing our new Modern Apprentices around some of the building we work in to give them an idea of where everything is. I also showed them all the ins and outs of the current email system that we use so that they can get an idea of what we do and how it all works as well. Obviously as I'm mentoring one of them (and my colleague the other) it's important that we get to know them and how they are as people as well as what their skill levels are, so we can get them on the right footing.

It was straight out into the city centre from work and to meet up with The Star In My Sky for the evening. We had planned to meet up with friends later at the Lowry as we were seeing Dara O'Briain there, which would be good fun, but it meant that we could have some time to ourselves too and go for something to eat. As The Waterhouse was too busy we ended up heading to Table Table, which meant two things: first, they still had Hobgoblin on cask so that was me sorted for a beer, and they also do a two for £10 menu which is quite a good selection. That worked out nicely as I had the scampi and The Star had the blackened minute steak, all very nice.

We soon headed then from St Peter's Square tram stop and on a brand new Metrolink tram to Harbour City, the closest station to the Lowry (well that is until the MediaCity extension is done) and the tram was pretty busy to say the least. We also noticed that there appeared to be less seats than on the old trams as well - whether that's to get more commuters on or not, I'm not sure. They were nice and clean and efficient though, so there's something. We soon got to The Lowry, two of our friends were there at the bar and the other two weren't far behind either, so it was good to catch up and chatter before heading in.

Then, with the lights dimmed and Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice" blasting out over the speakers (tune of the day surely) on came Dara, and for the next two hours with an interval in between, it was all very entertaining indeed. He rattled off plenty of anecdotes but also spoke to plenty of people in the audience and had good banter with them, bringing the subjects they'd talk about to life. One thing he did talk about was about dreams you have of famous people and to share them - one thought about Greg Rusedski hanging himself and plenty of blokes admitted to various fantasies about Lady Gaga or Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.

One great little sketch was near the end when he was talking about Guitar Hero and Rock Band and how instead of playing you end up going "green, red, yellow" etc to get in time, but how you should have rock band groupie mode where you simulate sucking off with the guitar and get points for it, hehe. And at the end he described how he was spotted by a woman who was a HR person who'd made another woman redundant and wondered if she could be cheered up. So, Dara goes to the redundant woman and says to her "At least you won't have to work with that bitch again!" which brought cheers from all of the audience, as it really hit home nicely.

It was a tram ride for us and then a bus ride home, but I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and The Star said to me that she was pretty impressed too (I could tell - she was giggling a plenty throughout) and whilst it felt a little sad having to say goodbye and head home, I know she had stuff to do tomorrow as did I so it'd give us some quality time before meeting up and heading out tomorrow night for a meal with friends - so I know I'll see her soon. I guess when you're happy with someone you want to spend as much time as you can don't you?

Thursday 13th May - Monaco Magic

After a fairly tough day at the office, where I re-imaged a PC, set off to repair a printer and found that it was the fuser that had seemingly one awol and was almost impossible to replace without taking the whole thing to bits in open heart surgery style, and indeed keeping on top of any queries and getting them taken care of, it was a visit into the city centre after work for me. I needed to get two birthday presents, one for a relation and one for my friend's partner. We'd be out on the Saturday evening for a meal and as my friend and partner would be away next weekend when it's the birthday in question, it'd be a perfect opportunity for presents and stuff.

I managed to find what I wanted in terms of a nice little present, but also managed to find something for my relation as well, and then the only real dilemma was what card to get. I did manage to find two good ones in the end but it's amazing how many card shops want to sell you ones with that Me To You Tatty Teddy bear on them - like enough, already! It was then a case of making sure that I got anything else sorted and it was off on the bus back home to see some sport.

As it's the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend, the BBC have been showing some old classic races on the red button, including highlights of the 1984 race in torrential rain where Nigel Mansell led but slid on a painted white line and hit the barriers, Alain Prost lead but was being caught by Ayrton Senna in a Toleman (and showed even then his magic) whilst Stefan Bellof in the Tyrrell was also cutting through the field and getting towards the front as well. Had the race not been stopped when it was, Senna may have won. Ironically, as only half points were awarded, Prost lost the world title to Niki Lauda by half a point - and had the race gone full distance even if Prost was second, the 6 points instead of 4.5 would have meant the positions reversed.

I love the Monaco Grand Prix - it's like no other. Racing up and down hills, on tight city streets that normally are only around two normal cars wide, and with barriers everywhere as well as the sea and the minor escape roads on occasion, it's a real test of car and driver as well as sheer nerve. How fast do you got before hitting the walls? And indeed back in the day, when you were watching it on telly, how long did you wait before cranking the volume up when Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" came on? Tune of the day - most definitely.

Wednesday 12th May - It's All So Final

It was the final of the four sessions of my professional mentoring course today, and for some reason it seemed to run a little behind time, not least with one of the tasks where we had to describe a situation that we'd been placed in during mentoring or in your professional career and how you dealt with it, but also how you could seek advice from others in your peer group. It was a pretty tough task to do because I know it reminded me of having tricky situations in my own professional career, but at the same time it was a case of taking that on and going from there.

On the whole, I've enjoyed the four weeks and it's been a real insight into me as a person as well - how I manage and see myself but also how I can improve and develop in terms of how I deal with people, how I can become a more effective listener and various other people skills that I may not have had before. All that in essence will help me, and indeed this afternoon was a good opportunity to put the listening and presentation skills all in one session I had to do.

We've taken on some modern apprentices at work and it was my job to show them how the account reset utility works and also to answer any questions. It was nice that a few of them were taking it all in and indeed asking plenty of questions, and not necessarily about the task in hand either. One of them said that I didn't look my age, so that was nice, and another said that it was good that the time had been taken to explain to them the whys and wherefores of why a login account could be disabled. All of that meant that it was a good grounding for them as part of their induction week, something I really wish that I'd had.

Later on I made myself and The Princess In My Castle something to eat for tea, some meatballs and pasta with some ciabatta and that went down rather nicely indeed. We had a pretty relaxing evening, taking time out to watch Junior Apprentice and see how the wrong choice of market to sell cheese could be lethal, and how not to sell cheese to a restaurant at such a knockdown price. Inevitably there were some characters, not least the brash and loudmouth Zoe who was doing all the selling for the girls and not letting anyone get a word in whatsoever. Mind you, they did make a healthy profit and so they stayed and one of the boys left, and the team leader was a cocky little so and so, so I was pleased that he went.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "19" by Paul Hardcastle. It's hard to believe it was twenty five years ago that the single came out, and I can remember a few years later there was a computer game based on the song - with it being Part One - Boot Camp. There was an audio tape given away with the game and not only that but there was also a corking version of the song on the Commodore 64 version, really brought it alive too. Excellent stuff all round methinks.

Tuesday 11th May - Birthday Part 2

It wasn't all completely over yet, and as The Princess In My Castle headed out for breakfast, we had a morning stroll along one of the arcades of Victorian era in the shops, and indeed spotted a couple of nice little items in the Oxfam boutique shops as we walked back and got something for lunch and the train. It did feel a little sad that our little holiday was coming to an end, but it also made me realise that the time spent was special, and as we chatted over breakfast, it sunk in just how lucky I am really.

It was soon time to head to Cardiff Central train station to get the train back to Manchester Piccadilly and so it was a three and a quarter hour journey back through Newport, Abergavenny, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Crewe et al before arriving at Piccadilly bang on time, so that was good. It was hard to say goodbye to The Princess it really was, but I knew that it also meant I'd make the most of the time we'd had too. I headed back home and uploaded the pictures over the course of the afternoon whilst also getting the washing done from the case for the weekend.

It was then over to Mum's for the evening, and it was nice to see my brothers, one of my sisters (the other is away on holiday), my uncle and auntie, and it was good to have a cuppa with them and chat about all sorts, and get more presents too. Mum and my sister had already got me some vouchers for Fopp and a nice shirt, and so it was presents from my relatives now. I got another nice shirt, a polo shirt, the Unthanks latest album on CD, the Manchester City Big Match DVD, and a picture in frame which was of the old Black Cat arcade in Towyn, North Wales, where my brother and I used to go when we stayed in a caravan close to there, and I'd make 10p on Track and Field last ages!

We turned on the news and saw that it was all unfolding in Westminster. Gordon Brown had resigned as Prime Minister and David Cameron was in Buckingham Palace to be sworn in as the new leader of the country - and on top of that it looked like the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition was to be formed, with Nick Clegg as possible Deputy PM. We were all a bit surprised but after days of endless BBC News 24 coverage on that and nothing else, it looked like the end was in sight (thankfully.) We all had a chat about that too over tea and a cake and all was well with the world.

It was a good day too and I felt like it was almost an extension of my birthday, so it felt good all round really. I relaxed in the evening and spoke to The Princess about it all and told her how happy I felt. She felt really pleased too that she'd done her part and that set me off thinking nice thoughts as I thought about the whole weekend, and really it all started with the excellent Duke Special gig last weekend. So as a little reminder, I'm going to make "Tango Tangle" tune of the day simply because it was so darned good live!

Monday 10th May - Penblwydd Hapus!

It's my birthday today, so as they say in Wales, Pendlwydd Hapus! And seeing as I was in Cardiff, that makes a lot of sense. I woke in the Travelodge with The Princess In My Castle and it was just lovely to see her smiling face all excited to see what I'd got. She had brought her presents with her all wrapped up and also the ones from some of her relations, which was rather lovely of them all to get me something, made me feel humble. Naturally she wanted me to open everything, so saving hers till last I opened the cards from her sisters and her parents, and presents too - namely a voucher for Marks and Spencer, a Sonic The Hedgehog face t-shirt and the limited 2CD set of the new Natalie Merchant album. That made me feel even more humble.

In fact The Princess had got me two cards - one a lovely Forever Friends one (aww) and one which had Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt on the front. Open it and he'd come out with plenty of Huntisms and then "happy birthday sunshine" which was brilliant. And it was the proper voice and everything, how smart eh? But that was nothing compared to the lovely presents that she'd got for me. I felt so spoiled and loved and even more humble, I wanted to cry with joy. She'd got me the retro Man City home shirt with the old school City logo in the middle, an Audrey Hepburn mug, the Seth Lakeman live at the Minack Theatre DVD, a frame with pictures of us in so I could put it up on the wall, and a grip glass which is the same one I have in Ra!n Bar when having a drink. So much thought went into everything and it was all so lovely.

I wanted to just give her so many cuddles and kisses and felt so happy and I wanted today to be lovely, and that's how it turned out too. We had breakfast and then headed up to Cardiff Castle. We got in and there was plenty to explore, so we started with the outer battlements, then down through the hidden war tunnels which also gave a great view of the city through the gaps in the walls there, then back towards the North Gate to see the view to beyond, and to the lawned area before crossing the ward walls and taking the stairs up to the keep and to the very top of the castle. There were some steep stairs but we made it and the view from the top was pretty spectacular to say the least - you could see over the bay from there and beyond, absolutely gorgeous.

We clambered back down from the castle's keep and then over to the house, where you could view the library, the large dining room, the drawing room and indeed admire the architecture and artwork in there. The stained glass windows were stunning, and the Arab Room complete with its gold and wooden architecture was a simply beautiful feature room that had you lost for words, completely. The whole house was lovely and as you headed out to the sunshine, the gardens looked lovely, the black tower dominated the entrance and the cannons that were there didn't look out of place one bit.

All the way through the castle tour you had little signs telling you about the history of the place and we both took the audio guides, which when you held them to your ears looked more like a large mobile phone. Press the appropriate number and you got the dulcet tones of Huw Edwards the BBC newsreader, telling you about the history of various parts of the castle. The audio guide was included in the admission and made perfect sense to listen to as you headed round to get a feel for the place. We handed those back in and had a cake and coffee in the castle café and sat outside in the sunshine, which was all rather lovely.

We then headed out of the castle and along to the walkway along the River Taff with the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Arms Park on the left. As you got to the stadium itself, the square tiles on the floor were all etched in with people's names in who wanted a memorial there, but also of famous Welsh icons including all three current members of the Manic Street Preachers, which made perfect sense as I'd seen them there at the end of 1999 with a couple of friends. Also along the walkway you saw the national flags in stone of each of the countries that play rugby union, and as you walked round the other side of the stadium you got to see the pitch and the rugby posts too.

After this it was time for some shopping and as we both had gift cards we both got something lovely. The Princess got herself a top from Debenhams for the summer which was a really nice bright colour but also very classy, and I got a check shirt in Marks and Spencer which looked spot on as well - so that was all good. We had a sandwich for lunch and had a nice walk around some of the shops in the afternoon and also got to see the new Central Library, went in the oldest record shop in the city which was pretty smart, and also went in some of the old Victorian era shopping arcades, which really did look lovely, plenty of little shops along the way.

We then headed back to something we'd seen earlier as we fancied a drink after all the walking around and headed to 0 Degrees just opposite one of the entrances to the Millennium Stadium. It wasn't just a bar, but also a microbrewery so it made all its own real ale on the premises. Whilst deciding what to have the bar staff very kindly gave me a small little sampler of one called Rusty N'Ale, and that tasted good, so I vouched for a pint of that. It tasted gorgeous and it felt lovely, with a slight raspberry and almond taste to it too. And even better - it was happy hour, so the beer was £2 a pint and the glass of wine for The Princess a mere £2.50. Bargain all round, I reckoned!

It was then back to base to get showered and changed for a meal in the evening, and we went back to Cardiff Bay on the bus to one of the restaurants there, as I wanted to go to the bay and overlook it as the sun went down. We liked the look of one and went in, and proved to be a very wise decision. If you're around Cardiff Bay, then we can both highly recommend Signor Valentino to you. Everything felt right - the relaxed atmosphere, the views, the friendly and proper Italian staff, and the food. Oh yes, the food. To die for. After a nice little garlic bread starter, the mains came out and they were brilliant. The Princess had the tagliatelle Sophia Loren with ham, mushrooms and a creamy tomato sauce that was melt in the mouth, and I went for their tagliatelle carbonara which was choc full of bacon and cream, with a lovely sauce too. It was stunning and the best carbonara I'd had in years, I kid you not. Oh, and the tiramisu for dessert? That was far too morish and I'd have had a second one if I could do. I'm serious folks - if you're around there - go there. End of.

It was then a nice walk back along the bay and back on the bus, and well, we thought, back to 0 Degrees, and that was marvellous. It was relaxed and I had another Rusty N'Ale and The Princess some wine. In fact she went to the bar to get another glass and was talking to the bar manager there and how I love real ale. What I didn't expect (nor did she to be fair) was that he brought over a tray with a sampler glass of each of the ales that they did so I could try them all. The melon one was good, and the dark one, brewed Czech style, was good too. In fact they all had variety and that was rather the topping on the cake wasn't it? It made me feel so chuffed to bits and the barman very kindly said goodnight to us and told me to enjoy the rest of my birthday too. Like, how nice was all that? And Skunk Anansie's "Weak" was playing in there too - tune of the day that one, and in fact the tunes were all good indie numbers!

I had such a wonderful birthday and it's all down to The Princess In My Castle for making it happen and making me feel so loved and special. The presents were brilliant and sharing a lovely day out with great food and indeed excellent beer too was just superb, it really was. I just wanted to cry with happiness as we headed to sleep late at night because this showed me above anything else just how much she feels about me - and how much that I know I want to reciprocate all that kindness back. Yaay for excellent birthdays, eh?

Sunday 9th May - Down By Cardiff Bay

It was a fairly early start to the morning as I got up and got ready to head out to Piccadilly station. There I'd be meeting with The Princess In My Castle to head down to Cardiff for a couple of days, which meant that my birthday would be spent in Wales, which would be a nice thing to do. I've never been away on my birthday for a while and thought that it'd be particularly nice for me to do, especially as I'd managed to book a Travelodge for not that much dosh and save on the trains as well and make it a not that expensive sort of weekend, which is sometimes what you want.

It was an Arriva Trains Wales service that we got there, and although only a two carriage train, it was nice and comfortable. We faced forward, had a table to read stuff if we needed to, had a space between the seats for the luggage and it was a pleasant and comfortable journey via Crewe, Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Hereford, Abergavenny, Cwmbran and Newport before getting to Cardiff itself in around three and a quarter hours - not too bad really. The train journey took in lots of countryside which was very lovely to see and sped right past the side of Ludlow racecourse as well, so that was good to see it close up.

It wasn't that far from the station to the Travelodge although we arrived early enough for them not to allow us to check in, but as there was a pub close by we simply went in there and had a drink and some lunch, which passed the time away nicely. It also gave us chance to relax after being up and ready for the train, and with that done, we checked in, unpacked and got ourselves ready to head out to Cardiff Bay to spend most of the rest of the day there. We figured that it'd be nice to take a walk along the waterfront and see the buildings there but also to get an idea of the restaurants etc in the Mermaid Quay side of the bay and think of somewhere for tomorrow night.

We walked from the station to the bay, a good mile plus or so, and we soon saw the Wales Millennium Centre with its iconic frontage, a poetry line in both Welsh and English nonetheless, as well as Roald Dahl Plass, named after the author and somewhere I recognised from both Doctor Who and Torchwood. We walked past Mermaid Quay and down past Techniquest to the posh flats on the harbour front there, and past the St David's Hotel to the wetlands nature reserve, and you could see many a bird there in natural habitat before heading back to Mermaid Quay and then Eastwards along the bay.

The walk here took in the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly building used for debates, the Norwegian Church Arts Centre which used to be the church that Roald Dahl used to go to as a child, and there was also this rather strange but excellent mosaic like structure with a fish on one side and a person on the other. The view from here over the bay to Penarth was rather nice, as was the visitors' centre (aka The Tube). We also noticed a lot of seats and sculptures of creatures and human form made from bricks, which was a nice recycled touch, as well as the Lightship 2000 which was a moored boat that served as a place of worship and a café.

After this it was admiring the views of the bay and even tempting ourselves to hire a bike and ride along to the far end of the Cardiff Barrage and on to Penarth, but decided against that and walked instead along the far end of the quay and through to the Red Dragon Centre, which was mainly for leisure. I did spot something in the bowling alley and closer inspection revealed it to be a Guitar Hero arcade machine! Well, of course I had a go, and managed to nail Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" on medium no problem, and get the top score for it too, so best make that tune of the day - I was rocking, me you know!

We decided to get the bus back from the bay at that point and noted that the buses don't give change, so knowing we were coming back later to eat, got an all day ticket and that sorted that one out. It was nice to relax for a bit back at the Travelodge base before heading out to the bay again, walking past the Roald Dahl Plass at sunset and seeing how the place lights up at night, especially the Wales Millennium Centre which has the frontage all backlit, and it looks spectacular. After not being too decisive about where to eat (primarily because some places had music blaring way too loudly and others had a not so great menu) we played safe and went to Wagamama, and I tried something new for me - the chicken and prawn cha han. It was that nice that I'll be having it again when I go there, and with The Princess having the chicken katsu curry we were both happy and fed little bunnies.

We got back into the city centre and found a nice pub that was once a theatre, but had been converted to a pub. The nice thing was that all the original features were left intact and various framed images all around told you o the place's history. That felt a nice touch to see that not all conversions to pubs are poor efforts - you could see the effort put in and the fact that it had Brains beer on cask won it for me too, so to relax there last thing and have a nice drink just set me in the mood for being on holiday even more than I was already. I was also excited as it's my birthday tomorrow, I can't wait!

Saturday 8th May - Haircut And Eighties Heaven

In preparation for a small break away tomorrow, I went into my usual hairdressers, The Northern Cutter, to get my hair all nicely chopped to bits. It was good that I was able to get the usual excellent cut there and have plenty of good banter there too, as one of them's a Man U fan and of course was mentioning City's failure on Wednesday but also how it could still swing on Sunday to be a title win. We shall see, but it was good chatter all the same and it meant that it set me up nicely for the day's sporting action on the telly as well.

It was then a trip over to Vinyl Exchange, and I hadn't been in there for ages. The Northern Cutter had some 80s compilation on, and it sounded good, so I thought to myself "wonder if they've got any 80s compilations?" and sure enough I looked through them and found "Ministry of Sound - Anthems: Electronic 80s" which had been advertised on the telly over Christmas last year and something I was tempted to get The Wine In My Glass, as I know 80s music is stuff that she likes. Anyway, imagine when I saw that the price was a mere £5 and that it was still sealed? And it's a 3CD compilation. Well, of course I purchased it - Vinyl Exchange rules, as per usual. And if you want it yourself, then a trip to play.com might prove useful!

The track listing alone was good enough to convince me it was a fun listen, and so when I started to iron all my clothes that I needed to take, I put on CD1. It was like I'd gone back in time, almost to Ashes to Ashes (hehe, I didn't fire up the Quattro though.) Let me see, "Vienna", "Cars" and the full 12" version of "Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?" as the first three tracks? Absolutely killer. In fact when you also consider the likes of "Love Will Tear Us Apart", my all time favourite song ever is on there, and "Planet Earth" by Duran Duran, oh and the under-rated Jona Lewie classic "You'll Always Find Me In The Kitchen At Parties" then you're ona winner there.

Tune of the day though is on CD2. As I was going through that I noticed Blancmange's "Living on the Ceiling" and it still sounds as fresh now as it did then. I love the slightly Eastern tinge of the riff after the chorus, really does make you tingle, and as it's been used on some adverts recently a lot of you might know it more than you think - especially if you've seen the Berocca ad, which also craftily rips off the idea from OK Go's "Here It Goes Again" video. Anyway, for Blancmange goodness, check the ad out!

Good isn't it? So what else on CD2 hit the high notes? Heaven 17's "Temptation" of course, and "Brilliant Mind " by Furniture (another under-rated effort), "Moments in Love" by The Art of Noise (shame it's not the full 10 minute version), and "Wishing (If I Had a Photograph Of You)" by A Flock of Seagulls. It felt like retro style and I needed to put on the Commodore 64 and play games at the same time whilst listening to these tunes. Well, you know, if I wanted to go back in time and all that..

CD3 is good, but one major annoyance for me - New Order's "Blue Monday" is a cut-down (possible single edited) version instead of the full seven and half minute 12" uncut original. Bad move, that, if you ask me, you should always use the full version of that classic. The compilers put track nineteen for Paul Hardcastle's "19" which was a surreal thing to see (and I'm sure there's a nasty little edit near the end), but kudos for John Foxx's "Underpass" which shows what Ultravox could have turned out like without Midge Ure, and also "Duel" by Propaganda, again in my view criminally under-rated. Ah, the good old days!

Friday 7th May - It's Just Unlike Being In Church

After a really nice day at work, where I brought in some cakes and cookies and I also managed to get some jobs done that were outstanding, and where also a couple of my colleagues got me a birthday card for Monday (which was ever so lovely of them) it was off out and into the centre of town with one of my friends from work. We were off with his Mum and also The Wine In My Glass to see Duke Special tonight, at a rather unusual venue - St Philip's Church in Salford, close to the Cathedral and the university there. It seemed a strange place to hold a show, but having seen Duke a few times this doesn't surprise me one bit.

I was a little late heading out of work so myself and friend headed outwards on the bus into St Peter's Square, and then walked from there through the back of Central Library and down to Spinningfields, where shortly his Mum and The Wine came along, and the four of us headed to Wagamama. We'd not been in there for ages and it was nice to catch up and have a chatter away whilst deciding what to have for tea. It was intriguing to hear about my friend's mum enjoying herself on the drums on the likes of Rock Band and Band Hero - good for her I say! It just shows that if you want to have fun and rock at the same time, age or gender is no limit.

In the end, I plumped for the very nice chicken katsu curry and The Wine went for the chilli men, and we had some duck gyoza as a side dish to share as well, which all went down beautifully. In fact we all enjoyed the food in there and as my friend is vegetarian, the selection's good for him too (yaay). I couldn't resist the coconut reika for dessert afterwards, it's rather lovely especially with the sauce on top, oh yes. We then headed to St Philip's Church only to find out the doors were 7.30pm instead of 7pm on the ticket, so we headed to The Old Pint Pot close to the uni and had a drink in there first.

We made it back to St Philip's Church, and they were now letting people in, so that was good. At first we were going to sit in the church pews but it was a little low down to where Duke Special would be on, so we soon made it upstairs and into the church's upper balconies, which offered a nice view of proceedings. Indeed where we were sat we could see right above where he'd be playing the piano and indeed see the band without any obstructions whatsoever, so that was good. They had a temporary bar which was mainly a table selling bottled ales, cans of beer and wine from wine boxes, so I got a wine for The Wine and - joy of joys - a Hobgoblin for me. Hurrah! Good beer at gigs! Now that's a bit more like it, I said to myself.

We got settled in and on came Hannah Peel (myspace) who did a couple of nice songs with piano, and also had this really weird but ace music box instrument, where you fed a roll of paper with various cutouts, and the little winder you operated by hand wound the paper through and played the notes accordingly. It was surreal yet brilliant, and she mentioned she did an EP called "rebox" with 80s tunes done through the music box incuding Blue Monday and a Cocteau Twins track "Sugar Hiccup" which she played on the night. Her voice was nice but at times a little difficult to comprehend fully, but her playing was rather lovely - a little alt.folk maybe, but good all the same.

That set us all up nicely for Duke Special (official site) (myspace) and the set tonight was a little different. The whole tour was set up for the two albums he'd released and an EP, which forms a three disc set "The Stage, The Book and A Silver Screen". The idea was that he'd play the "The Silent World of Hector Mann" in the first half, and then do "..Presents The Songs From Mother Courage and Her Children" in the second half, with a bit of the "Huckleberry Finn" EP at the end too. He had a projector screen in the background which gave you some background information on the songs on Hector Mann as they all played.

In short, it was brilliant. Both the albums were played in full and in track order, which meant an early outing for "Wanda, Darling of the Jockey Club" which sounded even better live than on record, so tune of the day for me. "Tango Tangle" really did make you want to try the dance out and Duke even had his legs up in true tango fashion, neat touch that. Out of the "Hector Mann" stuff, "The Prop Man" sounded perfect as a silent movie soundtrack, especially with the suspense of the prop man and the drums which were excellent, and also "Mister Nobody" which sounded even more melancholy than on record. It was great fun, and on he came to say "There will now be a short interval" in the cutest way possible.

After that, the "Mother Courage" stuff came on too, and although I prefer the Hector Mann album, live a lot of the tracks came alive a lot more, including "Mother Courage" which sounded even more eerie and dramatic, and the excellent "Yvette (song of Fraternization)" where the piano in the church came alive beautifully and sounded emotionally lovely. I quite loved "Farmhouse Song" as well as it had that feeling of being in the middle of the country and just walking along a country lane without a care in the world. And to add to the fun, "Catfish Song" from the Huckleberry Finn EP at the end sounded nice, even without Beth Rowley's lovely vocals as they were on the record.

It was a great night, and quite why the gig didn't sell out was a mystery to me at first, until I heard someone in the row behind us say "first gig I've been to of his where I didn't know any of the songs". Makes me wonder if enough people who aren't diehard fans have listened to the albums and purchased them, and also just how much exposure that music has got. It's a shame really because he and the band (which had Paul Pilot on drums and Ben Castle on horn instruments) sounded tight, the sound was good and it felt surreal to hear them in church, yet it fitted the mood perfectly. Another great gig and one of my favourites I've been to this year, definitely.

Thursday 6th May - I Wanna Be Elected

It's the big day here in the UK as it's the elections going on. Not just of course the local council elections that were originally scheduled for today, but it's also the Parliamentary elections too - the really big General Election that's been so hyped up for the last three weeks that it's been hard to escape it on the news. All the media has gone into overdrive about it and with all that analysis and indeed the three debates for the last three Thursdays before today, who knows what will happen over the next twenty four hours?

I did feel though it was important to make sure my vote was cast, and so I headed off to the polling station this morning before work to do the necessary deed. I don't believe in all the apathy of not voting at all. In fact I feel it'd be better if voting was compulsory so you had to vote regardless. It's also a testament to those who fought to gain the right to vote (such as the women's voting movement of the early 20th century) that we have a chance to act in democracy like this and if you don't act, then in my view, you can't whine about what happens as you didn't raise your voice for change.

I then headed to work and managed to get a few problems solved including getting a Novell iPrint printer going that clearly wasn't playing ball in the right direction whatsoever because the queue was full and not being cleared. Turned out the printer itself was coming up with some weird paper size error which meant a good hard reset kicked that out and it then started printing properly again, so that was highly pleasing to say the least. I also felt that it was a good thing to be nice to the staff in there and at least show that we'll do what we can.

I got home and then did some shopping at Tesco, and settled in afterwards to watch the closing stages of the World Twenty20 clash with England beating Pakistan and then seeing South Africa against New Zealand which was pretty exciting stuff - the South Africans had enough runs on the board mainly thanks to Albie Morkel's brutal 40 from a mere 18 balls including a massive five sixes out of the ground. It was good fun to watch and of course David Lloyd (aka Bumble) and his commentary always makes watching the cricket entertaining, especially if the camera pans to the West Indies' dancers in the crowd, shall we say!

Tune of the day is Alice Cooper's 1970s hit "Elected" - it just seemed appropriate for today and it also reminded me of the cover version by Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden done for the 1992 Comic Relief single and indeed tied in nicely with the election of that year (of course it's well worth noting that Party Politics won the 1992 Grand National a few days before, too!) but also because it would be how if you were a rocker how you'd want to be elected, and I can kind of relate to that in my own little way. I'm not staying up to watch the endless coverage though...

Wednesday 5th May - Not Going Fourth

It was off to the City of Manchester Stadium tonight to see Manchester City's crunch game against Tottenham in the race for fourth place and that final Champions League slot. City were a point behind Tottenham going into the game and it meant that realistically with the last day of the season being a pretty easy away game each, City had to win to put themselves back into the driving seat - even a draw wasn't good enough. The tension had built up especially after City's win against Aston Villa on Saturday which kept the pressure on both sides, and indeed it meant it was the sort of finish to the season that the TV pundits want - one where it's all decided.

I got into the ground with my friend and the atmosphere was building up nicely, with even an opera bloke coming on and whacking out Nessun Dorma at full whack. For a second I was transported back to the World Cup in 1990 and England doing pretty well in the tournament before the opera bloke decided to try and do Blue Moon in a similar style, which to be honest was bloody cringeworthy to say the least. Normal order was at least restored when the teams came out and on came Supra's much better version of Blue Moon over the tannoy and it fired everyone up nicely for a really important game.

The first half was evenly matched with both sides having chances. Adam Johnson's rasping left foot shot just went wide of the post and there was almost an own goal in our favour too, although Ledley King did have a goal ruled out for offside and Gareth Bale flashed a shot just wide of the City goal. To be fair to the stand-in keeper Marton Fulop, he did look equal to the task in every way and it was good to see that he was a lot more confident behind the sticks after a slightly nervous start on the Saturday.

At half time I said to my friend that there was one goal in it and we needed to get it to be honest, and if they scored I didn't think that we'd get one back and that they'd shut up shop somewhat, and as I got a coffee and a tea for us both I thought about how typical City would always let me down at these sort of moments. Sadly for me it was how it turned out - Tottenham grew in confidence and went to attack whilst City had the odd moment but nothing really concrete in front of goal. And then it happened, the ball was crossed in and Marton Fulop pulled off an excellent stop, only for the ball to go to Peter Crouch to head it past him and make it 1-0 with eight minutes to go.

It was heartbreaking, it really was, and you could just feel the sense of deflatement from the City fans all around the ground as that went in. They tried in vain to get forward and at least force an equaliser, but it just didn't look like it was going to happen to me. And so it was that Tottenham clinched fourth at our place, and after them beating both Arsenal and Chelsea in recent weeks too, fair play to them to be honest. At least we battled well and managed to push to the second last game of the season, but those eight draws on the bounce earlier in the season really did cost us a lot - if say two of them were wins, we'd still be in with a shout right now.

Tune of the day has to be "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths - not least because it was played at half time but also because it kind of sums up how I feel about City - I'll die with them to be honest and never change allegiance at any point . And it happens to be one of my all time favourite Smiths songs to boot as well, so there's a good reason if ever there was one.

Tuesday 4th May - Back To The Grind

It's back to the office for me today after a rather nice and relaxing Bank Holiday. Not the place to be, but you get on with it and do what you can in the timeframe allowed. I managed to document a few things, such as the way you can access a Netware shared drive on a Mac, and also demonstrated the use of compressing images in Powerpoint to make the presentation a much smaller file in the lon term. It was good to see that some of the things that I know can be put to good use.

I got home and the Sky Plus box was waiting with me with a recording from last night: a documentary about the 1985 World Snooker Championship final between Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor, often called the black ball final because it finished on the final black in the final frame. It was good to see so many people talk about it in different ways, such as the actress Cathy Murphy who'd just started her acting career and expected Bleak House to be on BBC2 that night (which she was in) only to have to wait for the snooker to finish. Of course those of you who remember the series The House of Elliott will better know her as Tilly the seamstress from that programme!

It was interesting too to hear that snooker professional Mark Williams didn't watch the final as he and his family were miners and at the time the miners' strike was priority, and indeed that Stephen Hendry (complete with Spitting Image puppet) recalled that he'd have done what Steve tried to do and go for the jugular at 8-0 up. It was good though that Colin Murray went to find the locals where Dennis Taylor grew up and interview them as well as chat to Steve's manager and chairman of the WBPSA Barry Hearn about the whole thing too. It was fascinating stuff and really reminded me of the eighties age of snooker being one of the highlights as a kid.

Tune of the day though has to be the rather excellent "Last" by Nine Inch Nails, not least because you can rock hard to it on Rock Band 2 as a downloadable track, but also because after a tough day at the office it's perfect to yell along to a la Trent Reznor and get all that frustration out nicely in one fell swoop, and sometimes it's good to do that and let it all go (well I think so anyway) so there you go. Hehe, rock!

Monday 3rd May - Bank Holiday Walk And Avoiding The Rain

As is per usual on a Bank Holiday Monday, and as is bloody befitting of the weather we have, it decided to absolutely chuck it down with rain in the morning. Not a heavy downpour, but still enough to make you think twice about heading out anywhere. As it happened, the weather had a bit of a lull and brightened up nicely, and with me rocking out a little in the morning, it was then lovely to see The Cream On My Cake and spend a very lovely afternoon with her. We were going to go for a nice walk, but we'd got as far as the local Tesco before the heavens opened, so we came up with Plan B - get some stuff for some sandwiches, have them and a coffee and see if the weather gets better then head out.

In fact this plan worked out nicely, I had a nice granary little stick with some nice ham and cheese, and that set me up nicely for the rest of the day (and it meant we could walk it off) and over coffee we had a chat about all sorts. By the time we'd had lunch and relaxed a bit here, the weather had decided to stop raining and so we thought "let's go out and go for a walk!". Our method of choice was to take the walk along the Fallowfield Loop, a former train line converted into a cycling and walking path free from traffic. It also meant that we could go at our own pace and escape the hustle and bustle of the city suburbia (well that's what we thought!)

We soon were heading along the loop and after a fair distance, headed into Fallowfield itself. You have to walk past the new Sainsbury's and down the street opposite before rejoining the old train line which then takes you to Princess Road, around the back of Whalley Range school and then from there round the back of parts of Chorlton until you start veering right. At this point I noticed the work well in place for St Werburgh's Road Metrolink station, where the Chorlton line will currently end when the line opens, along with lifts and a station frontage for the station itself. They're also diverting the cycle path slightly here so that it'll do a level crossing with the tram line before going on to Chorlton and on to Wilbraham Road, which is where we'd end up.

The heavens didn't look that inviting even though it was staying dry for now, so we headed into The Bar (yes, it's called by that name) and to my sheer delight there were plenty of real ales to be had, including, even more joy, the Spriggan Ale by the mighty Skinners of Truro brewery. Yes, a proper Cornish beer to be had in Chorlton! I was one happy man, let me tell you, and to celebrate I even put a pound in their jukebox and garnered seven songs of choice, including stuff that The Cream would like (so I'll nominate Roxy Music's "Do The Strand" as tune of the day) and that was nice to sit back with drink, chat and listen to some top tunes all in one. We didn't even care that it was raining outside because for us it meant that we were able to just relax. Yaay us.

We got the bus back to mine later and had a nice little game of Scrabble with Fleetwood Mac's classic "Rumours" album in the background on. I did manage another seven letter word in this game too, doing TONGUED (also making TA and OW) for a nice 69 points, so I wasn't complaining there one little bit. I seem to have the knack of doing all seven letter moves at the moment, maybe it's just the way these things turn out? Nonetheless though I felt like I was on a good roll and we had some tea later and just chatted more, a perfectly relaxing day all round for us both. It's nice when that happens.

Later on I had the place to myself and settled in for the final session of the World Snooker Final, which proved to be a very very long final. Not because it wasn't exciting - because the safety play was top drawer and that it really was seeing who would make the mistakes first. There were long tough frames and you had to be patient to see stuff happen, but when it did, it did. Neil Robertson was ahead all the way in the evening and every time he was pulled back to a single frame by Graeme Dott, he made sure he kept ahead. At 15-13, he then managed to free himself a bit and get over the line, eventually winning 18-13 at around 1am. It was a long night, but he was a worthy champion and well worth it, the first modern day champion from Australia.

Sunday 2nd May - Down In Lyme Park

It was a nice relaxing Sunday after all the fun and games of watching Man City, so myself and The Cream On My Cake decided to head out to Lyme Park for the afternoon. We're both National Trust members so it meant that getting round the house and gardens plus parking wasn't going to cost anything (all included in membership, hehe) and it also meant we could have a nice gentle walk around too, which is something we do like to do given the time. So it was straight down the A6, through Hazel Grove and High Lane until we got to the park. We noticed as we showed our membership for the free parking (now £5 per car otherwise) we got a little CD which you could play to give you an introduction to park, but also a little quiz for the little ones for the journey home - neat, that.

We got to the main car park and then we took a walk up around the fallow deer path which leads you round the back of Lyme Hall and its gardens (it's fenced off so you can't sneak in either). We did however spot some deer wandering quite happily as we walked along the path, and then it was over the bridge over the stream and then along round past some fields and to the front entrance of Lyme Hall. It still looks gorgeous every time you come down towards it, it has that air of being grandiose and of being a rich person in the house. Of course for someone who loves Pride and Prejudice like The Cream, it's heavenly anyway.

We got our tickets and took a walk around the house, and noticed of course the heads of moose and deer that stick out from the walls, but also the grand drawing room, the small chapel tucked away and of course the long gallery. But upstairs a new surprise awaited us - the newly opened Nursery Bedroom with plenty of toys for the little ones plus memories of the Hall in a photo album from one of the children who lived there. There were also plenty of old fashioned books and games as well which was good to see. I could have spent ages in there reminiscing about childhood to be honest, it looked really lovely.

As now does the library in the Hall too - complete with books for everyone to read in nice comfortable surroundings. There's even a little seating arrangement by one of the large bay windows so you can look out and read at the same time. I did notice a couple of box sets of the Peter Rabbit books which made sense, and looked like excellent reproductions of the original books too. The Missal is here too - an important document that is one of the few surviving prayer books from its time. It's in a glass case to view but there's also a digital version to look at with a really nice neat system of working too. I like little touches like these, makes it worthwhile.

We walked around the Dutch Gardens that are sunken from the main house and saw the arrangement of fountains and cherubs, then back over the other side of the pond close to the house and over to the far end near the bridge we'd walked over earlier, and then doubled back via the gardens to the Orangery, which looked rather lovely in spring time with plenty of plants a fountain that was overflowing. It smelt of freshness and of plants and reminded me of being in the Lost Gardens of Heligan for some reason. And a gorgeous view of the Hall from the gardens along here too, which was rather nice. Pictures are here - have a peekie!

After all that walking around and noticing the new play area being built further up from the Timber Yard, we'd had a good walk and felt like we needed some food, so on the way back we stopped off at the Red Lion in High Lane. We had spotted it on the way over, and thought it might be nice, and ended up going in the restaurant part, which was very nice and also very rustic looking, but keeping a real feel of neatness. It was a nice view by the window and we soon ordered some wine and a Dissy Blonde for me (very nice real ale that). It was then deciding what to have, I went for the cod, chips and mushy peas whilst The Cream had the chicken with duck fat potatoes and vegetables.

Well I have to say that in all the years I've had cod, this was right up there and well worth it. The piece of cod was large, and the batter was very melt in the mouth good with the right level of crispiness in there. The mushy peas were fine, and the home made tartare sauce gorgeous. As for the chips, wow, hand made and cooked and they tasted divine. The Cream's chicken was bang on as well and with all the vegetables and potatoes looked gorgeous on the athletics track shaped plates (that's about the closest analogy I could use). It was far too nice and it was also very filling, so I didn't need to have anything else pretty much!

It was a gorgeous end to an afternoon and later at mine we had coffee and cheesecake and indulged in a game of Scrabble. I ended up doing COLOURS and GREATS for a massive 75 points, so that pleased me no end, and we had Swing Out Sister on during play, so I'd best make "Am I The Same Girl?" tune of the day. I love spending time with the woman I love, and when you have such nice days out, it makes everything so much worth it. I consider myself one lucky little person, let me tell you.

Saturday 1st May - Villa Thriller

It was another important game for Man City today as we were up against Aston Villa at Eastlands. If ourselves and Tottenham won, Villa would be out of the race for fourth place and the Champions League slots, whereas we'd still be in there with a chance with the massive game against Tottenham on Wednesday at home. Of course if Tottenham drew against Bolton, that would come in quite handy as well, but we could only control our own destiny and not that of any other team.

My friend came over and we were soon on our way to the ground, excited and nervous in equal measures. We'd got the retro away kits on and were all ready to go, and as we got in the ground we saw the on loan goalkeeper Marton Fulop in training and ready to go for the game. We'd signed an emergency loan keeper by special permission, so it was good to see what would happen with him. Before the game they showed various clips of Carlos Tevez with The Prodigy's "Invaders Must Die" at full pelt over the speakers, which sounded ace, so tune of the day it most definitely is for that reason.

The game kicked off and it was pretty even, although Villa looked dangerous on the counter attack, and it was they who took the lead just past the quarter hour mark. The ball was fed by Stewart Downing to John Carew, and he went past Kolo Toure and slotted it under Marton Fulop to make it 1-0 to Villa. Not good, and the Villa fans were completely delirious in comparison to our sad faces. But we needed to push on and fight back, and the City fans were well up for getting behind the lads. I just hoped that we could pull this one out of the fire and as the game went on I sensed we might do it.

The game changed in the space of three minutes before half time. First, Adam Johnson was fouled as he made his way into the area. It looked like it was outside the box but watching it on Match of the Day later on, it was inside and so the penalty was the right decision. Tevez slammed it under Brad Friedel and it was 1-1. And then Carew hit the bar for Villa not long after with a rasping shot, and we got off lightly. The next attack we had, Patrick Vieira passed to Johnson, who kept his cool and pulled the ball back for Emmanuel Adebayor to slot home to make it 2-1 to City just before the half time interval. Everyone went mental and you could tell how much it meant to the City faithful.

The second half was end to end stuff as well and Villa came close a few times, even our former skipper Richard Dunne put a header close to the goal. He did get a great reception from the City fans though, which was lovely to see. Near the end on came Shaun Wright-Phillips and he surged forward past the Villa defence, then passed to Craig Bellamy who slotted it home in the top corner to make it 3-1. Get in! With Tottenham beating Bolton 1-0 (and Bolton missed a penalty, aaaargh) it meant Villa wouldn't be fourth and so they were sad whilst we were happy - and it's all to play for on Wednesday now, it really is.