Dear Diary... May 2012

Thursday 31st May - Three Macs On My Desk

I had a pretty busy day at work today - continuing on from the theme of yesterday. I ended up with three Mac laptops on my desk, working on them all at some point during the day. One of them had been brought in by a member of staff as it was constantly showing the beach ball of death, and we suggested a dodgy piece of software might be the cause and if he wanted, we'd reimage and zap the drive so that we knew it was all clean, and go from there. As he'd manually upgraded to Lion, that we think might have also not helped, so we ran the migration wizard to migrate data etc. However, the external hard disk we booted to wasn't Lion, only Snow Leopard, so we couldn't migrate.

We easily found a solution though: we used another Mac laptop in the office that had tons of hard disk space left, and we simply connected the two Macs via Firewire 800 cable and then ran the migration wizard that way, with the poorly Mac being in target disk mode so we could transfer the stuff over. This worked really well, and then I was able to re-image the Mac with our Lion image, connect the Mac back up to the other Mac with Firewire, and then migrate the data back across, and that worked flawlessly in the end.

Whilst all that was going on, I had my office Macbook Pro on the desk, and was using that to connect to one of our legacy Netware servers as well as our Mac Pro server, and transfer some data from the Netware server to the Mac server that we still needed (around 20GB worth) before we would decomission the Netware server. It worked pretty well because I'd configured all our Netware servers correctly so that AFP (Apple File Protocol) would work correctly without issues, and that was simple to do in the end.

Phew, so that was all that done then. I headed home and made sure that I spent some time sorting out the remaining pics from the Monaco Grand Prix (just the F1 ones at the moment) and uploaded them so that everyone could have a peek at them. It brought back happy memories and I was doing that, then later ironing a shed load of clothes and chatting with Mum before The Love In My Heart came over. We swapped anniversary cards and she had excelled herself by making her own photo one - with lots of photos of the two of us, which was gorgeous! My Jack Vettriano "Anniversary Waltz" card which looked classy paled into insignificance, so well done to The Love - it's ace!

I made us some tagliatelle with meatballs and some garlic bread for tea, and we settled in for the evening and watched Top of the Pops from 1977 on BBC Four. Interestingly for us both, it was the first ever TOTP appearance from The Jam, and "In The City" at that. The Love remarked how young Paul Weller looked back then (and he was of course) and I of course loved that track because it was then they were more punk and in your face than in later years, so all good for me - tune of the day was a very easy decision in the end. It was good to see that.

Later on we saw the last in the series of "Long Lost Family" and I have to admit it's really good to see that sort of thing on TV. I look back and think that most of us have had our parents in our lives, and for those who hadn't, it was a difficult and heart-rendering search to try and find out what actually happened, whether their parents would know of them and how much it would mean for them to find them. The bloke looking for his father really had settled down with a wife and two children, and his search was one of not giving up hope that his father wanted to find him too: and when the researchers did their bit and located him, you could tell that on the father's face he was happy. When they met, you could tell the closeness and bonding straight off, and unsurprisingly they've been pretty close since - sometimes you can just tell.

To have that back in your life is such a wonderful thing and I did have a little tear in my eye because I could see how much it meant - even Davina McCall welled up a bit it has to be said. Actually, I do admit that I think Davina is much better suited to doing stuff like this on telly instead of The Million Pound Drop, because her feelings come across much more genuine - not least because of the difficult upbringing that she had with her mother, she appreciates for these people how much it means for them to have their parents back and to get the family back together because they want to desperately - something close to her I think. I'm sure ITV will make another series because there's so many stories to tell but ultimately it's about that second chance in life which you should take if you have that chance.

Wednesday 30th May - Bon Anniversaire, Mon Cherie

It seemed appropriate to carry on the French theme for today, especially where The Love In My Heart is concerned, having come back from Nice last night. Today four years ago my life changed massively, and for the better, and I suspect she might just feel the same way as me. It might sound terribly clichéd, but the last four years have been the best four years of my whole life, and not just because I've felt more content, more happy and more settled in myself, but also because I have someone very special to share all those moments with. Our holiday away was an early anniversary do for ourselves really, but it just made me realise (as if I needed to) how much I'm in love and how happy that makes me feel.

I thought about The Love a lot as I woke up this morning, knowing I was going back to work after our holiday. It made me want to go over to her place and just give her a massive soft cuddle and just to hold her close to me. I think when we've spent the last few days together, you do get used to it and when you have to do your own thing it somehow feels a little empty and in the void, but at the same it also tells me that when we are together, we make the most of the time we have and spend lots of it just being ourselves. That I think is also very important: I've not had to change who I am and neither has she, and for me that's a big thing too.

Anyway, enough gushing. It was back down to work with a bump and indeed straight into a couple of meetings that took up most of the day's work. Our managers get asked to represent IT when they go to a course committee meeting for the various courses on offer across the campus, and sometimes they're either double booked or busy to attend, so sometimes they send one of us along, usually me if it's an Art and Design course because I know people better there, which is fair dos really. So this morning I had the Embroidery committee, and then in the afternoon Textiles in Practice. As with all meetings these days, no tea, coffee, biscuits or anything are provided due to budget cuts etc, so I made sure I'd had a well earned coffee before each one to keep me going.

It was also good to catch up with everyone and enthuse about the holiday I'd just had, and they seemed really pleased that we'd had a good time. I think I know I'm lucky in that we're with a good team of people who all work hard, and they all also really put the effort in as much as I do. We also as well during the day had to deal with a power cut to one of the server rooms, which meant we met in the afternoon and worked out if any of the older servers could now be decommissioned and switched off, meaning less power usage and hopefully getting it all sorted out long term, which would be better for us really.

I got home and had a pretty relaxing evening, mainly sorting through all the pictures I took of the Monaco Grand Prix (and believe me I took a fair number of them!). I didn't take as many during the race as I was much more engrossed in the action, but the qualifying produced some good results, and one I got of the whole of Mirabeau corner was nice because there was no mesh fencing in the way and it seemed a really good job done with the 50mm lens as well. I love that 50mm and was so pleased that I'd packed it in the hand luggage to take with me for the holiday, it's fast shutter speed was perfect!

Tune of the day in the meantime has to be something that The Love likes, seeing as it's our anniversary today. In the end I've picked a Paul Weller track that I know she'll approve wholeheartedly of: "By The Waters" from his recent album Sonik Kicks. When we saw that live at the Roundhouse together with a string section it was a beautiful moment, and we just held each other close and enjoyed it, and on the album it also sounds quite raw and emotional which shows just how much effort he puts in - and why not? Hurrah for good music that's what I say!

Tuesday 29th May - Back Home - Just In Time!

The Love In My Heart and I both felt very sad as we got up this morning, knowing that we were heading home. That said, we had a lovely time together and we were happy bunnies knowing that. I went out to get us some croissants and also a little something for The Love to take home for her Mum and Dad, and once that was done we had one last breakfast out on the balcony, enjoying every last moment and making the most of the time we had before we checked out at 11, with Thierry the hotel owner being lovely and taking The Love's case down to the front door. It was a sad goodbye, but I think we'll be back for definite.

It was then a leisurely walk to the Promenade des Anglais, where we took in a bit of the sun and relaxed with a cool drink watching the world go by, which was rather good. We didn't want to leave just yet and so milked in some more minutes by the sea before heading back to the airport on the 98 bus and arriving at terminal 1, with the "kiss and fly" signage (dépose minute in French, which doesn't actually mean kiss and fly!) giving you a hint to say bye to your loved ones quickly before you leave.

We checked in with our flights, easy enough, and it was only later on after we'd had a light sandwich and a drink in the airside section of Nice's Terminal 1 that I got a text from Swiss, informing us that our flight out of Nice was delayed by some 30 minutes. That should still give us enough time to get to the gate for Manchester in Zurich, so wasn't too worried. We got on the plane, and then the pilot told us that due to traffic in Zurich, we couldn't leave Nice till 4pm. I worked out that the flight to Manchester would have left by the time we arrived in Zurich, not good. I was worried what'd happen.

However, at 3.30pm, the pilot gave us good news, we could take off soon, and so we took off from Nice around 3.45pm, and the flight was relatively smooth from there. We had an apricot tart and a drink on the way, and then as we landed in Zurich, it was 4.50pm. The gates for our flight to Manchester closed 10 minutes before departure at 5.05pm, and so after getting off the plane (eventually!!) we then walked out of gate B37, followed the signs for gates D below, going through passport control and arriving at D31 with a mere five minutes to spare. I think Swiss though were very good: they'd informed the gate staff to expect people from Nice changing flights, and so had extra staff on hand to get us on board. Yaay!

We then set off for Manchester on time and landed on time too, with a nice sandwich, beer or wine and a coffee too as a nice touch for us as we headed back over France, the Channel, and then down over the Snake and Woodhead passes before turning towards Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockport and down to the airport itself. It was quick from then on in - through passport control, got the cases quickly, and were soon at the airport station and got the train at 6.55pm. Not bad considering we landed at 6.10pm I reckon and were at the train station by 6.40pm, so all good there.

It felt good to get home but also sad at the same time that the holiday was all but over, and so with some sadness I unpacked the case, but looked admiringly at the little pack we had with the guest lanyards, the passes etc and it brought it all home how good it all was in the end. Tune of the day has to be "Glove" by The Floe, because that's the song that most describes how I feel about The Love In My Heart right now - it's just a beautiful piece of music and well worth a listen. So do it.

Monday 28th May - Villefranche-sur-Mer

After all the excitement of the F1, it was nice to take it a lot more leisurely today, and that was the plan. We got up late, had a late breakfast with a coffee on the balcony of our room (hey why not?) and then got ourselves ready to walk to the Station JC Bermond for either the 81 or 100 bus to Villefranche-sur-Mer, a pretty little town on the way to Monaco that also has a lovely beach and an old town. The bus was busy but we got a seat and our weekly pass covered us on the 100 bus as well (you can use it as far as Cap D'Ail, but not Monaco) so that was all good.

We got off outside the town centre (more East of it) and then took the walk downhill, past the train station, and then further down to the Marine Beach, which is down below the railway line and stretches for around 1km eastwards. We got on to the beach (I even had my shorts on, go me eh?) and we then were walking along the beach before getting a good spot to rest and relax, and in The Love's case, sunbathe. She had brought a beach towel and so wasn't afraid to use it whatsoever.

We spent two and a half hours in the sun, with me heading to the sea for an occasional paddle and wade in the water, which was very nice and refreshing, and The Love would also go to the sea occasionally for the same, and she looked gorgeous in her bikini as she took in all the rays. I got us some cold drinks and it was just nice to relax, saunter and watch the world go by. Two things we noticed: lots of women going topless, and for some that's fine, but you don't really want to see some women do it, if you know what I mean. And the other thing: a very family-friendly beach, with lots of families bringing their children along. It was the fête de la Pentecote national holiday in France, so a lot of people had the day off work and with the weather being so nice, shame to waste it.

After the sunbathing, we walked along the seafront to a little seaside café and had a nice sandwich and cold drink for lunch, which was good to be facing the sea, before heading along towards the harbour, and then around the outside of the citadel to the old harbour at La Danse, which seemed to be full of old boats and really atmospheric, which was nice. From there it was then back up the hill following the road all the way around to the entrance to the citadel, with some daredevil walkers going across on rope between two of the citadel walls. Not for me, thank you very much!

The citadel was inspiring, with museums dedicated to certain artists, such as Volti, who actually lived in Villefranche-sur-Mer (he has a street named after him in the old town) and sculpted figures of women, often pregnant women as well. His figures and drawings were all in little rooms and caves within the citadel and that made for an interesting exhibition, as did the views from some of the little towers within looking over the sea and the bay to Saint Jean Cap-Ferrat as well, so that was rather lovely all round.

After this we went back down through the streets of the Vielle Ville (old town) and saw the Rue de l'Eglise which took you to the church in the centre of the old town, as well as many of the dark streets which took you along and upwards back towards L'Octroi, where you'd take the bus back to Nice. The bus was understandably busy, not least with many people having been in the sun all day making their way back homeward for the evening. We did okay though and we were soon back in the centre again, and made our way back to the hotel to get changed for the evening.

We walked through the Vielle Ville and to Place Garabaldi, and ate in one of the restaurants in the square. We both had pizza, and The Love said it was one of the best pizzas that she'd ever had, thin and crispy but with tons of flavour. She had the royale, which was similar to my reine (ham, mushroom and olives) but also had an egg on top as well, which cooked in the middle of the pizza. Definitely something different, and sharing a nice carafe of white wine was the way to go I reckon.

It was one last stop at Fenocchio's where I had two scoops of their ice cream in a bowl this time - the cassis, full of blackcurrants and really tasty, and the coco noir (coconut) which also was spot on, and a good contrast with the other flavour in terms of taste. Both were stunning as ever and my only regret was not getting more of them to be honest. It did feel sad being our last night in Nice, but it was also a wonderful time that we'd had. Tune of the day is going to be "La Ti Da" by those American indie popsters The Icicles, simply because the whole song gives me the vibe of being by the seaside on a happy sunny day, and the perfect soundtrack to being on the beach. So there you go!

Sunday 27th May - The Big One

So, after many many years of watching the Monaco Grand Prix on television, hearing Murray Walker going mental, with many an occasion where the driving skills would be matched by the testing track and even sometimes the incessant rain (making it a different challenge altogether) today would be the day that I'd finally see the race live and up close and personal. It's been a lifetime ambition to watch the race and the qualifying yesterday only whetted the appetite more for the race itself. We had hospitality again, this time on the garden terrace of the Hotel de Paris, overlooking Massenet and heading up towards Casino Square.

We got up reasonably early, had some croissants and coffee and headed again on the tram for the train station. The queues were longer, but the staff had sensibly got themselves sorted out and so it was a relatively efficient queue up to the entrance to the platforms, the ticket inspectors checked the tickets and you were shown which platform to go on. As it turned out the train we were getting had only come from St Laurent du Var down the road, and so not many people were on it at all, so we all got a seat, and again upstairs by the window for us as we headed for Monaco.

This time around we used the same station exit, but then walked down the Boulevard de Suisse and arriving at the square with the Hotel Hermitage on one side and on the other, the rear entrance to the Hotel de Paris, which you had to use at the weekend because the front entrance faces the track (and obviously, no entrance there then.) We were shown by one of the hospitality people through the hotel and to the entrance to the garden terrace, with the marquee we had being the end one, close to the top of the hill at Beau Rivage. Looking from the fencing, the view had some mesh in the way but we were around 7-8 ft above the track, so being that close to the cars meant the barriers just had to be there - very understandable really.

The Porsche Supercup cars did their thing, as then did the Formula Renault folks, who certainly took no prisoners whatsoever, before the build up to the race started. The lovely beer and wine had already started to flow nicely before lunch was served, buffet style. It was lovely, with foie gras in pastry, some salmon, plenty of nice meats on a platter, bread rolls, some chicken skewers and other nice bits. The Love tried a fish egg dish in a cocktail glass - definitely not her thing at all though and she regretted having it, although the rest of the food was lovely.

The drivers went past in the parade (was having lunch at the time so saw it from outside the marquee) and then later on I got myself a good spot in front so that we could both see the action close to hand. There was also a big screen opposite us on the track so we were able to keep track of the action when not passing us, so that was rather good all round really. Prince Albert II of Monaco drove around the track with Princess Charlene, giving the event a rather royal occasion to it all, and the drivers went around on a sighter lap around 1.30, with the race soon to come.

The warm-up lap came and went, and the drivers were all ready for the off. And sure enough, off they went. There was the usual incident at Sainte Devote, although Michael Schumacher and Roman Grosjean tried to go into a space for one car only, which sent Grosjean into a spin, and that hit Kamui Kobayashi down the side too. Most of the cars made it through and as they sped past us at Massenet at full speed, the sights and sounds were somewhat awesome to say the least - the speed they were carrying was something else to behold really, and well worth experiencing.

The race was actually pretty dramatic all round: Mark Webber stayed in front but throughout Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were all close by and keeping him honest. Most of the front runners went for one stop, and Sebastian Vettel pitted later than everyone else, and with clear track and some good laps, actually got involved in the mix, so after the pit stops the order was Webber, Rosberg, Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton and Massa, and that was how it stayed for a fair few laps.

Then The Love noticed something - and promptly went into the marquee to get herself a drink in there and some shelter from the rain. It was only light in parts, but you could tell it was coming down, and the lap times slowed considerably. It was touch and go whether to change to intermediates, but all the main contenders stayed out and made no mistakes, which under that sort of pressure was brilliant to watch as they swept around us at Massenet. Before too long Mark Webber had taken the checkered flag, with the first four separated by less than 1.5 seconds, which is possibly one of the closest ever finishes we've had at Monaco.

Wow! It was some race, but the time just went by far too quickly, even with me having a screen and a close up view of the action to take it all in. A lot of the time I wasn't even taking pictures, I wanted to savour the sights and sounds of it all and the close car control of the drivers was something else to see that close up. We didn't have any incidents around there (you do sometimes) but even so, admiring that level of skill really was well worth getting a prime spot for, and it showed just how intense the whole race is.

Lots of people went home straight after the presentation of the trophy - with all the boats in the harbour sounding their horns in appreciation, but we stayed back as the marquee was open till 5pm, so we could have some more drinks and the little but cute patisserie desserts as well. I managed to get some shots of the empty track that looked good, and also we were being given some more extras. We'd already got the complimentary caps, ear protectors in a custom case and programme, but we also got a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses each. It was only when we checked the netbook later on that we worked out it was around £100 a pair. Nice!

After all that excitement, it had gone far too quickly and so it was back up the Boulevard de Suisse to Monaco train station, where you were escorted down a tunnel and made to wait for the entrance to the station, where the staff shepherded you on to the platform. We actually were at one end of the train which meant we got a seat upstairs and it wasn't even full, so a nice speedy trip back to Nice later on a limited stop service, and we were back at Nice Ville around 6pm, so that worked out pretty well for us in the end. It did feel like it was all over much too quickly though, and that it had felt a blur at times.

The Love did say to me that she preferred yesterday for the atmosphere and the more chilled out feel (and the food!) but in terms of schmoozing with the rich and famous, today was more a place to see and be seen. I must admit I do agree - if I was going to do it again I might swap it around and maybe do another location on the Saturday but then the Mirabeau Terrace on the Sunday, the vibe was good in there and definitely worth it. I can't complain though - seeing the race so close up was impressive stuff and I was really pleased how it all went.

After a change and shower, it was off back out and to dine for the evening at La Claire Fontaine, which faces Place Rosetti in the centre of the Vielle Ville. We went for their set menu which was very reasonably priced, and I had their stunning fish soup, the steak main and lemon meringue tart for dessert. We also had a wine and beer, and that was good too. It was very busy and two buskers were playing their acoustic guitars with various Elvis Presley songs getting an airing, including "All Shook Up" - I'll make it tune of the day because it wasn't that bad at all - well it mustn't have been if I tipped their hat afterwards.

But what a day it was - and a day to remember for the rest of my life. It's one less to do on my "must do" list and I do admit that I'd like to go again. Maybe I should suggest to my brother that for his 40th we do the Grand Prix, but go to the Secteur Rocher and slum it in the cheap seats in the rock for the atmosphere and the budget and all that - or tell him to start saving right now for the hospitality seats and all that - might just be worth doing after all. It was a great day and I'll always have that to dine out on now for a considerable amount of time!!

Saturday 26th May - Qualifying in Style

It was relatively early to get up for myself and The Love In My Heart as we headed out to Nice Ville train station, taking the tram again from Masséna to Gare Thiers and walking to the station. Having purchased our tickets in advance was a very sensible move indeed, not least because the machines had queues with people attempting to use them (and often failing). There was a queue to one far end of the station entrance where the staff were on hand to direct you, and before long we were on the designated platform waiting for the train to come in.

Having worked out where the train would stop along the platform, we managed to get in the doors relatively smoothly and had a window seat on the upstairs deck, meaning we could see the sea as we headed out via Villefranche-Sur-Mer and Éze-Sur-Mer, before heading underground and into Monaco’s train station. It was then a case of following exit 3, up an escalator, lift and another escalator and to the top exit, from where you could see a view of the harbour and Sainte Devote below. We walked along the Boulevard Princesse Grace and towards the tourist office, then right down Avenue de Madone and towards the front entrance of the Metropole Hotel.

We had booked hospitality for both days, my thinking was that I may as well do it in style and turn my 40th birthday into a birthday month, so to speak. At the reception desk, the staff from the hospitality company showed us to one of the terraces where we could see the Formula Renault practice, before then escorting us next door to the Mirabeau Terrace. We did have a meshed fence in front, but the view of the run down to Mirabeau corner and the corner itself was clearly visible with plenty of people being able to get a good view. All of the tables had reservations and The Love and I were on the table at one end, meaning I could use the camera and get a view of the corner too.

We got chatting to others on the table and kept an eye on the practice three of the Formula 1 at the same time. The nicest couple were both Scottish: Lisa and Andy. Andy was in fact in Houston, Texas with his job but had flown over specially as it was Lisa’s birthday a month or so before, so like me she was treating it as her birthday month (albeit a few years younger than me - but hey, why not?). The drinks flowed freely, with the staff in the Metropole being rather lovely all round. You could have coffee, wine, champagne (Lanson champagne at that, not that cheap) and beer as well as soft drinks and little nibbles too if you wished, and that was before lunch.

When practice three was over it was time for a lunch, and a three course buffet lunch served from the kitchens of the Michelin 2 starred Joel Robuchon restaurant, no less. It was wow to say the least. I tried a bit of most starters, but the foie gras was top notch, as was the little toasts to go with it, and so the mains later on were ace. I tried some of the beef with sauce as well as the mash, and the mixed vegetables, the cod, all sorts, and it was beautifully made and presented. And as for the desserts – if I died and went to heaven, it would be with the apple dish with cream in a little glass cylinder, simply stunning isn’t the word. Add to that the little praline choux buns and The Love informing me how nice the chocolate squares were with all sorts of choc in there, and you could tell that this was the way to dine.

With lunch over, qualifying commenced in earnest. It was a good session even if Jenson Button limped out in Q2, and Mark Webber almost went out in Q1 with the engineers thinking that his time was good enough. To see the cars that close up taking on Mirabeau corner, and also to hear the noise (even through the supplied ear plugs, it was very very loud!) was something else, and you could from our elevated position even see the driver at the wheel working the car, which was pretty good stuff. In the end an inspired lap from Michael Schumacher saw him post the fastest time on the grid – of course he would be demoted to sixth after his misdemeanour in Spain – but it was still impressive. Mark Webber wasn’t far behind and so would end up being pole – and in Monaco, that’s a fair advantage to have.

We also had big screens at both ends of the terrace, so this meant that we were able to see the action unfold when the cars weren’t at our section of the track, so that was good to keep an eye on things too. It was a big plus as it turned out as we knew that for example Sergio Perez had nerfed the barrier somewhere and was going to be out of the running, and also how much you could see the cars pushing on the other corners too – mightily impressive stuff. It was also good because you could sit at the table with a beer and watch it if you so wanted, which is occasionally what The Love did – and chatted for a fair bit with Lisa in between too, which was very nice.

The day ended with the GP2 and GP3 second races. Plenty of the American guests had left, but the four of us decided that we may as well get our money’s worth and see those races (and of course a free bar: what wasn’t there to like?). The GP2 race was pretty intense with many overtakes being attempted at Mirabeau, and also a massive spin on the way up the hill to Massenet meant a massive pile up, meaning a safety car and lots less running later on, although still an excellent race all round. It was good though to see the British driver Jolyon Palmer score an excellent win, and he controlled the race pace at the end to win pretty comfortably. And it was a British 1-2 as well – excellent!

It was the time for The Love, Lisa, Andy and me to indulge in more desserts and some more wine and beer before the GP3 race took place. That was also pretty hair raising, a flipped car at Sainte Devote on the first lap, and one car running without a wing, which collided with another on the run out of the tunnel. A nasty shunt occurred but thankfully everyone was okay, and the race was red flagged under the safety car as the barrier had taken some damage that needed overnight repairs. It was a frantic end to an excellent day’s motorsport and well worth staying behind for during the day. We said goodbye to Lisa and Andy but they were lovely, and they were watching the race from the swimming pool sections tomorrow, which I’m sure they’ll enjoy.

The Love and I headed down through parts of the Monaco centre before taking one of the lifts down to Larvotto Beach and decided to eat out for the evening meal, dining in Miami Plage with a table that we could see the sea from – how nice was that? The pizza I had was lovely, and with a nice beer and a wine we enjoyed the view as the sun was setting as well as the company and conversation. The Love looked gorgeous in her blue dress, matching blue cardy and shoes, and I was so proud with her on my arm. I know, soft aren’t I?

We then went to see if the track had been opened – and it was, so we walked through the tunnel, down to the chicane, on to Tabac and past the swimming pool, seeing the party start full pelt at La Rascasse, before taking the corner to the start – finish straight, seeing the Fernando Alonso fans up on the Rocher, the rock/hill up towards the palace, and then walking down the main straight to Sainte Devote, and admiring the view all the way around. We then headed up via the long passageways to the train station, where we had to wait a fair bit of time for what turned out to be the last train back to Nice.

This was the only downer of the day really: the train had far too few carriages on and far too many people wanting to get on. As it turned out there was a regional train strike on that day (thanks for that, TER-SNCF!) and as a result the evening service had reduced. We crammed on but it was like sardines in there and not at all pleasant, and I must admit part of me wanted to leave and just get a taxi back to Nice instead. We made a note not to leave too late tomorrow after the race, and getting off in Nice Ville station was a massive relief to say the least. We headed back to the hotel and pretty much straight to sleep for the morning.

Tune of the day has to be “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac, the tune of choice of course for the Formula 1 coverage on the BBC and listening to it now just reminds me of how much I love the F1 when it comes on. In fact the band playing in Wayne’s bar on the Thursday night kept playing bits of the bass line in between songs just to tease the masses in there, well why not I think? It just evokes memories of the likes of Murray Walker going positively mental seeing the drivers do their stuff at such high speed. Roll on tomorrow and the race though: I can’t wait, and it’s hospitality all the way again, yaay!

Friday 25th May - Cannes We See Any Stars?

As part of our stay, we decided that this time heading to Cannes would be a lovely thing to do. As it happened, the Film Festival was still in full swing so it meant that we'd be able to see if we could spot anyone famous as well as enjoy the sunshine. It was a leisurely wake up with coffee and croissants from one of the local boulangeries, which was rather nice, and it meant sitting on the balcony admiring the view and taking in all the sights and sounds of the city in the early morning.

Before long we were off to Masséna tram stop and took the two stops up to Gare Thiers, the nearest stop to the main train station. From the tram stop it's a short walk, and soon we were inside Nice Ville station. The queue for buying tickets was massive, but there were plenty of self-service ticket machines. In the end I decided to use one of those and pay for the train tickets with my debit card. This actually made much more sense because it was tons quicker and no messing about, and this meant we could walk to the platform (having validated the tickets first of course) and wait for the train to Cannes.

The train ride was pretty smooth, and most of the local TER trains are double-decker, which meant we sat upstairs and got a better view of the coast as we went along through St Laurent du Var, Cagnes-sur-Mer and Antibes and passed some beautiful beaches before finally arriving at Cannes, and on time too. From there it was then off through the city centre streets and down to the waterfront at the Boulevard Croisette, where we saw the world famous Palais des Festivals et des Congrés, where of course the main films are shown complete with red carpet treatment. It was quite nice to see the red carpet in the flesh, so to speak.

We walked through part of the International area, where many countries had little tents set up and so were showing their own directors and schmoozing a little, as you'd expect. We walked further along the Boulevard Croisette, admiring the beach, the view of the sea, and indeed the many little stalls that were selling sandwiches and cold drinks along the route. The beach looked beautiful and the pop up cinema on the beach was also there for some good evening showings if you wanted to stay there all night and watch, so that was rather nice all round.

We stopped much further along the boulevard and used one of the stalls for a spot of lunch, which was actually very good value. The Love's hot dog looked spot on, and the ham sandwich I had was massive, I'd say over a foot long of bread with massive chunks of gorgeous ham in it, and for around €4, I wasn't complaining one little bit. We sat facing the beach with a cold drink and enjoyed our lunch, before walking around the small harbour at the east end of the Boulevard. We walked back but this time on the other side of the road, seeing the many posh hotels and one of them, the Martinez, seemed to be the place to star spot with lots of people outside.

It was also noticeable how many of the hotels along the front seemed to have suites taken over by smaller independent film companies, willing to show their wares off and getting the passers by and critics in there. One hotel even carried a large poster for a forthcoming Tom Cruise film, which The Love got pretty excited by, even raising some hope that he was actually in Cannes to promote it (she wishes!!) - and also further on one hotel was taken over by promotion for The Dictator, the new and controversial Sascha Baron-Cohen film, parked right next to a gorgeous new Mercedes AMG being promoted.

Some of the posh shops along the boulevard really were just that - all the über-high end stuff was there which you gazed into the window at longingly wishing for a lottery win of some sort. We then got back to the Palais, and a sizeable crowd was waiting for the afternoon matinee show. We'd also spotted that plenty of girls and ladies from the UK Robert Pattinson fan club where there too, and they were there waiting till the evening as a new film with him in was showing there - and they were hoping I guess that he would show up and they could meet him. That's some dedication, or sad, you decide.

As we then headed towards the old port and Le Suquet, the afternoon threatened rain shower happened. It was a bit thundery as well, but The Love had sensibly packed a brolly, which made perfect sense. The old port with its many shops and restaurants looked nice, and as we got around the back of that, it was then up some side streets towards La Castre, the old castle on the top of the hill, with the church next door. The church was being restored and looked like it was having plenty of money being spent on it, whilst still functional for use, and the Musee de la Castre for the castle museum was closed, but we were still able to walk to the grounds and get a panoramic view over Cannes itself.

It was then back down through the old town and Le Suquet, with plenty of little shops and restaurants here crammed into tiny spaces as you clambered up and down the hill here, before heading back along the front and stopping off at a nice café for a well earned coffee and wine. In fact the rain stopped in the time we had a drink, so it was then off back along the main shopping streets, admiring some lovely little places, and even spotting a hotel named after The Love (a pic just had to be taken you know!!) before heading back to the train station, which was fairly busy. We got on the train fine and got a seat but had to wait in the station before setting off, and then back to Nice we headed.

At Nice Ville station we decided to get the tickets in advance for Saturday and Sunday's trips to the Monaco Grand Prix, as I'm sure that'd prove to be a good decision and would save us some time on the day. It was then a stop off at Monoprix for some food shopping (thinking ahead as well, makes sense to me) before heading straight out to La Pizza Cresci for our evening meal - I had a gorgeous spaghetti carbonara, and The Love's bolognaise was certainly up to scratch as well. It was a nice time all round and having a drink on the balcony afterwards certainly proved to be a good move too. Tune of the day simply has to be Marilyn Monroe's version of "Happy Birthday" in tribute to the icon herself being the figure of the Cannes 65th anniversary celebrations - you could even buy the poster if you wanted.

Thursday 24th May - Back to Nice

It was an early rise for me, as it was an early(ish) flight out of Manchester on the journey to Nice. The Love In My Heart and I were both looking forward to our time away so much, and we couldn't believe it was finally here. We met at Piccadilly Station at around 6am and then took the train to the airport (so much easier, I reckon). It was then along the walkways towards Terminal 1, and by the time we got there, the check-in desk had opened for our flight, so we could do that and drop our bags off, and then take a leisurely walk around the airside shops and cafés before we flew. I even had a coffee in Starbucks (which I don't normally do because I don't like the place, but the coffee was passable).

Before long it was off to our gate and on the first leg of our journey to Nice via Zurich, with Swiss being our air provider of choice. There's a very good reason for that: the planes are nice, the luggage allowance is included in the cost, as is free food and drink on each of the flights, which is good. And it worked out cheaper than flying direct with Jet2 once I'd added all the extras on, so there you go. The flight was a few minutes late leaving Manchester, but that was fine, and with a coffee and croissant to enjoy as we headed over France and towards Switzerland, all was well.

We landed at Zurich and took the relatively short walk through the long corridor, through passport control (as we're now entering a Schengen area of course) and then down to gates B for the flight out to Nice. Despite the short flight, it was a nice sandwich and a beer for me (and a wine for The Love) as we flew over the Alps and then down over the French Riviera, landing at Nice just after 2pm and feeling good that we were here again. I'd enjoyed my time so much there last September, and it was time to enjoy it again.

As we got the bus from the airport to the centre of Nice, it was trying to rain a little, but once we'd got off the bus and to our hotel, it had stopped. It was great to be back to the Le Petit Trianon, and the owner Thierry greeted us (and helped The Love with her case up the stairs too) and showed us to our room. We'd booked a bigger room this time around and this one also had a balcony, and you could see one of the squares one way and the Jardins Albert 1er and the sea the other, and in the morning, the sun was out and you could have a coffee and croissant with all that. It was a beautiful room to stay in and we felt very much at home straight away.

After unpacking it was off down to the seafront, where we walked along the promenade, and then went to the Cours Saleya where some of the flower markets were still on, and they smelt beautiful. We also then took a little walk around the Vielle Ville (old town) and that was good to walk some of the old streets and see how busy they were. It was then a nice walk back along through the city to the hotel, where we'd get changed and head out for the evening.

The only difficult decision tonght was where to eat, and in the end we plumped for Wayne's along the Rue de la Prefecture. We'd been there before and the food was gorgeous, and there was live music playing with an acoustic band, playing everything from Paul Weller to Fleetwood Mac covers. In fact, they did an excellent job of one of the most under-rated tracks from the Mac's "Rumours" album, namely "Never Going Back Again" so that was tune of the day for me - a bit ironic, because I'd always come back to Nice again, goes without saying. The Love had the chicken supreme which looked stunning and I had the fish and chips, which was beautiful (the tartare sauce was horrid though so I avoided that) and the fish looked fresh and very well cooked.

We walked to Place Rosetti, and of course to treat myself a little with an ice cream from Fenocchio's - well it'd be rude not to, wouldn't it? The ice cream was spot on and of course the only difficult flavour was which one to have. In the end I plumped for the amarene, which was amaretto and cherry licqeur with some cherries mixed in, and the flavour was gorgeous, really did do the job nicely. After that it was back to the hotel where we relaxed with a coffee on the balcony (we'd brought our own coffee, mugs and travel kettle, so all we needed was some milk from the local Spar round the corner) and all was very well as the sun set over a beautiful day, with lots more to come.

Wednesday 23rd May - All Good To Go

It was one last final push at work to get everything done, and things fell very nicely into place. We had one member of staff come and collect their Blackberry that I'd fixed, so one less job off the list, and a replacement for a stolen one had also arrived today so I spent some time ensuring that was re-activated as well as then ensuring that it would talk to our Enterprise server for emails as well, and that seemed to do the job rather nicely. I must admit I detest and loathe the Blackberry keyboard, but there you go.

I also had to spend most of this morning looking after the print room and that was good to go back almost in time to stuff I used to do. It felt positive too that I was able to assist a student print out a large long PDF document that they'd created and for it to actually work and come out properly. I think they were pretty pleased in the end and it meant one less thing for me to do as well, so that was all good. I even spent some time this afternoon experimenting with the beta of Windows 8 as well as sorting out my desk and getting it all neat and tidy.

I felt good when I got home from work, not least because I'm now off for a few days as well, and not just any place either. I'm flying to Nice with The Love In My Heart tomorrow, as we're spending five days there, two of which will be journeys off to Monaco to watch the Grand Prix. I'm finally fulfilling a lifetime ambition of mine to see the race live, which as you can well imagine is rather exciting. Not just that, but doing it in a little bit of style too with some hospitality along the way, which should make it just that bit more special.

To get me in the mood, after tea I spent some time watching the classic Monaco Grand Prix from the BBC Red Button that I'd recorded ages ago and burned to disc, and that was great to see how the track has evolved but also how much you get to really see the cars and races of old too. The 1982 race with its dramatic finish is still for me my all time favourite grand prix of all time - and of course the Beeb had the proper F1 theme as in "The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac, perfect for setting the scene for the race I reckon. Tune of the day - it simply has to be.

Right then, next stop in the morning is Manchester Airport, so it'll be off to Nice I head with lots of happiness and joy in my heart and with plenty to do, lots of celebrities to spot and of course even better than that, a wonderful five days break to be had and lots of quality time off work. What more could I want? Not much actually. I'll see if I can spot anyone famous in Monaco or Cannes and make the most of the time, and even catch a few rays of the sun whilst I'm at it. I am officially excited. YES!

 

Tuesday 22nd May - Packing It All In

I had a pretty busy day in work as well today, sorting out a couple of people with interviews that they had planned over Skype during the day. One of which was doing an audio only call and just wanted me to be there to make sure it was all running smoothly, and when I had an email back later to say that it went great, that cheered me up no end. I also then set up our big screen in the afternoon to do another Skype call, this time with video as well, and that worked very well indeed. Always good when things go right.

In between that I headed to the Post Office round the corner from Piccadilly Gardens at lunch time so I could drop off the package to go back to O2 with my old router in it. There was a bit of a queue but the staff were friendly. I also needed to nip over to Boots and get some Mach3 blades for my razor, and I remembered I had a ton of Advantage card points, so I used them accordingly for payment, and after getting some Lynx shower gel in Superdrug next door (it's only £1 right now, bargain that is if you ask me) it was then time to head back to the office.

I got home later on and decided on a plan of action: move the O2 Wireless Box 5 downstairs and then hook up all my AV equipment to it wired: thus meaning my Edimax wireless dongle for the Humax Freeview HD box can then be used as a wireless dongle for my PC in the office. Crafty, I know, but it made sense, especially as that would mean that I'd free up some power sockets in the office room and also keep everything neat and tidy. Also, on top of that, another reason was that if one day I decided to get an LCD telly with smart apps such as iPlayer etc, I could then hook it up via Ethernet instead of wireless easier.

So it was disconnecting stuff, moving it downstairs and then using my network cables to connect up my blu-ray player, Onkyo AV receiver and Humax box to the router, and ensuring that all three got a valid network address. I then was able to run the CD I got with the Edimax wireless dongle, plug it in, connect to the wireless network and badabing - all working as intended. I even found out that one of the wireless channels was the same as my cordless phones with answer machine and so degraded the signal massively, and so set the router to another channel, sorted.

The Love In My Heart came over later and I made us a nice tagliatelle carbonara for tea, and after that we settled in for the evening and I got packing the case. I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to pack and where, and soon enough I had all that I needed inside the case: all my jeans and trousers, shirts, socks, underwear, shower and bath stuff, sun cream and aftersun, you name it, it was there really. I was just pleased that it was all sorted out and I could close the case safe in the knowledge that it was way under the maximum 23kg limit allowed by the airline (hurrah!)

It was very nice of The Love to help, and after all that we watched the latest episode of Chatsworth on BBC iPlayer, with the horse trials really coming to the fore. It was fascinating to see, and it showed how much the Duchess of Devonshire loves her horses as well as the pride of hosting the horse trials. I didn't want to be the ones having to iron that massive table cloth though, no wonder it ended up having bumps all over it and being replaced pretty soon afterwards! It must have been a difficult job all round to do though.

But anyway, I'm now all packed and as ready as I'll ever be to get going, which will be soon enough. I just think in my own mind if I know what I'm doing and where everything is, then it just makes for a better place all round and so can relax a bit more now. Tune of the day in the meantime is the really nice track that is "Glove" by The Floe. You find me a more gentle sparse and beautiful love song out there - you'll probably find it difficult. And the chorus definitely tells me how I feel about The Love: "I fall deeper and deeper in love, you fit me like a glove" - says it all.

Monday 21st May - Router Rerun

It was another busy day at work and at one point during the day I was actually working on four laptops at the same time: a Toshiba Portege M700 which was being redeployed to a member of staff, a HP Probook which I was imaging for an academic member of staff, my test Samsung R580 which I was going to deploy Adobe Design and Web Premium CS6 to, and finally a Macbook which I was finishing off installing the latest version of Lion to and all the other extras. So it was pretty good all round really, and I was pretty pleased to get everything done and feel like I was moving on getting things done.

I got home and there was a little green card for me left by a courier - they were delivering my new O2 wireless router after my previous one packed in, and I was at work when they attempted to deliver it. A quick phone call later and I was heading off to collect it, and once that was done it was off home, make myself something to eat, and then to set everything back up again. The new router was a much more slimline version, called the O2 Wireless Box 5, and it had Wireless N built in as well, but with a slimline look and feel. Oh, and a USB port at the side to plug an external hard drive in for content sharing. Oooh, nice.

I connected it up and checked everything worked and just had to tweak the settings on my Wii to get to talk to it and for the Wii to have a static address, which I could then put in the DMZ zone as needed when playing games online with the Wii. It seemed to be much more configurable and with its smaller footprint certainly was a nice replacement. They'd also sent me an envelope and label to send the old router and bits back in, and so I'd be heading to the post office tomorrow to drop that off and get a proof of postage too.

Once everything was back up and running, I then had another task to do - update the firmware of my new Onkyo TX-NR709 AV receiver. The firmware was an older version on the receiver and so I downloaded the new one, saved the update files alone on a USB stick, and then followed the instructions to the letter. Soon enough the receiver was taking its 30 minutes plus or so (you are warned it takes this long!) to do the firmware update process, which was quick and painless, and it worked spot on too, so that's good. Happy bunny with that.

It was then a case of doing a final push of ironing to get my clothes ready for the forthcoming trip away planned. I just wanted to be ready and have everything there so I knew where it all was and what I had to do when I was going to pack tomorrow night, and then that way all is done, I can relax a bit before setting off and all should be well with the world (well I hope so). As I was ironing I had on some Slayer, seemed to get me in the mood to get it done for some reason. So "Seasons in the Abyss" the title track of their excellent album is tune of the day - and I even clocked it 100% on expert vocals on Rock Band 3 later. If only I recorded it - doh!

Sunday 20th May - Clothes and Carrot Cake

It was a more leisurely Sunday after all the setup fun of yesterday, and with a deserved lie in for us both after having a busy and long week at work, as you can appreciate. It was nice just to saunter around the house, make us both some bacon on toast and some coffee for a late breakfast, and generally relax a while and catch some of the later bits of the Great Manchester Run on BBC2. They had five or six different waves of runners, no wonder there were some 40,000 in total who were doing the race. Impressive stuff, not least from the men's winner Haile Gebrsalassie!

We headed into Stockport as we both wanted to get some clothing bits for the forthcoming break we have: and in Matalan, The Love wanted a little shrug type cardigan in black which would then match a nice dress and be perfect if the weather got a little cooler in the evenings, and found the one she was after for a mere £8. I got myself a new belt (my current one isn't playing ball) as well as some socks as well - I can just put them into the case and away I go, basically. I knew too that later in the day I'd have a shed load of ironing of clothes to do so then I knew that my case would be ready to pack with everything in it.

We also then went to the large Tesco close by, as The Love wanted some books to take with her to read and keep herself occupied if need be: and as it was two for £7 and she had a Clubcard voucher for £2 off, it was only a case of picking which ones she was after and then parting with a mere £5 in total for them both, so with her choices made it was pretty easy really to complete the little shopping mission, and so headed off to Fletcher Moss Gardens in Didsbury for a nice walk around.

It was good to walk from the small car park (she found a space, yaay!) through the path towards the health walk, past the fields to the river, and then along past the poplar trees and back up via the tennis courts and rockery to the Alpine Tea Room, where The Love had a cold drink and I had coffee and the last piece of their gorgeous carrot cake (homemade you see) - the best carrot cake around, and it was up to its usual high standards today as well, which pleased me immensely.

We got back to mine, admired the purchases and spent some time watching the Great City Games. It was a little odd seeing a straight 200 metre sprint, but that worked well. However, one of the organisers was going to have some tough questions after only nine barriers instead of ten were laid out for the women's 100 metre hurdles, which Jessica Ennis won in a time thought to be her personal best - only for the record to be immediately annulled once the mistake had been spotted. Oops. Someone's going to get fired Apprentice-style for that mistake, methinks.

It was a good day even if I ended up doing a shed load of ironing, but I did that whilst listening to KMDFDM's "Angst" album which just motivated me to get things done properly. In fact I was singing along to "Sucks" whilst ironing a few shirts at the same time, so I was putting extra effort as I sang "We hate all DJ's, they're making us ill" and "We don't like Michael Jackson, we hate Depeche Mode, we don't care for Madonna or Kylie Minogue" (I do like DM, I should add!) - which did the job. The song is tune of the day especially as people actually thought KMFDM stood for "Kill Mother F*****g Depeche Mode" after the song was released!!

Saturday 19th May - The Man With The Upgraded AV Rig

It was an early(ish) start for me today, as I was off to Richer Sounds on Deansgate in central Manchester. Part of my reason for going early was that with all the Great Manchester Run stuff on this weekend, the part of the road it's on might be closed later on and so be difficult to get to. I knew what I wanted to get from there and it was something that would effectively be one of my big 40th birthday presents. I had asked everyone to get me gift vouchers for Richer Sounds as there was an AV amplifier that I was after to replace my trusty Sony STR-DB790, and I might get myself a Blu-ray player there as well to get my setup up to date.

The Love In My Heart very kindly came over to mine and we headed to the city, and parked up at the side of the store whilst I went in and sorted it all out. I knew the AV amp I wanted, and thankfully they had one left in - the Onkyo TX-NR709. Part of my reason for purchasing it was that it's one of only a few AV amps with a turntable input, and also it has 5.1 channel in so I can still output DVD-A and SACD from my Denon DVD player into it and have the advanced resolution surround that it offers. It's also got a shed load of HDMI inputs, allows you to connect your iPod via USB and play that, and it's also got a ton of good features and connectivity.

It wasn't just that either, as I decided to plump for some Blu-ray as well. It was a toss up between a couple of manufacturers, but in the end I went for the Sony BDP-S580, which was pretty slimline, has wireless built in and has plenty of catchup TV including BBC iPlayer and Demand 5 as well as other online services, such as a full web browser if that's your thing too. I also got the version with multiregion DVD capability, so if I wanted to play a Region 1 USA DVD and my Denon couldn't hack it, I knew I had a secondary option too. I was tempted to go for a much higher-end Blu-ray player that did DVD-A and SACD (and I have plenty of DVD-A discs), but you'd be looking at around another £150 plus, so my plan of keeping the Denon for the high res audio surround stuff made perfect sense.

Only later did I find out that the Sony Blu-ray player plays SACD, and outputs the pure SACD signal over HDMI, which my Onkyo can handle. That means I've also got a choice to see what sounds better, the decoding using the Denon to 5.1 and putting that into the Onkyo, or letting the Onkyo decode it from the Sony's output. Either way, it's nice to have that option too, so all good. The Love dropped me back at home with my new boxes of goodies and so I spent most of the morning and early afternoon getting all the setup stuff done.

First, it was disconnecting everything from the existing Sony STR-DB790, dusting my Ikea units that house all my AV rig, and then once done, reconnecting everything to the Onkyo. The speakers were first because of the way that the amp is laid out, and once done I then did all the analogue sources next: turntable, tape deck, 5.1 from the Denon out for SACD/DVD-A. Then it was the HDMI goodness, with some quality HDMI cables from thatcable.com being used to keep everything neat and tidy. First, a short run from the Onkyo to the TV, and then three cables from my Humax Freeview HD box, Denon DVD player and Sony Blu-ray player all to it.

Once all connected, I spent time with the setup microphone getting the sound settings for the speakers sorted, followed by then tweaking the inputs so that it would do what I wanted it to do - for example for playing from tape and turntable, use the "pure audio" mode which meant sound transferred as is in stereo with no effects, and from HDMI sources use the direct mode so it would receive whatver encoding it got and play it that way, and although was going to set the HDMI control on, it didn't work with all my devices, so left that off but set it so that on power off, it'd throughput the HDMI connection from the Humax box, so if watching Freeview HD I'd use that instead.

Later on The Love In My Heart came over and after a chat and coffee, I set about making the tea for us. We had a really nice thick mushroom soup with a granary stick of bread to start, followed by some tapas (go me eh?). Tesco have this little tapas range, and you get five for £9, so I got two of the meatballs, one of the potatoes, one of the chorizo in red wine and one with chicken and peppers. I cooked them all and served them in their bowls as is, with a big bowl of rice for us to share on the side as well. It was different and well worth doing, and even had a pint of Hobgoblin to celebrate as well, followed by some key lime pie for dessert (those gorgeous Gü ones!)

The Love had also borrowed a couple of Blu-Ray discs from one of her family so we could try it out on my new revamped rig, and so plumped for the recent version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. We had debated about seeing this at the cinema when it came out, but The Love admitted later she was glad she didn't - not that it wasn't a good film, far from it, it was excellent, but some of the scenes are fairly hard to watch and in a cinema setting that might have felt uncomfortable to view. The AV rig worked perfectly though with everything in sync, and indeed when a gunshot was fired, it made The Love jump, so success methinks in terms of realism and all that.

Tune of the day comes from the excellent soundtrack, mainly scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (spot the bloke in the NIN top during the film, a nice touch that!) and together with Karen O, they did a version of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" which plays during the title sequence. It just works, as this comes from a fan of the original and the original band. It adds that Industrial unease to it all whilst still sounding powerful and full of passion, and really did sound impressive right over the surround and speakers. Oooh yes.

Friday 18th May - The Weekend Starts Here With An Alibi

It was another pretty busy day today, and I was on my toes to sort out plenty of network issues, re-image a Mac laptop and a PC laptop, and also spend some time re-imaging one of my test PCs to ensure that the driver package now loads the correct sound driver fine - for some reason it wasn't doing and I think I knew why, so it was good to sort all that out and at least feel rather competent in what I do. I headed into the city centre at lunch time to get my hair cut, and very graciously the ladies in there (one of whom is a staunch Red) offered their congratulations at City winning the title, very fair that.

In the afternoon I spent some time using Adobe's new version of Application Manager for Enterprise (AAMEE for short) which you can now use to package up Adobe CS6 suites for enterprise deployment. I had the CS6 Design and Web Premium media along with serial number, and so copied the media to the hard drive (as you have to do) and then ran AAMEE which once I selected what settings I wanted, produced a workable MSI installer for silent deployment with SCCM. I had to do this twice to get 32-bit and 64-bit installers, and then that was all cool.

It was off after work to Marks and Spencer and the Post Office, so I could see which of them offered the better exchange rate for Euros. M&S won, so it was time to change some money over ready for a forthcoming trip away, and it wasn't too bad really. The counter service was very friendly and they were polite and efficient, just the sort of thing you want. They used to have a cashpoint machine where you could get Euros directly, but they discontinued it as apparently the machine operator charged a handling charge to your bank account for the transaction, which they didn't think was fair - fair dos that.

I walked down Deansgate, past the setup for the temporary running track for the Great City Games on Sunday, and then off to meet The Love In My Heart after work, as she suggested having a drink and/or an evening meal before we headed home. I met her at work and she was all smiles and looking lovely as per usual. We were going to go to Ra!n Bar but that was positively rammed out and with no serving of food, so it was over to The Alibi on Oxford Street, close to the old Odeon. I remembered when this place was a Varsity it was decent enough, and with a sign outside for real ales, it sealed the deal to try The Alibi for a change.

And a good change too: cask ale for £1.99 for a pint? I am having that, thank you very much. A nice pint of Jennings Cumberland was mine and a glass of pinot grigio for The Love, and having got us a table in a relaxed and chilled out spot, we looked at the food menu. I was tempted by the steak and Black Sheep ale pie, and sure enough, the bar staff told me (proudly too I should add) that it was a proper pie. I'm having that! The Love ordered the fish and chips, and after a while the food came out. The pie was totally spot on, a proper pie with lots of steak and you could taste the Black Sheep ale in there too, which was wonderful and definitely up there in the great pies I've eaten. The Love's fish was good too.

We walked up to Piccadilly and I felt sad to leave The Love, but we'd be seeing each other tomorrow and so headed home - me to head to Tesco and get the food shopping done, before relaxing at home with some PJ Harvey, namely her superb "Let England Shake" album. The title track sets the tone perfectly for the whole album - a sense of unease and worry throughout beautifully played with such evocative music. No wonder it won an Ivor Novello award the other night and a highly deserving tune of the day from me, without question.

Thursday 17th May - Only Happy When I'm Busy

Been a bit busy at work today but all in a good cause really. I had to walk over to another building to pick up another laptop to re-image with Windows 7, and so far it's been good to get started on them. So far at least the user experience and feedback has been pretty healthy, and also good to get into the swing of things and gradually start to roll everything out the right way. I spent time with a nice Samsung R580 laptop, which is pretty powerful. Needless to say that Windows 7 flew on it and seemed a lot quicker being a pure AD-login machine than its Novell counterpart, so that's good.

I also did lunch with one of my colleagues from another team whom I get on really well with. It was nice to chat about the time away I had on my birthday and also the whole weekend, and how much I'm looking forward to the next time I'm away as well. It was nice to have a coffee in one of the new cafés at work, and added to that a nice tuna melt panini as well, which was actually pretty good and fillling. I guess it's good to be able to spend that bit of quality time as and when needed.

I then headed to the Academy box office later on the way home to pick up some tickets. My friend and I wanted to see if we could go and see Garbage in early July (they have a new album out) and so managed to get two tckets easily enough. Bit steep at £27.50 each considering that they're just coming back, but hey ho, it seems that even in this recession the increase in ticket prices seems to want to be justified by smaller tours in smaller venues to make the maximum you can. At least by going to the box office directly that meant no rip off booking fees, of which I was pretty thankful let me tell you.

Tune of the day seems a little ironic because it wasn't actually raining today, but as I mentioned Garbage I played their first eponymous album, and on there is the classic "Only Happy When It Rains" which I have fond memories of - seeing Shirley and co on TFI Friday play it live and then them making the top 20 and getting on Top of the Pops. Those of course were the days back in the mid-1990s, so to see them back after a good few years might prove intriguing. I'll of course let you all know how it went a the time.

Wednesday 16th May - A Quick Runaround

Spent a fair bit of time today walking out and about around the various offices - and with good reason. I had to pick up a laptop from an academic member of staff so that it would be re-imaged for Windows 7, but their office is now in another building a short walk away. Previously you had to go a long way around because of a new building being worked on, but now that's finished and open, you can actually walk along through the new building and out to where the one I wanted to go is, allowing better connectivity for those of you who have to do what I do. It was energetic though all the same and a good bit of exercise.

I also spent time during the day as well sorting out a nasty little piece of malware that had managed to get on a member of staff's netbook. It turned out that it would try to hide all the folders and files on the PC, making the average user think that they'd lost everything when they hadn't, and also then trying to con you into purchasing something you don't need to. I managed to install Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware in safe mode, killed off the spurious registry entry to try and launch the malware, and then got rid of it and made sure it stayed gone. The only other nightmare was that all the start menu shortcuts had gone, so had to recreate them as well (a repair of Office 2007 got all of those back though so not as bad as I thought it'd be really)

After work I headed home and managed to make a good start on the backlog of washing and ironing of clothes that I needed to do - it wasn't pretty really and I thought at least if I make a start now then it's less to do later on isn't it? I felt better for that and was more organised, and so was able to relax and browse the web happily when The Love In My Heart arrived. It was lovely to see her, and we headed off first to my sister's to see her and also to drop her off a nice bunch of flowers by way of saying thank you to her for her making such a lovely birthday cake for me. We also called at Mum's and quickly dropped off all the plates etc that had the nibbles on that she had supplied for Saturday evening's get together, and so we knew then she had them back safe and sound.

After making us some pasta with meatballs for tea, we settled in to watch Chatsworth on BBC iPlayer, as we'd missed the episode on Monday night due to various reasons. It was nice to see behind the scenes, especially with the farm shop that we've been in and admired the lovely food. I think for me the fact that the Duke and Duchess have a very hands on approach to it all and actually care about their estate and who works for them shows a real sense of pride, and you can always see that when you're walking around the gardens, the house, or the estate that they have.

For me my favourite moment was when the new head guide found out that she'd passed her six month probation and had got the job full time - she shone in part of the episode when she was sorting out people pushing in the queue for a buggy to take people around the gardens, and that for me said it all about keeping calm under pressure, not least from those who felt the need to complain all the time. I found it a fascinating watch overall and so might just have to record the rest of the series and watch that!

It was then on with The Apprentice, and this week's task of making an advert and web marketing campaign for some English sparkling wine didn't sparkle - both teams didn't get the concept but the team with the snooty woman at the wedding really didn't get it the most, and to be honest I thought Stephen was too arrogant and cocky, and he should have gone. Shame really that it isn't Donald Trump like on the US version, because he doesn't just fire one - he can fire multiple people if he feels like it!

Tune of the day in the meantime is "So Sublime" by Beth Rowley. It makes me think of Summer days and happier climates, and also of how nice it was when The Love and I saw Beth live. We are toying with the idea of heading down to Bristol in July to see her, but we need to weigh up the costs of staying over in the city centre and travelling down as well as getting tickets for the gig too, which might not prove that cheap. If only she was playing Manchester - we would be there like a shot!!

Tuesday 15th May - Pay Day Lunch

It was good to spend another productive day in the office, where I ended up imaging another laptop and getting that fully on Windows 7, so that was one less to worry about. The good thing was that it's one of the HP Probook 4320s so as it's a pretty new model, we knew that we'd at least get a good few years' usage out of it and be able to keep it nice and up to date. It only needed Paradox 8 as an extra piece of software going on there, which I packaged up for SCCM especially last year, and so that was a pretty easy thing to do overall. It meant I could spend time testing other bits of stuff at the moment.

I went for lunch with a fair few of our team as a celebration of the fact it was pay day but also my birthday a few days back - it was good to go to one of the local pubs where they do two meals for £7 and so with a colleague I picked the lemon pepper chicken, which was spot on. It was good to see a lot of them out with us and that definitely made me feel a happier bunny knowing that we've got the same sort of togetherness that City seem to have, so that was good and made the day seem even more productive.

I headed into the city centre after work as it was a relation's birthday today. They were getting a Kindle, so I thought: "Amazon gift card, let them credit their account with it and buy Kindle books, simple!" - the only snag was finding a place that actually sold them. In the end Wilkinsons in the Arndale Centre, of all places, came up trumps with one. I managed to get a card in a card shop on the way back home as well, and after a cuppa at home, I headed the not very far distance to my relation's place to say hello and wish them well on their birthday, as you do.

It was good to see a fair few of the family there as well, and we all sung happy birthday and the candles blown out on what seemed like a nice cake as well - I had a piece with a brew and it was good. I took a look at the Kindle, and it was a posh new Kindle Touch, which seemed very light and also very easy to use, and perfect I guess for getting some books onto it as well as carrying it around as a nice small piece of electronics. I do like reading books the old fashioned way, I do admit, but it's nice to have options. Not that I do read enough to warrant one myself though.

Tune of the day is "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths. Manchester City used the music yesterday when introducing Johnny Marr to this one, and he said "I think I might know how this one goes" with his dry wit and humour very much intact. It made me want to go home last night and tonight and listen to it and remind myself just why it's one of my favourite Smiths songs of all time - it just has a real feel of hope despite despair, and a statement of undying love in some way - and indeed in the stands at the Etihad Stadium it refers to Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison with the tag line of the song's title.

Monday 14th May - Champions!

It felt surreal getting up for work this morning, not least as I was still thinking I was in a dream. It was only when I saw the morning papers in the shop on the way to work that I could finally believe it - it had happened, and we had won the title. It made me feel so proud and happy, and had my camera ready with me along with my 1972 retro City shirt to get changed into later, as I was going to head to the parade and salute the heroes for doing the job and making me one of the happiest people right now.

Work was a blur - a total blur at that. Time just seemed to go so slowly as I was working on a couple of Windows 7 laptops that needed a re-image, as well as a desktop machine which I wanted to get back to the member of staff as soon as possible. The member of staff concerned is an Aston Villa fan, and ever since Alex McLeish took over as manager he wanted him out, as he believed that McLeish wasn't the right man for the job. And later that afternoon he got his wish, I bet that pleased him no end let me tell you.

And so it was after work a walk down Oxford Road (well more of a semi-jog actually) as I'd seen from a webcam overlooking the square that it was getting pretty busy to say the least. I managed to get into Albert Square and have a good view of proceedings as Hugh Ferris, Natalie Pike and Fanzone Danny got things started, with nice video clips of some of the key players along with goal highlights from the games through the seasons. And guests too - notably the actor Warren Clarke who showed his blue bias once again after his legendary interview before the derby a few weeks back.

Not just him either - the guitar legend that is Johnny Marr chatting about how he felt during the game, the comedian Jason Manford (who has always been Blue as long as I can remember, so he's no fair weather fan) as well as then Mike Joyce from The Smiths and Andy Williams from The Doves coming on and drumming to build up the excitement for the players to come out to a heroes' welcome. And it was just that - every one of them saluting the massive crowd and being chatted to about their experiences of the day. It was a special time and special moment to be there and I have to say it made me really proud.

The players got on the bus and so the parade around the city centre started. I managed to spot the bus on Princess Street and I have to say that the streets were rammed, and it was the same story on Portland Street where I saw the bus too. I managed to walk through the back of the Bridgewater Hall and so got on the wall at the back facing Great Bridgewater Street and from there got a pretty good view of them going past, and then legged it up to Deansgate-Castlefield tram station as the bus went down Whitworth Street West, and you could see how rammed it was there, mental.

Deansgate was completely chocker and I got a spot close to Jacksons Row and saw Samir Nasri and Sergio Agüero kiss the trophy as well as the players really enjoying themselves a lot more and going for it. I also spotted my cousin and brother, and they were there with some of the family getting a good vantage point, so it was great to see them and how mental they must have gone yesterday - and they were just watching the game, never mind being at it! We all headed home a little later proud in the knowledge that we were there to see them carry the title through the city streets - just brilliant!

Tune of the day can't therefore be anything else - it's Supra's version of "Blue Moon". If the bus's tannoy system had played that as it was going round, there would have been a mass singalong by the fans and I certainly wanted to sing along full pelt and chant with the fans, who were doing lots of songs for all the players as they went past. It made me feel so happy and proud and whenever I hear "Blue Moon" now I just want to wait for that drum moment and go "I said blue moon!" at full pelt to really get behind the lads. It might be difficult to top this next season, but seeing them win was just unbelievable!

Sunday 13th May - We Won The League in Fergie Time

Words cannot describe the emotions I've been through today, they really can't. It was literally going from the heights of happiness, down to the depths of despair, then a bit of hope and then sheer unadulterated joy and happiness, relief and just going totally mental. I honestly thought that in all my life I would never see Manchester City win the Premier League and that just winning the FA Cup last year was enough to keep me going for a considerable time. But today it was mission pretty much accomplished in a way that not even a Hollywood film writer could have even attempted to script.

Where do I begin? I'd say around 1pm after I'd had a good breakfast with The Love In My Heart before she headed off to do some of her family stuff whilst I was heading off to the Etihad Stadium with my friend. He and I have been season ticket holders for some time now, and for games like today which were sold out weeks ago, we knew that it was the best way to guarantee our slots there during the season. And with seventeen wins and one draw from the league games played previously, a win hopefully was going to be ours. However, we also knew that Queens Park Rangers needed a point minimum to be certain of staying up, so not necessarily a given.

We got parked up and it was off to City Square to see some of the pre-match festivities going on, and also visiting one of the takeaways around there - I even treated myself to fish and chips this time around, mainly to calm down the pre-match nerves. Everyone it seems had got there early and I for one wanted to soak up all the atmosphere in the hope that it would be today of all days that City would be able to become the champions. The teams came out, the tension was bearable at this point and as the sun came out, we were all looking ahead to the ninety minutes and cheering on the blue boys with Supra's "Blue Moon" at full pelt.

The first half was mainly all City with QPR content to defend a bit and play for a draw. Several efforts went wide or were defended well for a corner and it looked like we weren't getting a breakthrough, and with Manchester United 1-0 up at Sunderland, we needed a goal. And it came from Pablo Zabaleta after his one twos with David Silva and then Yaya Toure before his shot was palmed but not full saved by keeper Paddy Kenny, and in the net it went. Cue everyone going mental and Zabaleta kissing the badge in appreciation of the fans - wonderful stuff that Pablo, and a great finish to boot.

So half time was 1-0 and that was good, and I'd have been more than happy for it to stay like that and be content with a title win. However, the start of the second half was pretty mental. First off Kenny saved well from Sergio Agüero before QPR lofted a ball forward, Joleon Lescott timed a defensive header badly which let in Djibril Cisse, who slotted it low and hard into the bottom corner for 1-1. It all went eerie inside the Etihad Stadium as we all knew that that score wasn't good enough for us as it stood.

Then a moment of sheer madness. Joey Barton was tangling with Carlos Tévez but Carlos went down, and straight away the linesman on the far side flagged. And I knew what for - I'd spotted it too, an elbow to the face from Barton. After a word with the referee, Barton was rightfully sent off. However it turned ugly as he then kneed Sergio Agüero and almost tried to headbutt Vincent Kompany before eventually being led off by City's Micah Richards (a good friend of Barton's off the field) - and to be honest, his actions weren't the best. What made it worse for him was his remarks on Twitter afterwards, showing no remorse whatsoever. Idiot!

However, worse was to come as QPR surged forward down the left, put a good cross in and Darren Mackie made it 2-1 to them! As Bolton v Stoke was 2-1 to Bolton at that moment, QPR needed a point at least and so they were delirious as you can well imagine. As they had ten men still they were virtually camped in their own area defending for their lives as City pressed forward with shot after shot being well defended or saved or the shots going off target. With a few minutes of normal time left, news filtered through that Stoke had made it 2-2 and so the QPR result for them didn't matter - they were safe now.

The board went up for five minutes of stoppage time and a great roar came from the City fans for one last valiant effort. City got a corner, David Silva put in a beauty of a cross and Edin Džeko scored a good header. Straight away it was back to the centre circle with the ball and 2-2, still not enough for City with United still winning 1-0 at Sunderland. But now there was hope and the fans roared again, cheering them on with every pass, and strangely, I now thought that either Joe Hart was going to do a Jimmy Glass and get the winner, or we'd falter at 2-2 or even lose 3-2. But somewhere inside, I cheered them on madly anyway and got behind the lads.

The ball went forward to Agüero, he passed to Mario Balotelli, who held off the QPR defender before laying the ball square. Agüero took it on, skipped past a defender, and cue a sharp intake of breath before he shot. He rifled it low and hard - and all of a sudden.... YEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Agüero had done it - back of the net with a perfect low drive that beat Kenny for pace, and Agüero ran to the City fans, his shirt off, and was mobbed by the players in a massive pile-on. I hugged everyone near me and had tears in my eyes, and I'm not afraid to say it. Unbelievable, it was, absolutely unbelievable. It was even more perfect by the fact that the United game had finished, the score filtered through to there and they were gutted. Ha ha ha ha ha!!

The game kicked back off and the referee played what little time there was left, and then that was it - the final whistle. We'd done it! The title is indeed ours and as the chant was being sung "We won the league, in Fergie time, we won the league, in Fergie time". To score two goals like that so late on was ultra dramatic, and too tense for words. To show that fighting spirit and never say die attitude is a true sign of champions, and deservedly so. To come back from eight points behind with six games to go showed just how much we wanted it to go and win six on the bounce and put all the pressure on United. And we did!

The players came out after a short while and were all at the platform, and then captain Vincent Kompany came, collected his medal and built everyone up before lifting the Premier League trophy high as the players then did a lap of honour of the field. It was unreal seeing it all happen with the City fans singing for their team and as the old club anthem came on, the line "The Boys in Blue will never give in!" seemed rather appropriate for today I reckon, so tune of the day obviously. I was so proud of them all and to see them lift that title was just the most wonderful of presents that City could have given me.

We headed back to see The Love and it was hard to describe to her the emotion and what we were feeling, I was still in a state of shock. I kept expecting to wake up and finding out that it was all a dream - but no, it wasn't. Manchester City had done it, and won the league and in the way that it was won was just the most wonderful feeling. The parade takes place in the city centre tomorrow and I suspect that plenty of fans just might be going there to get a glimpse of their heroes with the Premier League trophy, and that we are the champions, my friends. Oh yes, and like the song says, we'll keep on fighting till the end, and we bloody did, didn't we? My, that was awesome!

Saturday 12th May - A Night Out With The Family

I had a relatively relaxing morning of sorts, cleaning the house a fair bit and also checking through all my photographs that I'd taken over the last couple of days as well. It really did look like I'd had a great time from them and it was so lovely to see how the hotel room looked, where The Love In My Heart and I had been, what we'd been up to, and lots more besides. I spent a fair bit of time during the morning uploading them to Flickr so that I could let the family know that they were up and well worth having a good look at.

The Love came over later as we were getting the house decluttered a little and sorted out prior to me hosting a little get together after the meal we were going out for tonight. It meant that we had plenty of wine and beer in, as well as enough glasses for everyone. I spent time vacuuming everywhere, rolling up one of the rugs out of the way, putting the table at one end of the room with chairs everywhere else, and all sorts like that. I also then made sure that what we had as little nibbles were all laid out neatly, and the fridge pretty full with beer and wine. It was a squeeze but we got everything in there and manged it pretty well.

It was time for me to get showered and changed, and one of my friends popped a little card and present with The Love as they were on a quick flying visit. It was very nice of them to get me a present - and at that the new Jack White album! I've been after this myself so it was a really thoughtful and lovely thing to get - so that straight away got me feeling positive and thinking about tonight, although I was pretty worried to be honest about how it was going to go - would everyone be okay and well fed, and would it prove to be worth it? I just hoped so as The Love and I had arranged it all and we wanted to be sure it was good.

The Love and I left for our venue, The Elizabethan in Heaton Moor, around 5.30pm and got there not long after. My friend and his wife came over almost at the same time so we could get in and settled before everyone else arrived, and gradually all of the family came over. It was lovely to see everyone and they were all full of smiles and cards for me, and gifts too. I had requested that everyone get me some gift vouchers for Richer Sounds so I could put towards some new hi-fi separates, which seemed a good idea really. And they all had done, which was a wonderful thing and made me smile.

Of course some relations had got me a little something as well - my sister got me this little film cel from one of the Muppets films in a frame with a nice little pic of Kermit The Frog, which was lovely, my uncle and auntie had got me a nice picture frame to put a pic in, and Mum had got me a mug and coaster set too - which were all nice little things. My niece had hand drawn me a picture specially as well which was really sweet, and really appreciated let me tell you.

The meal went pretty well - considering there were 23 of us, the food came out well and tasted spot on. One main was missed but got corrected pretty quickly and also very well, and with such a large crowd ordering at once, anything can happen. I had the breaded mushrooms to start and The Love had the pate, and for the main I of course went for their steak and ale pie, which is the stuff of champions, and The Love had a special of the pork stroganoff, which looked rather good all round. My uncle and brother-in-law also had the steak pie, and they loved it too. Some of us even had ice cream for afters as well which was good stuff.

Before that though, a cake came out which my sister had made, and she'd gone to a lot of trouble. It was a lemon sponge and very nice indeed, with two little F1 cars made with icing on. It was really sweet of her to do that and I think a more personal touch as well, so that was good. I cut that at mine later and people had a piece, which was very lovely indeed. We left the pub just before 9pm with everyone fed and it was then back to mine, where we could all have a drink, relax and chat for hours on end.

It worked out very well, actually. I'd put together a selection of nice songs as background music so that everyone could still talk and hear themselves with that on in the background, and plenty of wine and beer was consumed. I was relatively good and had a Hobgoblin followed by the Betty Stogs ale, but as Mum had also brought along some real ale earlier in the day, it meant I had plenty left and so wouldn't be needing to buy any myself for quite some time!

Tune of the day is "Let England Shake" by PJ Harvey, the title track to my favourite album of last year. In a quiet relaxed setting it actually works well to listen to whilst still being able to have a good conversation, and late at night you don't need it on too loud either really. It was actually around midnight or so when everyone started to make their way home and we'd all had a good night, just the sort of thing I wanted, not too much fuss but enough time to see everyone and to chat to them all. Now there was just the small matter of tomorrow's game for Manchester City. What would happen methinks?

Friday 11th May - Reel Around The Fountains Abbey

It was nice to wake up in The White Bear, all refreshed after a very nice night's sleep in a comfortable and big bed. It was also nice to wake up with The Love In My Heart, and we got ourselves up and ready to head to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. It was spot on, you could have fresh fruit, cereal and juice etc, and the waiter very kindly brought us some coffee over. We then had the full English breakfast with almost all of the produce locally sourced, and so that meant sausages, egg, bacon, hash brown, fried bread, mushrooms etc along with some toast on lovely bread, and it was a perfect start to the day. We both were really relaxed and we had a plan for today that was hatched by The Love - heading to Fountains Abbey close to Ripon.

As we checked out of the hotel the rain was still falling, so we had an idea - have a quick look around Ripon first and the head to Fountains Abbey afterwards. As it turned out, it was a more than worthwhile plan, as the centre of Ripon's market place had a little car park which was £1 for an hour, and so we walked through the city centre, headed to the cathedral and had a good look around there, a very imposing building with an old Saxon crypt that really did feel like it was hidden away rather nicely. We walked around the city a bit more and spotted the horn on top of the market place as well as the old town hall and four old style red phone boxes, and then headed back out of the city.

We had spotted a road sign for Fountains Abbey close to where The Love had parked, and so we were soon following the signs out of Ripon, along one of the B roads and after a few miles hit the entrance to Fountains Abbey and Studley Water. The rain was still coming down a little but looked like it might be stopping, and so we headed down the one mile road to the car park and visitors centre, parked up and headed for the centre to show our membership cards for the free admission (one of those nice benefits of being a National Trust member, may as well use it methinks!)

One of the paths down to the abbey was closed due to flooding (not surprising considering the rain the day before) and so we walked down the other path and spent some time in the Fountains Hall first of all, which looked very grandiose, even if you weren't allowed in all the rooms of the hall. It was then a walk downhill along the path, stopping off at the Porter's Lodge on the way down to observe how monks might have lived in the abbey, before heading to the ruins of the abbey itself.

And believe you and me - the abbey's ruins are spectacular and well worth the admission money alone, never mind anything else. The cloisters and cellarium in one part of the abbey really do show it off to its best, as does the church with its impressive nave - perfect for a long range camera shot and seemingly romantic too. The ruins of the former abbot's house and refectory show what a large development it was, as does the guest house bridge over the small stream that flows underneath the abbey grounds itself.

We walked from the abbey along to the rustic bridge, overlooking some of the water on one side with lovely reflections and views before heading down to the water gardens, with the moon pond being overlooked by the Temple of Piety rather impressively. It was the along past a walk uphill we avoided (maybe next time with drier weather) and off to the lakeside, where the lake looked impressive and it's here at the lakeside café we stopped for a spot of lunch, with a gorgeous tuna sandwich being mine and a Wensleydale plougman's sandwich for The Love. I even had a treacle tart with coffee for afterwards too which felt rather nice to have.

It was then from there up the hill from the lake and to St Mary's Church which overlooks the deer park. We spotted that the mosaic tiling at one end of the church was fragile and to put overshoes on, which The Love did and had a closer look whilst I waited. We noticed one guide (not in any way to do with the church) walking on the mosaic tiles without the overshoes, so I politely and kindly pointed it out to him. He seemed to take offence and that was in my view rather pathetic. I think if you're going to be a guide for tourists, then you should at least obey all the signs put in place to protect historic properties from damage. We did, so what was so difficult?

We left the church and followed the path back to the visitor's centre which was a good half mile or so away, which meant we'd done a round walk of just over three miles and with hills involved too - that made for a very enjoyable day and it felt rather sad as we headed back towards the centre of Ripon, along the A61 back to the A1(M) and back down the motorway towards Leeds, and as we were on the M62 we noticed that the traffic was slowing as we closed on the M621 joining the M62, got stuck there for a bit before eventually heading homewards for a well deserved coffee together.

I felt really sad when The Love left for home, but I knew we'd had a wonderful time together and for me it was nice to have enjoyed it so much. I relaxed in the evening, cleaning up the upstairs part of the house and doing a shed load of washing of clothes and other stuff to feel more at home, and listened to some music whilst sorting through my pictures. Tune of the day is "With Love" by Elbow, because it's beautfifully joyous, and somehow listening to that in driving rain seems to make perfect sense - could have done with having that on the way back because of the incessant rain!

Thursday 10th May - My 40th Birthday

Yes, it's really true. I've reached the big four zero and am now forty. In fact I was born just before 2am, so technically once I was awake I was actually forty anyway (not one of these middle of the afternoon babies you know) and I went downstairs to open a card and present from work, which was very nice - a Manchester City book based on pictures of Maine Road and games at the old ground through the ages. It really was a nice surprise and so was really pleased to have got that. I had a text from The Love In My Heart and two from some friends of mine to start the day off, and with me seeing most of the family on Saturday (and I agreed for them all to hand me my cards etc then) it was to be a rather nice day with The Love.

She came over to collect me and looked lovely, as she always does, and still wasn't telling me as yet where we were going. "All will be revealed" she hinted, and once everything was packed, it was a quick run over to her Mum and Dad's on the way to pick up some bits, and then we were off again. It was very nice of The Love's family to get me cards and gifts too, they didn't have to, but it was appreciated. We then headed on the M60 and onto the M62 and I started thinking about where we might be heading. York would be lovely, as would Whitby, or even Edinburgh, and I kept thinking until The Love handed me two envelopes.

The first was a card from herself which she had got someone to hand-make, with my name on and a Formula 1 car on the front, very stylish and classy card too. And then her present to me - and as I asked everyone to get me Richer Sounds vouchers to put towards some new hi-fi gear, she had done the same. But that wasn't all that was inside the envelope - oh no. It was a print out of where we were staying - The White Bear Hotel. When I looked where it was, it was in Masham. My brain ticked into overdrive. Hang on! Isn't that where they make the rather lovely Black Sheep real ales? It was, and she then revealed her other coup de grace: we were also going on the brewery tour that afternoon!

How happy was I? Very. The Love had excelled herself and really pulled out lots of stops to ensure that the day was something memorable and lovely, and she'd also printed directions off Google Maps so that we'd get there no problem. We soon then were heading around Leeds on the M62 and up the M1 to the A1(M) and carrying on there, passing Beverley and its racecourse before heading North towards Ripon. However, the rain was hammering it down at that point and it was difficult to see ahead, and was a torrential downpour. I felt sorry for The Love driving in that, and according to Google Maps, the A1(M) would become the A1 and then be a turnoff for the road to Masham.

As we approached junction 51 with the A1(M) still being a motorway, we noticed that the turnoff said "Bedale" which was actually further north than Masham. I thought it best for us to leave the motorway here and as we did, we noticed also that the roundabout said Masham via the A684 and not the B-road we were expecting. Eh? I thought. Anyway, I found out later that the new stretch of A1(M) we'd been down between junctions 50 and 51 replaced the old A1 road (now the A6055) and so should have come off at junction 50 and followed the A6055 to the B road to Masham. But did the road signage or Google Maps tell us this? No. The Highways Agency need to sort it out with a nice sign to say "for Masham leave at junction 50" or at least add it to the destinations list when exiting.

Anyway, we went through Bedale and soon joined the road to Masham and as we crossed the bridge over the River Ure and headed towards the town, we located where the hotel was, and that was easy to find, before then heading to the town and the market place to see if we could grab some lunch somewhere, as the hotel check in wasn't till 2pm and it was around 1.10pm when we'd got there. As it turned out we went in the Kings Head Hotel in Market Place, and that was a nice pub with some good food, and the lunch we had was spot on - I had the fish and chips and The Love had this gorgeous pork belly with chilli sandwich with salad - and it seemed very nice. And I had to have some Golden Sheep ale, well I was in the Black Sheep town now at least!

We went back to the White Bear Hotel and checked in, and the staff were lovely. One of them showed us to the lovely lounge with books and board games along with some very comfortable sofas to sit and relax on and then up stairs to our room. All the rooms were individually named and ours overlooked the pub bit of the hotel and the countryside beyond. The room was gorgeous: easily up to the standard of a Macdonald hotel we've stayed in as a comparison. You got a massive and comfortable double bed, a walk in wardrobe, a good sized bathroom with shower over, soft fluffy towels and even softer carpets in the bedroom as well as a Freeview TV with all channels, a DVD player, tea and coffee (lots of different flavours of tea as well as Yorkshire tea) and just felt properly lovely. The Love was pleased too - all her hard work had paid off handsomely with a beautiful room!

We unpacked and got ourselves settled in with a well earned cuppa and relaxed for a little while before leaving the hotel and heading next door (literally!) to where the Black Sheep Brewery is. Straight away I spotted plenty of sheep-related puns everywhere, such as "thank ewe" and "ewe are welcome" as well as others. We headed into the brewery and paid for the tour and mooched around the shop, with lots of tempting items for me to buy. The tickets for the tour also meant you got a free half pint from the bar as well afterwards so you could sample some of the ale, hurrah for that!

The tour was really good, with a knowledgeable guide and a DVD to watch at first with the founder of the brewery explaining a few things about how Black Sheep came to be and how the brewery has gradually expanded to what it is today. Our guide also explained all the ingredients used to make the various ales and had samples of them all for us to smell - and it certainly showed how the different roasting methods made for different tastes of the malt used. We then went around some of the brewery itself, exploring the large circular "Yorkshire squares" which are used to make the ale in a more traditional method, quite intriguing actually.

Best of all was the small museum full of Black Sheep-related stuff, such as some of the old brewery fittings that were there when it was Lightfoot's in the early 20th century, as well as signs for temporary bars used at festivals, such as The Flock Inn (hehe!) and stuff like that. It was a really enjoyable time around there and was good to see how they were all made as well as seeing the process explained and how they have to use Robinson's of Stockport to bottle their beers for them as there's no bottling plant on site.

It was then to the Black Sheep Baa... r (get it?) which was next to the bistro that they have on site, and so we handed our beer tokens over. I plumped for the All Creatures (a seasonal ale I'd never had before, with a suitable nod to James Herriot) as well as the Golden Sheep for The Love. The Love isn't a real ale person as such, but tried a little of both which she said weren't too bad. I got her a glass of wine in exchange for her half of beer, and so I had two different halves, which worked out rather nicely for us in the end. The All Creatures is well worth hunting down - if you can find it, have it and enjoy it!

We headed back down to the town of Masham and the sun was shining (about the only time it did all day, so made the most of it!) - the Market Place square looked historic as did the honesty box for car parking in the town (no pay and display, just an honesty box, how cute) and the place just seemed a really nice town overall. What was striking was that the little independent shops were to the fore here, as well as the beautiful St Mary's Church at the far end of the square. It was nice too to walk to the bridge over the river and see just how fast the river was flowing due to all the rain earlier, and it was a nice little walk around before heading back to the hotel.

We got ourselves showered and changed and it was off to the restaurant part of the White Bear for our evening meal, which we'd booked in advance to make sure that we got a table as apparently it gets quite busy. We had a nice table to ourselves and the only difficult decision was what ale to have - all the real ales were Theakston's as the hotel was run by them (somewhat ironic that there was no Black Sheep ales considering the proximity of the brewery, but hey ho). I went for the Black Bull which was delicious and would go perfectly with the choices of courses that I would have, that's for sure.

To start, The Love had the ham hock terrine which came with some lovely toasted bread and a little jar of piccalili, which seemed home made and the small jar with stopper lid was that cute extra touch that we appreciated. My tomato soup was possibly the best tomato soup I've ever had - ever. It had real flavour in it, was nice and thick and really did appetise as well in the mouth. I wasn't disappointed with the mains either: The Love had the roast lamb, and you got shed loads of lamb with potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding with lashings of gravy, and I had the steak and ale pie with mash and vegetables. Although not an individual pie, it was shortcrust pastry on top and the steak was very well cooked indeed, and tasted beautiful. That made me feel rather nice inside and The Love's lamb (I tried a bit for her) was delicious too, soft and tender and well cooked.

I was debating desserts, but instead of having a printed dessert menu, they were on a blackboard which the waiter brought over to you so you could look at them all that way. It was a tough decision as they all sounded gorgeous, but went for the lemon posset. I was so glad I did - the lemon mousse was tasty and thick and with the cream really did cleanse the palette beautifully. I was just struggling to eat the last bit simply because everything had been so nice and also somewhat filling, but it was just too nice not to finish off, let me tell you. We retired to the bar, I had the Lightfoot ale and The Love had a glass of wine, and we relaxed in the bar for some time and chatted together before heading next door to the hotel room and off to rest and relax for the night.

It had been a wonderful day and I can't thank The Love enough for making it all happen - she really did pull all the stops out and then some to make my day the special day that it was. It showed me (as if I needed to!) how much she loves me and how much I make her happy because she wanted to try so hard to make me feel happy on today of all days. Tune of the day is Beth Rowley's "So Sublime" because it's a lovely happy song and we both love it tons - and I'm sure that if we'd have had that on in The Love's car on the way up, we wouldn't have cared a jot about the weather either. I feel really lucky and really happy to have someone so special by my side.

Wednesday 9th May - Treats and Trying Out

I headed to one of the shops close to work this morning to get some little treats for the office and the team I work with - I got each half of the team in our two offices the same thing - so a box of flapjack and brownie bites, a bag of Eclairs (proper Cadbury ones of course) and some KitKats to have as required with a brew (well why the hell not?) and that went down very nicely indeed, which was good to see. I think sometimes it's nice to make an effort especially when I'm off the rest of this week for a very good reason.

I had a bit on today but it was mainly getting a desktop PC ready for Windows 7 and imaging it with our standard image and no extra software was required, so it was good at least to be able to get on with that and get it done whilst at the same time fixing some printer problems whilst I was waiting, and also spending a bit of time getting the desk of mine tidied up - when you're working with some PCs and Macs and laptops it can get a bit messy, so was nice to get things a tad more shipshape.

In the afternoon I headed over with my colleague to work on some iMacs in another building, we had a student image ready for them and we were able to then get them deployed quickly and easily with a bit of hard disk cloning using Disk Utility on the Mac. In essence it works really well and the time it takes to bring the image down from the attached hard disk is lightning fast. Of course because there's no network or server involved the speed is pretty rapid and we just then needed to tweak everything, place them all in Active Directory and all was well with the world there.

Back at the office I'd used Adobe Application Manager Enterprise to package Adobe CS5 Master Collection. In effect I had to copy the contents of both DVDs to the PC and use that as the source media folder, and then package everything including all the updates required, which wasn't too bad at all. This then made a 13GB installation folder complete with MSI for packaging, and this went up to the SCCM server, which in turn then once packaged went to each distribution point, so a shed load of data really. The good thing was that when I tried to deploy it, it worked - and first go too, so that pleased me immensely!

I felt like everything was done, so I was able to put on my away message on the emails and also make sure my out of office greeting was on and sign out of the phone, and that was that. I was now away from work for a couple of days, and after doing a shed load of ironing and a quick trip to Tesco, it was then back home to relax, and what a surprise I had on the red button - only the classic Spanish Grand Prix highlights from 1991 and 1996. And indeed it was the full BBC "Grand Prix" highlights too, so a good half hour plus on each. Oh yes, that was rather nice.

Tune of the day is "The Look" by Metronomy. In case you wondered, it also happens to be the tune that's used in the Barclays Pingit advert, promoting sending money via iPhones and other devices. Whilst all very neat and swish, I just hope that Barclays paid the band a decent amount of money for using the music and all that - because it's a great piece of music and indeed a great album that it's from too (one of my favourites of last year, in fact) that shows that at least someone in the bank's advertising department was on the pulse and picked something cool.

Tuesday 8th May - The Start of a Short Week

Well thankfully it's only two days in work for me as I'm off on the Thursday and Friday, so it was a case of attempting where possible to try and cram four days' work into two. I knew I couldn't do everything but as long as I was making attempts to get things done then I would be pretty pleased with myself. I actually got on with looking at Adobe CS5 Master Collection and packaging that for SCCM - but with one minor issue. We created disk images of the original DVDs that we had, but they were in the Nero image format. We no longer use Nero at work anymore due to licencing issues, and so had to find a nifty little program to convert the Nero disk image format to a standard ISO image.

Once that was done, I then was able to burn two dual layer DVDs from those ISO images, some 13-14GB worth of data in all. Absolutely mad, but true nonetheless. This would mean that for packaging it to SCCM, I'd need around 30GB of disk space so I could copy the contents of the DVDs to the hard drive and use Adobe Application Manager Enterprise to then package the installer to do all the work for me - but that wouild need space too. Oh yes, plenty to think about there methinks and at least I had a 64-bit laptop ready for testing if the time needed to - so that was good.

I also spent some time as well working on a couple of laptops which needed a re-image with Windows 7. Thankfully it seemed to go smoothly and there was a couple of extra applications which they wanted putting back on, so we layered that on nicely and were able to hand it back to the members of staff accordingly without issues. I like the fact that it's gone pretty smoothly so far to be honest, it just makes perfect sense to do them all in situ so we can foresee any issues ahead and be more proactive in what we do, all works well for a reason.

After getting home via the local pound shop as I needed to get a couple of things, it was a case of checking what I had in the fridge as to what I was going to make for the evening meal for myself and The Love In My Heart. As it turned out, I had all the ingredients in for a chorizo sausage pasta bake, one of my signature dishes, and so that was to be the deciding choice for the meal. I cooked that when The Love arrived and so we had a nice meal together and she had some wine to go with that too - so everything was very well indeed.

Later on it was time to get the Scrabble out and so we had a great game with Jamie Hartman's "III" album providing suitable musical accompaniment. Indeed, The Love mentioned it was almost like listening to Jamie's former band Ben's Brother in all but name, but with just his name on, and that's certainly the conclusion that I'd already came to on first listen. "Girlwise" is my current favourite off the album, so that's tune of the day - it's pretty catchy and has a nice uplifting feel to it as well, perfect when the weather outside isn't as good as it should be really.

Monday 7th May - The Rocket Rules

I looked at the weather outside and it was grey, dark and pretty horrid, the sort of weather that we've almost been accustomed to on recent Bank Holidays. I suppose with the weather being reasonably half-decent during most of the weekend then the bad weather had to come sometime. I spent the time constructively during the morning, uploading the pictures I took on Saturday during Knutsford's Royal May Day that I went to, and then ensuring that they were able to be viewed by a wider public by mentioning it to a couple of local newspaper sites as well, not daft me!

The Love In My Heart came over later on and we decided that it'd be nice to head out for lunch even if the weather wasn't great, and so off we went to the Elizabethan. It was nice to be in there with a relatively relaxed feel to how it often can be in there (it's a very nice and popular pub of course) and so we were able to get a nice space to sit and relax and have lunch. And my, was it enjoyable! I had the fish and chips which was spot on and even comes in mock newspaper that fish and chips from your traditional takeaway may have been wrapped in all those years ago, a nice touch that. Gorgeous!

After that it was off to Tesco to get a few bits, and I managed to notice that the real ales were 4 for £6 again. I wanted to get a couple of bottles of Pedigree as I know one of my relations like that, but as I was glancing around I noticed that they had the Skinners Brewery's "Betty Stogs" ale as well. I've not had that for ages since I've last been in Cornwall so of course I had to get some of that for myself, would have been rude not to if you ask me. It's normally a spot on pint so I just hope that it does travel well!

It was then back home and we watched the remainder of the afternoon session of the World Snooker final. At 14-7 up it looked like Ronnie O'Sullivan could have finished the match early and before the evening, but Ali Carter fought back well, got a century and won three on the bounce to make it 14-10 but then Ronnie won the last to make it 15-10, which in my view might have been too much of a mountain to climb for Ali in the evening session anyway. It was good though and The Love then headed home to watch the soaps and Silent Witness whilst I settled in for the evening session.

And to be truthful it didn't take long to wrap up proceedings. The frames were shared at the start of the evening so it was 16-11 to Ronnie, but he managed to take the next two and so close out the match without the need of a mid-session interval or any other frames afterwards. You'd have been a bit gutted if you'd have just paid for that session and seen four frames, but that's how it works sometimes. It was a deserved victory for Ronnie really and one that hopefully might persuade him not to retire, especially as he now gets pretty much guaranteed entry to most tournaments as World Champion!

Tune of the day in the meantime was what the snooker was using to get the players introduced to the crowd before Rob Walker would get them on the Crucible floor - namely "Killer" by Adamski. The instrumental version at least sounded right and with Rob's voice over the top going mental and introducing them it actually wasn't too bad overall. Some purists might argue that it's not really suitable but I thought it wasn't that bad - and best kept for the final session of the tournament.

Sunday 6th May - Who Put The Ball In Newcastle's Net? Yaya Yaya Toure!

I was feeling pretty nervous today and The Love In My Heart could sense it in me. Manchester City were away at Newcastle today and a win would mean that we'd just need to win our last game at home to clinch the Premier League title. And with Manchester United playing at 4pm at home to Swansea, we knew that we'd have to win to be sure to keep the lead in the title race. It was to be one of those days where any nails I might have had were bitten off by the end of it - good job then that I'd already clipped them to look neat and tidy eh?

I made The Love and me breakfast and we sat relaxing watching Country Tracks seeing a beautiful part of the country in Northumberland which made us both want to go there to check out Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne and also the beautiful beaches along the coast as well. It definitely made for a rather nice programme and one that gives you inspiration. The Love left for the city centre as she was dropping some of her relations off who were watching the game down the pub, and I headed to my friend's place as he had the game on Sky Sports 1 and had invited me over.

You can imagine the nerves from two diehard City fans as the game got underway, and although we played well first half, we couldn't score. Gareth Barry went close with two efforts in three seconds or so, one of which was cleared off the line, and a couple of good Tim Krul saves kept out longer range efforts. At the other end a Hatem Ben Arfa shot was saved well by Joe Hart, and it was a pretty even game with a few niggly fouls. At half time 0-0 was okay but we knew we had to go on from there and win - and with the other games shaping up nicely in terms of the relegation battle, it was back to St James' Park for the second half.

An hour into the match, Roberto Mancini changed things around - he took off Samir Nasri and brought on Nigel de Jong. Now you might have thought "that's a bit negative" but he put de Jong in the holding midfield role that Yaya Toure was doing and so pushed Yaya further forward. And once Edin Džeko came on, the game changed too. Some neat play from Džeko and Yaya and the ball headed to Sergio Agüero who one two-ed it with Yaya, and he curled one - and... YESSSSSSSSSS! It was there and an absolute peach. Cue two grown men going absolutely mental cheering the boys on.

It was to be a nervy last twenty minutes though with Newcastle pressing forwards, and sub Micah Richards blocking a goal bound shot showing every ounce of determination, and both Yaya and Agüero missing some chances for City to put the game beyond reach, one just past the post agonisingly too. Newcastle though had their chances and 1-1 would have made it interesting to say the least. A corner came over, Vincent Kompany headed it away. It went to Agüero who beat two men before laying it off square to Nigel de Jong. He found Gael Clichy who found Yaya in the area, and he wasn't going to miss from there. 2-0! GET IN THERE! We were both going even more mental and knew that the job was now in City's hands, even if later (as predicted) Man U beat Swansea 2-0.

It was a great effort from the City players and showed just how much it meant to them when they were going for it and going pretty mental at the end. Straight away though with the other results coming through at the bottom end we worked out that QPR needed a point at the Etihad for the last game to stay up, with Bolton having to win at Stoke and hoping we'd do them a favour by beating QPR. In an ideal scenario, City and Bolton both win, keeping them up as I like keeping the local teams up in the league and with QPR having former Man City manager and ex-Man U player Mark Hughes, it'd be somewhat poetic if we sent them down too. That also said, Bolton have to win at Stoke which isn't going to be an easy place to go.

Later on then it was on BBC HD for the second session, the evening session of the World Championship Snooker final between Ali Carter and Ronnie O'Sullivan. How I wished that the BBC would use "Drag Racer" by the Doug Wood Band still as the proper snooker theme (that one is tune of the day) instead of some remixed rubbish that seems to be on all the time. It proved to be an intriguing session and a clash of styles, with the more measured patient style of Ali Carter against the fast play of Ronnie O'Sullivan. I think Ali Carter will be the happier of the two despite losing the session 5-4 and being 10-7 down overall as he struggled a lot tonight.

Saturday 5th May - Knutsford Royal May Day

It was a nice relaxing morning with The Love In My Heart, as we got up and pottered around the house for a little while. We both had busy but different days ahead: she was off to her Mum's later in the day as well as having a bit of time to relax, and I was off to Knutsford for the Royal May Day celebrations. It's usually a good day out and I was going with a couple of people from Flickr, so it was a case of camera at the ready, charged and good to go so that pictures could be taken if need be. I knew too that it would be pretty good to head out there as the parade is colourful and bright with lots getting involved.

I got to Piccadilly on time and met up with my two friends there and once we'd got the train tickets and a well earned coffee, it was off to platform 11 for the train. And - yaay! Looks like Northern Rail might have actually listened to my complaint a few years back when they had two carriage trains for this journey, they had four. Excellent! We got some seats and headed off via Stockport, Altrincham, Hale etc before arriving in Knutsford on time. There waiting for us was another Flickr person who had come on the train the other way from Lostock Gralam, so that was good timing all round.

We headed downhill under the railway and along King Street, the main shopping street. You could see the sanding that had taken place, with quite a few colourful well wishes to the Royal May Queen for the day. Lots of the shops were decked out and bunting was across the streets ready for the celebrations and the parade. We walked up and could see how it would all take place as well as spot plenty of lovely little shops. We were going to do lunch in the Angel pub but it was full, so instead we went to a nice little sandwich shop that I'd been to before and got a very nice cajun chicken panini - delicious!

We then headed back to the Angel pub and a bit further along so we could get a good vantage point to view the parade as it came past later on, with it due to start at 2pm. The crowds were assembling now and so it was good to be there and ready with cameras in hand, and sure enough along came the town crier and the jack in the green at the front of the parade, with the rest of it heading slowly past. The parade always has plenty of families and children involved in fancy dress, and so you had the likes of various countries represented by their dress, vikings, pirates, a large shoe depicting the old nursery rhyme, all that sort of thing.

It also had many of the quintessential English traditions in there, the likes of Morris dancing (three different sets of dancers as well scattered throughout the parade), horses pulling carts and carraiges with people in, even two old beer carts with the beer flowing from them if you so wanted, and it just felt a good place to be seeing it all. Of course what everyone was waiting for was the Royal May Queen and once I spotted the Crown Bearer I knew she was on her way, and as ever, it looked excellent, with the Queen perfecting her Royal wave to everyone as she went past, and flanked by bagpipe players right at the back too.

Once the parade had headed past we decided to head to the Angel for a well earned pint of their IPA, and it was good to sit, rest and chat as we were on our feet for a fair while. It was good to do so as well, and I found out that our fellow Flickrite from Lostock Gralam was into morris dancers for some reason, so of course for her it was heavenly to see so many of them in one day. Once we'd had our refreshment it was off to The Heath to see the rest of the festivities conclude, including the maypole dance and the crowning of the May Queen.

We also went around the fun fair and it seemed larger than ever this year, with a large roller coaster standing impressively in the middle as well as lots of rides designed to spin very fast and make you dizzy, as well as numerous hook a duck games, grabber machines everywhere, dart games and of course the old ring over the box games too. I knew I wasn't going to win so didn't take part, but it was still pretty good fun overall to be able to see how everyone else would fare. It was also packed as well which showed that just as much as the May Day parade, this got the people into Knutsford.

Later on it was time to take the train back and thankfully it was also a four carriage train, so getting a seat was easy peasy. We relaxed and chatted on the way back before saying our goodbyes at Piccadilly, and it had been an excellent day out all told. The Love In My Heart was waiting at the station for me, and so we headed back to mine and so I started cooking us some spaghetti with meatballs for tea, which was very nice indeed and did the job. We sat back and relaxed for the evening but didn't win the lottery (boo) but instead settled in to watch some telly.

Tune of the day in the meantime is "One Fine Day" by 3 Daft Monkeys, which definitely would have served its purpose for some of the dancing taking place during the parade, and it would have been the sort of one that the band might have got involved in or played - it had that real proud town or village feel. And of course because I like the song and it reminds me of seeing the band live with everyone going for it and dancing around a small venue with not a care in the world - which is usually me!

Friday 4th May - Friday Night Out

It was a nice end to the week today after all what had gone on. First of all I was spending some time with a couple of laptops getting them up and ready for Windows 7, and that pretty much went without a hitch. The good thing is that on the whole the imaging process has been pretty stable, and one little glitch with regards to Windows Updates got resolved by a little bit of tweaking later in the day, which was useful. I'm also re-imaging a Samsung R580 laptop as well as a little desktop back to Windows 7 64-bit so I can do a ton of testing on it - not least Adobe CS5 Master Collection which I know someone has.

I also checked the local election results at lunch time and it seemed that for all the local councillors up for grabs, Labour won the lot here in Manchester and the Liberal Democrats won a big fat zero. If it's anything like it was near me, I'm not surprised. They first tried a smear campaign on the Labour candidate and when that didn't work they then went to mass leafletting every day (almost) to try and get your vote. My colleague at work who lives nearby also told me that she had had phone calls from them as well attempting to drum up the vote too - it's at times like this I have my phone number ex-directory and have the TPS opt out on as well, saves lots of hassle that does.

I headed home and then to Tesco to get the food shopping in. It wasn't a massive job really as I mainly wanted to get some pasta sauce for tea tomorrow night as well as some dessert if needed, but also wanted to be pretty quick as I knew that The Love In My Heart and myself were out later - and we don't normally head out on a Friday night. It was then get home, get in the shower, get changed and look good, as did The Love when she came over. We had a coffee before we headed out and made sure that we were all set, and off we went.

We were heading to Kro close to Manchester University, where one of my good friends from Flickr was having a bit of a do to celebrate her recent wedding, and had very kindly invited us both along for the evening. Of course it meant nice real ales in Kro of course, as well as some good tunes coming from a laptop attached to some PA speakers that the couple had selected themselves, which was a nice touch. It was nice to see several people not least those from Flickr whom I know, and so that made for a lovely time of it, with good drinks, a nice little buffet spread, and some great tunes.

It was just as good to see another of my Flickr friends with her boyfriend too - he seemed really nice and suited to her down to the ground, and it was good to chat to them. She knows The Love through work and so it was good to chat en masse whilst we all spotted which tune was coming on next, including Ned's Atomic Dustbin's classic tune "Kill Your Television" - tune of the day easily that one as it reminded me of the indie pop kids who would sing along at the wrong time, hehe!

Also, I have to say that my friend looked elegant and beautiful in her dress, it was a very 1950s style dress that fitted perfectly from Vivien of Holloway and came out at the bottom with some lovely patterns, and was classy too. I could see why she went for it as something different to the convential white or ivory, and with the heels to match just was spot on. I think if I remember right, it's this one - and well worth it too for the price methinks. We ended up leaving around 12.30am and heading on night buses back to ours after a very lovely and enjoyable evening all round.

Thursday 3rd May - Polling For Your Vote

I did the done thing today and voted. It's the local council elections today and as well as that Manchester are making a decision about if they want an elected mayor or not. It's two quite big decisions and certainly from the amount of junk being posted through my letter box in the last few days, both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats are really trying hard for your vote where I live. The Lib Dem councillor last time was beaten by a Labour candidate, purely because I think of the national anger that there was with the Lib Dems siding way too much in coalition with the Conservative Party, not least when it came to measures such as tuition fees for students. In some parts of Manchester where there's a large student population, that really rang home.

Unfortunately what the Lib Dem candidate near me seems to be doing is processionally slagging off Labour instead of concentrating a lot more on the local needs and issues and what they've actually done themselves. No points scoring needed to be honest, what most people want are hard and true and correct facts (and most of this I can research myself to make sure that they're backing up their claims too). The Lib Dem candidate for example tried to claim tons of credit for saving the local swimming baths, when in fact it was clearly in my eyes anyway that the local people who stood up and were counted without any political intervention necessary.

So it was with some form of trepidation that I planned to cast the vote: who do I go for, and why? I had a long hard think about it during the day and by the time that I'd got to the polling station, I'd made my mind up about who to pick for the council and indeed on the referendum question which decision to make. I do wish I was voting for the mayor in London as I can't really stand for Boris Johnson and would have voted for anyone else instead of him. One thing in particular is the increase in public transport fares - Oyster bus and tube fares in particular have gone up massively, incentivising the use of them much less which is a shame in my book.

I think sometimes it's good to know that you've at least got the democratic vote and by doing so you'll do your bit. When you consider how many hoops you have to jump through in some countries and some eras of time just to be able to vote, then it's something you appreciate a lot more and make the most of. My thought process is that if you don't vote, well you can't complain if stuff happens that you don't like because you didn't influence anything by casting it in the first place. That's why I've always felt it to be the right thing to do and I'll do it to be sure I have my say.

Away from that then, I noticed from a recent ticket office email that no less than The Primitives are playing Manchester later this month. It's a shame it's so close to something else I've got going on this month, but I remember them with fond memories, not least the likes of "Crash" and "Sick of It" to name but a couple. In fact I just watched a recording of "Crash" from Saturday Night Live and it still felt like one of the great indie songs of all time, which of course it is, so tune of the day was a fairly easy decision for me really.

Wednesday 2nd May – Last Minute Crucible

I had had a busy day at work today, and I was debating during the day if I should head to the snooker and watch the final sessions of the quarter finals tonight. Part of my temptation was that if the score was close, we could be in for even a final frame decider or in fact a lengthy evening, and with the scores of both quarter finals being more nicely poised I thought “well why not?” and decided that if I could get a ticket, then I would go and see it live, always better if you can do that I reckon.

I got home, quickly rang the box office and they said “yes, there’s a ticket left for the Ali Carter – Jamie Jones match” and so I thought “excellent”, and booked the ticket ready to go. It was then a quickish sort of dash to the local train station, and then on to Stockport, change there and then off to Sheffield. Even though the train was packed, I managed to get a seat with a very nice coffee courtesy of the people at the nice counter in Stockport station. I set off from the infamous Platform 0 at the station as well, stuff of legend that.

I arrived in Sheffield, climbed the hill to the box office and just before I got there I spotted one of the fellow fans who is on the same web forum as myself, and it was good to chat to her about the snooker and how the afternoon had gone. She’d managed to get tickets for both sessions of the Ronnie O’Sullivan v Neil Robertson game (Neil is one of her favourite players) and so with that ending up 9-7 to Ronnie before the evening, that was also finely poised. We waited to see if we could spot any players, and didn’t, so then went in and took our respective places before the match got underway.

It was busy with Ronnie playing of course and before they went live on BBC2 it was to the floor with Rishi Persad presenting with Ken Doherty on hand to do the analysis, and it was excellent to see them live. Rob Walker got the boys on the baize, and the atmosphere truly was electric, with many fans cheering on the other table with Jamie Jones and Ali Carter as well as a sizable rooting section for O'Sullivan and Robertson. I quite like the fact that Robertson comes on to a piece of music used in film trailers, just seems to suit him really, so "Heart of Courage" by Two Steps From Hell is tune of the day.

Over on the table I was watching, the first frame of the evening was tense with Ali Carter battling through to go 10-7 up and the next three were pretty tight affairs apart from one good break from Ali which meant a 12-8 interval lead. At the mid-session I headed out for a coffee and noticed that the other match was almost done, with six frames having been completed in record time before Ronnie took the 23rd frame to win the match 13-10. It was a good match for them all round and I have a feeling that the winner of that will win the title - we shall see won't we?

Back to the second half of the session between Jones and Carter then, and Jamie needed to win all five to win the match, and indeed had won the first two with some good play to be 12-10. And then the 23rd frame was full of drama. Ali Carter was ahead on points but Jamie Jones had hit the red but the white nestled in the jaws of the pocket without going in. Any harder it was in-off and Ali favourite, but it meant a tricky escape for Ali which meant five attempts in all, and Jamie cleaned up to make it 12-11. The time was past 10pm which meant I was going to have to get the last train back (local stopping one too) but I wanted to see the end of the match!

The match resolved itself in the 24th frame with one ambitious pot too many from Jamie Jones, leaving Ali Carter to clean up with a very good break that got him over the line. Both players did play pretty well and the tension was excellent throughout, showed how much it meant to both of them to do so well here. Jamie will be back, mark my words, he was excellent today and really did show his class overall. It was then a dash down to Sheffield station to get the last train back, which involved getting into Stockport very late and waiting for a rail replacement bus for the last part of the journey home!

Tuesday 1st May – The Morning After

As you can well imagine, the derby was rather good but also took up a lot of energy. I was a little hoarse this morning for obvious reasons – going mental and shouting out loud for continual periods of time does that to you, I guess. But there you go. I was greeted in work with a few of my City fan colleagues who were all in good moods, and all of which had different tales to tell about nails being bitten, not being able to stand the tension, and of course watching it on telly is arguably worse than actually being there in my view.

It was a pretty busy day in the office today as I had something to get to grips with – Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It was a free download to try out and thought that it’d be worth me testing on one of the test laptops that we have, so that we can see what the future holds. Of course it’s more when people get machines at home or students get them, we’ll need to know our way around. And certainly with the different user interface, it’s very different from anything you’ve used before. Especially as the start menu button isn’t there and the start menu is all whizzy.

To me at least it’s like Microsoft went for the phone style look and feel to a PC, which to a degree could work if only for the fact that plenty of PCs don’t have posh touch gesture screens, nor do they have all manner of devices that behave like a phone would do, so you’re using the mouse often to drag scrollbars instead of swiping across, stuff like that. Also if you’re in the corporate world and use Active Directory, straight away the app store will fail because it doesn’t recognise the logged in AD user as an app store user. It’s of course good that it happens to stop people installing stuff they shouldn’t, but hey ho and all that.

After the day in the office I headed home and started to blitz the backlog of washing and ironing that I’d been doing, and I got sort of through it a bit but knew there was still lots to do unfortunately. The Love In My Heart arrived later on and so I got to work making us some nice spaghetti carbonara for tea, which went down very well. She had had a very hard day at work as well and so it was nice to wind down and chat for a bit, before indulging her with a documentary on the one year since William and Kate married and what they’ve been doing since. She likes the Royal Family, she does, and so was good for her to unwind with.

After all that it was time for a game of Scrabble and so with Beth Rowley’s “Little Dreamer” album on (one of her all time favourites) we played well, and “So Sublime” has to be tune of the day because it’s the song that she loves the most, and I do too. I impressed myself though tonight and scored my highest ever single move ever, scoring over 100 points in the process. I did FLICKED across the top left hand corner, with EWE also being made. With the blank being used as an I, I scored 57 for the triple word (C on double letter), 6 for EWE and the 50 point bonus for getting rid of all of my letters, thus scoring a massive 113 points. Needless to say that set me going for a decent score!