Dear Diary... November 2005

Sunday 27th November - Making It Through The Winter

Yesterday was a nice evening out, as I went to the Opera House to watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Although apparently not quite the same running order as the film was, nonetheless the production was excellent all round, and the stars of the show really projected their voices well, the change of stages was handled effortlessly, and the dance routines looked fairly tiring - no wonder some of the seven brothers had red faces by the end - not least as they'd done a matinee performance earlier in the day, too, so that was impressive by al accounts.

Mind you, I was glad I was sat at the front row of the circle - the view's supposed to be a little obstructed because of a safety rail, but because the musicians were below stage level doing their stuff, in fact there was no obstruction at all, and no peeking over people's heads either, just a good view all around, probably one of the best seats in the house. That in itself was really nice because it meant that there was nothing to annoy me during the performance, even though unfortunately someone didn't feel too well a few rows back and right of me and had to be led into a waiting ambulance, that was a bit scary really.

Friday 25th November - Build High

Got back from London on the Wednesday, a bit delayed coming into Stoke-on-Trent but nothing too major at all. I got home and had to realise that there was washing to be done - at least though the rest of the week off so I could just relax a bit. I did that mostly, even finding time to check my work email (sad, I know!) along with getting another couple of Christmas presents along the way, which mean now that I only have two left to get, and considering I started off with twenty nine to buy for, I can't complain one bit whatsoever. It's always nice to give instead of receive I think, and certainly I just love it when people open presents and they receive something nice - always a good thing in my book.

It was nice night tonight though as I headed out with a few friends to Frankie and Benny's - normally this would be the one in town but it was fully booked so instead it was time to head out to the one in Salford Quays instead. And as per usual, I felt really relaxed in there. You never get rushed in terms of anything, so you can spend the whole night in there really enjoying yourself and munching lovely food, and that certainly was the case with me: I had a mushroom alfredo to start, then penne alfredo for the main (lots of bacon and mushroom in a cheese sauce with penne pasta - yummy) followed by a cinnamon waffle crunch for dessert. Add to that a rather nice latte into the mix and you could tell that I was really chilled out, and in a lot of ways a perfect end to the week - well, almost. I still have fun and games tomorrow as I'm off to the theatre..

Tuesday 22nd November - This Song Is Cursed

I felt like a lie in today. After so much working and being up early to do stuff, I thought the best thing would be to rest, and you know? It did me the whole world of good. I eventually crawled out of bed at 10am, showered and got myself ready for a bit of Christmas shopping, but first I really wanted to see how the other half (the posh set, that is) lived and shopped their day, so after getting another all day bus ticket, it was on the 73 to Euston, so I could get the 10 which dropped me right near Knightsbridge tube station, and why? Well, Harrods, of course. I hadn't been in there for years now and I just needed to see how expensive the place still is. And sure enough, after going through the food hall, that point was very much proven. You're talking twenty chocolate truffles for around £22, or indeed some marzipan shaped like a fruit for a mere £3-50 each, and they're tiny, like the size of Mr. Kipling's French Fancies. Mind you, I did indulge myself a little and got their 100g jar of decaffeinated coffee, which cost me a mere £3-50. Considering I can sometimes pay up to £3 for a jar of decaf, I thought it wasn't that bad value actually.

Left there after about an hour and a half or so and popped down the road into Gap, and managed to get a Christmas present for one of my relations in there, and for not that much dosh either - hard to believe that of all the places to get a bargain it would be somewhere right next to Harrods, almost. Surreal. Mind you, I did manage to locate an excellent place to munch lunch just across the road and down one of the side streets, a little place where the chicken and sweetcorn sandwich was to die for, and the coffee was rather nice, the service excellent, and you could tell it was somewhere regulars went, because a lot of people came in and the people serving knew exactly what they wanted, greeted them really well and were just really nice people. I overheard someone say that the coleslaw in their sandwich was excellent and they could tell it was home made - so definitely something to recommend it. Check it out, it's on Montpelier Street just off Brompton Road, and well worth locating.

With me refreshed lunch wise, it was time to head back along Oxford Street again, and I blitzed five presents within a couple of hours, one of which was a t-shirt for my brother that he'd been after for a while, so that was rather nice to say the least. I then succumbed to the buffet meal at Deep Pan Pizza Company, because it was excellent value and one that meant I could enjoy some pizza and pasta and get myself prepared for the evening's entertainment..

Because the moment of truth had arrived, the concert that I'd come down for in the first place - no less than Kristin Hersh at the Kings Cross Scala, just a couple of minutes walk from the Travelodge, so perfect position to be able to enjoy myself and get back without any problems. No doubt that Scala is one odd venue inside, you climb these stairs with a slight smell of your local swimming baths as you go up, and then you can either half way up go through to the floor area for the main stage etc, or go all the way to the top for a bar and balcony overlooking the stage, or from there down some stairs to a middle room with chairs etc and a glass window between you and the audience, overlooking the stage. After thinking of my options, and not being able to hear the support act all that well in this room, I headed up to the top and for the balcony. After all, I wasn't going to go the bar again, not least when a diet coke bottle cost me a mere £2-10. Rip off, or what?

Anyway, on to Kristin Hersh. She was rather good to say the least. And I am not just saying that because I really admire her, either. The atmosphere was most excellent, mainly because of an inspired move to use two people (the McCarricks, I think they were called) to do cello and violin duties with Kristin on a lot of the songs, and that was quite nice. What was a lovely and defining moment was during the song "Gazebo Tree" where first of all she had to ask the audience to remember one line, as she'd inadvertantly forgotten it (it does happen to us all, and when you've written so many songs over almost twenty years of making music, you can be forgiven) and then to cap it all, after she'd explained what the song was about and had almost come to the end of the song, the string on her guitar decided to break as well, but like the true professional she carried on going and got to the end of the song. "This song is cursed!" she exclaimed and everyone smiled and laughed with her, it was one of those moments where you really had to be there to experience it really.

A storming set too, not least because quite a few of the songs were from her first album Hips and Makers, which is probably just about still my favourite of hers, so you can imagine hearing the likes of "Teeth", "Sundrops", "Cuckoo", "The Letter" and then to finish proceedings with "Your Ghost" was a really nice touch. Most of her solo album career got an airing too with even a B-side and the excellent "Your Dirty Answer" played in completely a different key - it threw me a bit until she started singing the first line and then I knew instantly what the song was. This was the second of two nights, and the first night she'd played Throwing Muses stuff so I wasn't expecting any of that. However for the encore she decided to play some TM stuff just for us poor folk who couldn't afford both nights, such a lovely touch - thank you Kristin! Not least when she unleashed "Mania" onto everyone with just as much intensity that I recall hearing it the first time back in the day - and on acoustic, too. She also gave us "Delicate Cutters" too, so that was really neat. I guess it'd have been too much to ask for her to do "Dizzy" as well, but nonetheless an excellent and varied set. I didn't even realise it was 11pm by the time everything had finished, and so it was back to the Travelodge and to sleep thinking of gorgeous lush acoustic guitar in my ears...

Monday 21st November - London Calling

The start of a week off work, and a few days away, fantastic, just what I needed after a long hard week at work where I crammed lots of work in to try and get the administration PCs updated as soon as I could, and so far so good as everything seems to be playing ball. When I left work on the Friday I was just relieved to be honest as everything had been done to the best of my ability and all that. And as Monday morning came up, the mist descended on pretty much the whole country. So it was with excitement and a bit of trepidation that I headed to Piccadilly train station to get the 11:15 service to London Euston.

Sure enough, the train was the usual nice clean Virgin service, and the shop half way through the train kept me going with a coffee, and then a bacon roll later on. However, the further south the train went, the worse that the visibility got, and it was no surprise whatsoever that the train manager had to announce that it was running late - not much you can do when you can't see a signal a mere 100 yards ahead of you either, so I guess safety just has to come first. That said, south of Watford it seemed to get a bit better and as such the train was delayed around half an hour, getting in at just before 2:15pm instead of its sceheduled time. In a way, that actually worked out quite well for me, as the Travelodge I was staying at didn't let me enter the room till around 3pm - so leaving Euston I walked down the main road, past all the developments at St Pancras, past Kings Cross station, down Kings Cross Road and there was the Islington Travelodge - and not too bad either. The ensuite room was comfy enough, big soft bed, shower and all that - pretty much all that was needed to be used as a base.

After borrowing an iron and ironing board from the reception to give my clothes a bit of de-creasing, it was time to head shopward and on to Oxford Street to see what I could find for Christmas presents. Thankfully a newsagents opposite the Travelodge sold you the one day bus passes, so no fiddling around for change, and after a short walk up the hill to Pentonville Road, it was time to head on the 73 bus and eventually arrive for a bit of shopping. No surprise then that my first port of call was Berwick Street where all the good independent record shops are. Interestingly, Selectadisc half way up the street had now been taken over by Sister Ray, so in effect two branches for the time being until the old one closes. I also just had to have a good look in Reckless Records - very like Vinyl Exchange here in Manchester in setup, and there was plenty of temptation should I want to purchase any rare vinyl. I took a walk further up Oxford Street, went down Regent Street and into Hamleys, where big kid syndrome took a hold and I was sorely tempted to buy loads of stuff, and also went down to Piccadilly Circus to check out the Virgin store there - still not that cheap, really.

After a bit of mooching around and giving myself some ideas for presents, I headed on the 73 back to the Travelodge, got changed and freshened up, chilled out for a bit, then out to a very nice Chinese restaurant where the lemon chicken was to die for. Shame there were far too many people smoking in the restaurant though, and on the way back I had to constantly watch the pavement as well. You see for some reason people don't like to show very good manners and there was spit in quite a few places, which just wasn't good. So I was on guard looking out for that a while but before I knew it I was straight back on the buses and got to the Travelodge around 11pm, and relaxed with a coffee and the television before a well earned sleep.

Tuesday 15th November - And It's Go, Go Go!

Well, a hectic week of work and then getting round doing lots of other little bits of things too, so not much time to really sit down and write anything. Besides which, from Sunday onwards I've been glued at 8pm every night to BBC Three for fairly obvious reasons, yes of course it's the return of the House of Tiny Tearaways, and already three nights in it's absolutely rivetting viewing, not least to see the contrasts in the three families and the way that the children behave, but also of course for me because of Tanya Byron. She's so wonderful in a way because she knows when to step back but also because she actually does care about the parents as well as the children, giving them a bit of empathy and also the space they need to develop too. I'm probably a bit biased because I also think she's gorgeous, but that's probably down to her earthiness, and a tendency to occasionally wear black nail polish in conjunction with her feminine outfits. And remember, feminine is sexy. So there.

I really do feel that the families who go in there really are determined to want to lead a more normal life with their children, and the majority of them come across as nice people despite what they may see as faults in each other. It's an eye opener also because of the way that it can sometimes take someone from outside of the family to see what's going on and tell it to them like it is, no holds barred. That can be emotional but sometimes you just have to let go of your feelings and see the reality out there, no matter how nice or not that might be. The real eye opener for one of those parents looks like it's going to happen in tomorrow night's show. Can't wait to see the reaction, and the support she'll get from everyone..

Mind you, Sunday afternoon was me glued to the gogglebox even more than ever. Well, not because of the cricket (although hopefully England can win the first Test tomorrow morning) but because of the debut event of the Grand Prix Masters: all the old F1 drivers racing against each other around the Kyalami circuit in South Africa. Now the likes of Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Ricardo Patrese, Andrea de Cesaris etc is enough to set most people reminiscing about the good old days of F1 when you had to have balls of steel to drive the car, as well as being able to use manual gears and all that sort of thing. But that wasn't, believe it or not, the main reason why yours truly was getting so excited. It's because a certain 82 year old commentator was coming out of retirement to commentate on the race, none other than the voice of F1, Murray Walker!

And you know what? In all the years that we fans of F1 have listed to James Allen's commentary on ITV, and as good as he's tried, we've thought "hmm, he's decent enough, but he's not Murray!" Sunday's hour of so just proved what we've all been missing. Right from the "Go! Go! Go!" at the start to his enthusiasm shining through, especially for his good friend Mansell doing the business holding off Emerson Fittipaldi in a titanic battle at the front, at every opportunity of overtaking you could feel Murray was right there, 100mph, giving it some. I have to say I don't think everyone realised what they missed about him until they saw the race on Sunday and listened to the great man speak. If this masters series develops into a six or seven race season next year, I hope the Beeb get the rights to show the races, and that they can put the great man back into our living rooms with the enthusiasm and passion that fans of F1 all over the world love him for. Sure, he was getting used to the fact that the "lap counter" was actually counting the number of laps left, and he mentioned that all the cars were identical (well, they are apart from the livery). But when you could hear his joy at having the likes of Fittipaldi take a bend flat out at 160mph, you just knew that it was special. Faaaaaaaaaantastic!

Monday 7th November - Birthday Fun And Games

Well, a good weekend on the whole, even if the cold wasn't making me feel 100% as yet, and City lost. But still, it was my sister's little one's first birthday party yesterday, and as Mum had laid on lots of food (far too much as per usual, but lots of nice stuff nonetheless) there was plenty to enjoy. Not least as the little one decided to play a game of "how fast can I crawl around the house". I even got him to stand up and, holding his hands, he walked towards me a little bit - awww. Can't wait to see if and when he manages it on his little ownsome, it's moments like that which you treasure. Even if they aren't mine, no bad thing cos you can give them back at the end of the day and know that they'll be well looked after, especially by my Mum, she dotes over him like nobody's business.

It's funny really how we all turn into big softies with little ones though, even me. Mind you, I'm such a big kid when it comes to things like cartoons anyway that I'm probably in my element, hence me getting him a Tweenies DVD of all the songs he likes. My sister told him his favourite is Jake, no surprise there as it's most kids' favourite cos of the wacky hairstyle he has (imagine a Morrissey-esque large quiff in the middle and not much else, and you get the idea.) But nonetheless if that's what makes him happy - and he was using my uncle's camera to great effect yesterday, taking some half-decent snaps. Have we got the new David Bailey at me Mum's, I wondered to myself.

Because of all the birthday stuff going on, unfortunately I couldn't make a trip to Copenhagen this weekend for the Copenhagen Retro Concert. I did tune in for a little bit to the live stream while I had a spare half hour, and was a bit gutted to hear that the one thing that bugged me when I went to the recent Manchester retro shenanigans surfaced here too - people talking during the actual performances! Why do people do that? It's so darned inconsiderate really. Shame even more so because what I heard of the artists doing their stuff was good stuff (which I expected anyway) and no doubt in terms of their atmosphere that would have been rather nice. Must make a mental note to plan things years in advance to avoid clashes, but alas family had to come first really. A lesson for us all: it's too easy to be self-centered. This time I wasn't and it was the right thing to do.

Wednesday 2nd November - Bunged Up and Bug Hunting

My cold's getting worse, but I'm soldering on as much as I can. Not least today at work, where I finally discovered why one of the workstation policies wasn't working for this new workstation build - so I did feel some sense of achievement at the end of the day. Mind you, I'm trying my utmost to have hot drinks, lucozade, decongestants, the full works really, in order to try and shift as much rubbish out of me as I can before the weekend - my sister's little one is a year old and he's having a bit of a birthday do at me mum's, so that'll be nice.

Can't wait to see his little face light up, as my sister said to me "get him a Tweenies DVD - he's really into them!" and as luck would have it one of the two I got him actually features his favourite Tweenies song, Wiggly Woo (or something like that) - so that'll mean peace and quiet for my sister and my Mum, and a very happy little boy. What could be nicer eh? Maybe I should try and hire a Jake costume for the day for my sister to keep him amused with - that would be a rather nice way of making the day special?

Takes me back to many moons ago when I did a fancy dress charity pub crawl with the colleagues I used to work with at that time. Lots of different outfits were hired, including a rhino, Robin Hood, and so on, but I decided that Sonic The Hedgehog was the one for me. As we all headed round town, lots of kids with their parents stopped by and were all going "look Mummy, it's Sonic!". Now, of course, I decided that for charity if their mums wanted the kids to have their piccys taken, they donated money in the tub and the job's done. Did that a couple of times and you could see the little kid's happy face. We did raise a fair amount of cash for Pendlebury Children's Hospital along the way, so it was definitely well worth it. Seems ironic when playing Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast the other day...