Dear Diary... April 2023

Sunday 30th April - Crown to Couture

It was nice to wake up having had a well earned sleep last night, and The Love In My Heart did admit that because it was the first time she had stayed at mine for some time, it felt a little different when she woke up and then realised where she was. I got up and had the oven and grill on the go to do a nice full breakfast, with bacon, sausages, eggs and some plum tomatoes for The Love, along with mushrooms and toast. It worked out well and we both had that to get some energy for the relatively busy day ahead.

We wanted to set off earlier as The Love wanted to take some pictures of Buckingham Palace so that she had some material for the King's Coronation next week for her work place, and as we stepped off the train at London Victoria, we did note it was a little busy, and more so when we headed towards the palace. Of course plenty of tourists were around getting their pictures by the front gates, but managed to get a couple of quieter spots and did what we needed, and it was good to see The Mall with all the flags, and that included all the Commonwealth flags as well as the Union one, so nice to see. Of course the TV studios for BBC and so on were all set up for next weekend, ready to go.

We walked along to Hyde Park Corner and didn't have to wait long for the number 9 bus to take us past the Royal Albert Hall and to the stop for Kensington Palace. We were off to see the exhibition inside the palace called Crown to Couture, very much something that The Love was interested in, but I also noted a few things I'd love in there. It was time to join the queue and entered the palace easily with the e-tickets all sorted, and followed the staircase along the red carpet to the start of the exhibition, which did take up the majority of the state rooms of the palace as well.

I have to say I was very impressed, with designs of costume from the 17th century showing how much design and couture for royalty was important, and how those designs inspired the modern day and the classic looks. I was really impressed to see that they had the original lace dress worn by Audrey Hepburn to the Oscars when she won the best actress award for Roman Holiday, and the costume designer's Oscar statuette was also there. That was classic and lovely. The costumes from the 17th century showed such wide dresses, some three metres wide in circumference, and showed the metal hoops that held those dresses in place too - not exactly the easiest to wear I think!

There were also some really eyecatching designs worn by people for the Met Gala, which is the big charity fundraiser in New York. So we had some rather fetching dresses for the likes of Billie Eilish and Lady Gaga, but also some very different ones such as the chandelier dress for Katy Perry, and perhaps understated but classy, Kendall Jenner's dress which was inspired by Audrey Hepburn's dress in My Fair Lady - with a quote from her to say how much she loved Audrey. Good taste there of course.

In fact both The Love and myself thought the exhibition was much better than we thought it would be, with features on the likes of the undergarments, the accessories such as jewellery, and even a face mask worn by Lady Gaga with her 2020 dress at a remote online awards ceremony, encouraging others to do the same during the initial phase of the COVID-19 situation, reflecting the times at the time. There was also Beyoncé's gold dress with crown and flanked by two Yeomen in costume in the throne room too, and that was spectacular to see. All in all, not the cheapest thing to see, but really enjoyable.

We headed back towards Kensington High Street and after stopping off for a light lunch in the Prince of Wales pub, where we had the Portobello Pilsner and was very nice, it was on the tube at High Street Kensington and up to Paddington. We walked down Praed Street and to Paddington Basin, before crossing over to the canal and stumbled upon the Inland Waterways Association's Canalway Cavalcade, which was mainly around Little Venice, which we had wanted to walk to anyway. It was great seeing all the boats moored up with flags, and plenty of stalls selling all sorts of wares, and on the other side of the canal, and beer tent with singalong karaoke, and plenty to do for children too.

We both loved the vibe and atmosphere here, and we stood atop the bridge overlooking Little Venice, and admired the view and just relaxed. It felt very nice and as we walked back towards Paddington station, it was really nice to see some of the floating bars and restaurants, also stopping off at one of the bars by the canal for a drink and soaking in the nice weather. We also then walked back to Paddington, and in the station had to do the official Paddington shop, with me having the 1970s TV series theme in my head (make that one tune of the day) and as you'd expect, it was full of super cute Paddington merchandise. We got the Elizabeth Line train to Farringdon and the train home to East Croydon.

Later on I made us some chicken parmigana for tea with some potatoes and green vegetables, and we were keeping a keen eye on the World Snooker Championship final. As we saw Mark Selby start one break, I did say to The Love that this might just be a chance for a maximum 147 break. As the reds and blacks went in, and the superb final red (tricky too) we both thought it was on, and applauded Mark when he achieved it. So nice that he gave referee Brendan Moore a hug (it's his final game he is refereeing in snooker) and it was really a superb atmosphere inside the Crucible - the first ever 147 in a final there and history well and truly made!

Saturday 29th April - Southern Delight

It was a nice relaxing day for me today as The Love In My Heart was coming down for the Bank Holiday weekend later today, and so that meant as I had done all the household chores last night, I could sit back, relax and watch the snooker on BBC Two for the morning session of Mark Selby against Mark Allen. Thankfully, it was a lot faster than the slowness of Friday afternoon where they had been taken off three frames short of the alotted eight, and did at least manage to get all eight in this time around. I did nip out to get some Clover as I had run out over the week and didn't include it in my grocery delivery yesterday, but all good.

I headed off to central London to meet The Love In My Heart at Euston, and did note that the train prior to hers had got into Euston early. No such luck for The Love though as signal problems at Wembley coupled with all the other issues of less platforms at Euston due to engineering work meant that the train from being sixteen minutes ahead of schedule fell twenty five minutes behind schedule - not good. Granted, we'd get some Delay Repay back (which I've got set to automatically claim anyway) but even so, it was a bit annoying really.

We headed over to the Somers Town Coffee House on the way to St Pancras, and was able to sit outside in the nicer weather. The name's a misnomer really because it sells lots of lovely beer, so I was able to try out the Brew Point's Nil Point 0.5% hopped lager, which wasn't bad as low alcohol variants go, but of course more hoppy means it wouldn't be to everyone's taste, and I get that. We then headed off to St Pancras and on the train to East Croydon to get back to my place, and it was nice that the aircon was blasting out and so keeping everyone nice and cool along the way.

Once back at my place and after unpacking, we both got ourselves showered and ready for an evening out. We had decided some time ago to head out at one of the restaurants in the Restaurant Quarter in South Croydon, and back to Aqua, one of the places we've been to before and we liked, with its good range of Mediterranean cuisine. It was a nice relaxed vibe in there and the fish tank with the fish swimming around added to the chilled out feel, as did the music too. We got ourselves a wine and a beer and perused the menu to see what rather nice things we could have.

For the starter, I had the Cypriot meatballs, and they were really meaty, with a lovely tomato and basil sauce to add to the flavour, and spot on. The Love had the trio of dips with some toasted bread, and so had taramasalata, tzatziki and humous to choose from, so she was well happy with that. I had the chicken supreme for the main in a lovely mushroom sauce along with some potatoes and broccoli, and The Love had the souvlaki chicken with rice and salad. Both were really nice and the chicken had been cooked perfectly, was nice and hot and chargrilled, and really did go down well.

After such a lovely meal we walked back to the centre of Croydon and to one of my favourite places, Art and Craft, where the vibe is always lovely and the beer is too. I had the London Black porter from Anspach and Hobday which was lovely, and there was a good solid pilsner for The Love too. It was very much a relaxed setting and Red Hot Chilli Peppers in the background, including Can't Stop which is tune of the day and really set the tone well for ending the evening so well. It was just nice to be out on a Saturday night, something we don't always do so often, and to enjoy the time together.

Thursday 27th April – Canadian Corner

It was a work from home day as I had stayed at The Love In My Heart’s place overnight, primarily due to the fact of no trains back from the football. It did mean I could watch Match of the Day last night when I got in, and it was really good to see that Ian Wright was taking some banter from his son Shaun Wright-Phillips as well, which was hilarious (Shaun is a City fan having played for the club for a number of years, and Ian of course is Arsenal through and through.) I must admit it was good to hear Alan Shearer give praise to both Kevin de Bruyne and Erling Haaland for pretty much bossing it up front last night, which was the case.

I did take time out from work in my lunch break to watch the latest episode of Race Across the World on BBC iPlayer, which I had of course missed due to the football. It was another interesting leg as the four teams made their way through the province of Quebec in Canada, and of course needed to brush up on their French due to it being a French speaking part of that country. Of course bigger cities can mean more expense, and with the Formula 1 Grand Prix happening to take part when some of the teams hit Montreal, well it was going to be a dwindle on the budgets.

It was interesting to see how it panned out in this regard: Kevin and Claudia ended up biting the bullet for a considerable amount after heading around for hours, whereas Tricia and Cathie thought out of town would be cheaper, and found a motel which looked reasonably decent for around a quarter of the amount, and had worked in a restaurant selling the dish poutine to get the budget topped up a bit. Monique and Ladi had spent time in Toronto, also not that cheap, but Monique had the sensible idea of overnight bus to Montreal and then onto Quebec City, so not going to spend on a hotel in Montreal. Zainib and Mobeen had gone via Ottawa, and actually headed from there to Quebec City by train, thus avoiding the overnight stay in Montreal too. They finished first and have the best budget remaining.

It did make me wonder whether in the next episode Kevin and Claudia would run out of money and be in a similar situation to Jo and Sam from Series 2, when they didn’t check in at the seventh checkpoint and decided that their race was run, before saying goodbye to the final three teams. Certainly all the money spent on taxis earlier in the race as compared to trying to hitch lifts or manage to do other methods of getting around has bit a fair bit – shame that as in the previous episode they’d worked smart and managed to get transport and accommodation. Be an interesting watch next week that is for definite.

The Love and I headed to Manchester Piccadilly station later, but wouldn’t have too long to see her as she is coming down to see me this weekend, which is always nice. I got on the train which was pretty busy considering and then listened to the likes of Obey Robots on the iPod, and the title track One in a Thousand is most excellent for the debut album, so tune of the day without question really. It was raining in London but managed to get the tube and then the train home without too much delay, meaning I got home at a reasonable time and that was a positive.

Wednesday 26th April – City Tearing Arsenal Apart Again

I had a half day at work today as I was heading up to Manchester in the afternoon, and for a very good reason. Manchester City were at home to Arsenal in what some were calling a title decider (despite us having seven games to go after this one) and with Arsenal’s loss of form with their last three games drawn, the pundits were putting City as clear favourites to win. May be the case, but I know how typical City can build you up and then knock you down again, so definitely wasn’t going to be thinking about the what ifs to be honest with you.

I got to Euston all fine and was soon boarding the 1333 departure to Manchester Piccadilly, and the train was relatively busy for a lunch time, as primarily most of the Arsenal fans were on their way and setting off. Of course it’d be an overnight stop for a lot of them as the last train back to London is well before the final whistle, but they did seem in good spirits and optimistic about the game ahead, hoping that they’d put any recent issues behind them. It was all good natured really and was soon heading on the tram to see The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat, who was of course having a little miaow to himself to try and drop hints to Mummy for some more cat treats!

I had some tea later and then it was off to meet my friend and we headed over to the stadium. The atmosphere built nicely and before kick off we were told that a massive banner would be coming over the top of us on the way down. In fact when I saw it on telly later it did look really good, with the line of “I’ll follow you everywhere” based on the recent chant based on Fleetwood Mac’s classic Everywhere track (so make that tune of the day) and it got everyone in the right mood as the teams came out and all ready for kick off.

City were going for it from the off and possibly should have had a penalty when Kevin de Bruyne appeared to have his legs taken by Thomas Partey whilst going for a rebound. However, he was not to be denied and received the ball from Erling Haaland, and ran towards the Arsenal defence before slotting it home perfectly into the bottom corner with a bit of bend on the shot too. It was excellent and the City fans went mental, quite right too. I was so pleased to see that one go in and we both really enjoyed the first half, even with Arsenal having the odd half chance we did look in control.

On the stroke of half time, City had a free kick. De Bruyne took it and it was met superbly by the head of John Stones. The linesman did have his flag up for offside so wasn’t counting, but then when VAR had a look at it, and drew some lines on the pitch, there was a massive cheer from those in one corner of the ground. It transpired they could see the BT Sport studio above and the TV screens clearly showing that in fact John Stones was onside, and therefore once the referee indicated his TV sign, we knew it was going to be given. A bit of Boney M ensued as the Cty fans sang the Johnny, Johnny Stones chant, and all was very well at half time.

The second half was more of City being clinical – yes maybe we could have had more but Aaron Ramsdale in the Arsenal goal was singlehandedly attempting to stop every shot from Erling Haaland, and saved a good one to one early in the second half. However, when Martin Odegaard lost the ball in midfield, de Bruyne was on it, and a nice link up one two with Haaland meant that de Bruyne slotted home into the bottom corner, a superb finish. 3-0 to City! I was having that all day long and even a Rob Holding consolation goal couldn’t stop the mood of how I was feeling at that point.

Of course, Erling Haaland had to score some time and right at the end he took on a pass from Phil Foden, and without his headband in, he slotted it home perfectly for a well deserved 4-1 win in the end, and a superb performance. The atmosphere was superb and at 3-0 the City fans were doing the Poznan again (loved it!) and at the end Joy Division blasted out of the speakers with the City fans in good voice singing “City, tearing Cockneys apart, again” and showing Arsenal how much we had bossed this game.

Saturday 22nd April - Semi-Final History

It was a weekend at home instead of being in Manchester, and that worked out pretty well for a number of reasons, especially today. I had managed to get a ticket for the FA Cup semi final between Manchester City and Sheffield United at Wembley, not just for me but for one of my relations who was making his way up from Bournemouth for the day in order to join us and see the game. Although he had been to Wembley before, it would be the first time that had had seen City at Wembley, and in fact had been with an Arsenal supporting friend to the Arsenal v City game at the Emirates a couple of months back too.

I got myself up and ready and went for my 1989 retro away shirt, the maroon one, primarily as that had been the shirt I won when we won the league last season in dramatic circumstances so was hoping it'd be good luck for me to wear it to be honest. It was off via Clapham Junction to Waterloo, and soon my relation arrived: and he had on the retro 1989 home shirt. What were the chances of that? So that worked out well and we were soon heading down to the entrance for the Jubilee Line tube and to get that directly to Wembley Park, chatting with a German City fan along the way who was making her way up to the stadium later and was hoping for a good game too.

It was soon on to familiar territory along Olympic Way, and near the end I thought it sensible to stop off at Warrens Bakery for some nice proper Cornish pasties - well for me anyway, I did the chicken and chorizo and relation had a sausage roll, which was pretty good all told. It was good just to natter and catch up about all sorts whilst sat outside, and we perused the little fan village near some of the City entrances to the ground which were full of fans singing and having a couple of drinks but in a nice safe environment, so good to soak up the atmosphere there beforehand.

As we were up in the gods on level 5, it was through the turnstiles, up the escalators and then along to find our seats: we were near an aisle, almost directly had the corner flag in front, but had a good view from where we were. We did venture from the block we were in (520) all the way back to 502 in order to get a decent Prime Burger in the ground, and I have to say that was spot on: not cheap, but masses of beef in the burger and also some really nice buns and some sauce and cheese too, so definitely the right move that. We got back settled in and soaked up the atmosphere before kick off, which included some Status Quo and Rocking All Over The World (tune of the day but where is Pablo Zabaleta when you need him eh?)

The game kicked off and it was pretty close for most of the half, Sheffield United had a good opening chance which was saved by Ortega in the City goal, and gradually we started to build up some pressure and make a few chances ourselves, one from Julian Alvarez was tipped around the post from the keeper. It would be nice to get a goal before half time, and when Bernardo Silva was fouled in the box, it was a straightforward penalty. However, Erling Haaland had missed a penalty in Munich midweek, so Riyad Mahrez stepped up and slotted it perfectly in the bottom corner: the best pen I've seen him take and so 1-0 City.

The second half was a much better performance from us as both sides were attacking the end where their home fans were. I really liked the way that we were using the wing more, but the second goal was sublime. Mahrez won the ball near the half way line and ran forward, with Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez either side - their defenders didn't know who to go with and the parting of the ways meant that Mahrez sat down one of thei defenders and slotted it home superbly for 2-0. A goal starting a run on the half way line, and full of craft and guile. Well done him.

Even better was to come a few minutes later as the ball went down the left to Jack Grealish. He had a couple of the Sheffield United defenders for company but was able to slot a ball across the box and find Riyad Mahrez who hit it first time into the bottom corner for 3-0, an excellent finish that. Every City fan did a mass Poznan (that was awesome honestly) and the game really settled down with a number of subs being made, and in the end a really good win and that made both of our days happy.

As we knew the Olympic Way back to Wembley Park tube was going to be very busy, we instead took the option to walk around the stadium and follow the way around past Wembley Stadium station and onwards to Wembley Central, where we followed the access road used on an event day and took the ramp up to the platform bridge, then down to the platform. As it transpired the next Bakerloo line tube came very quickly and so we were soon on our way all the way back to Waterloo, so that was a relatively painless trip back and it really showed that it was a good move all told.

We headed to Brewdog Waterloo for a little post-match drink and the Black Heart stout was on so that was me nicely sorted for that. It was good to take some time to relax although I have to admit it was pretty loud in there, so it was good later to head back to the station and hear ourselves talk. I made sure my relation had something to eat and drink for the train back, and it had been a good day all round and really nice to share that day too. I made it back home via Clapham Junction all good, and relaxed and watched the highlights, with City doing the business and proved to be a really good day. Now let's see who we get in the final...

Friday 21st April - Absolutely Brilliant Again

It was good to get plenty of solid things done when working from home today, so that did pleas eme no end. I was able to write some documentation, compile some reports and also be sure to get some stats sent out with regards to a task I needed to get some help with from the folks in order to correct a few things along the way. I did also assist a member of staff who had lost access to an Excel add-in, and as it turned out their Excel profile in Office was corrupted, so did a few steps to sort that and everything then worked correctly as intended afterwards, so that was good.

I did have a delivery too during the day, and it was a number of Commodore 64 games that I had managed to get and in a small bundle. The main game that I was after, Ninja Massacre from Codemasters, was in that bundle (cue obvious "Absolutely brilliant!" quote from a lot of their inlays) and for some odd reason, this game isn't the easiest to find, so glad to get it. Of course out came the 64 and it was a good opportunity to check that it loaded correctly and that the game played well. Before long the game had loaded and the title tune was familar, in fact it was the one first used in Professional BMX Simulator by Matt Gray (so tune of the day) and I do wonder if he did get paid for all the other times it was used.

The game itself I did already have on one of the Quattro compilations so was handy when I went to review it as part of the Commodore 64 Budget Publisher Showdown series of course, and effectively it's a bit of a clone of the arcade game Gauntlet, with a number of levels to complete, swathes of enemies on screen and being able to use the right key to open the right door pretty paramount. You do at least get a pass code every few levels to carry on where you left off, which is at least something, so that's not too bad. It did seem to get difficult quickly though, so something to bear in mind.

One thing I did realise was that I still have my Competition Pro mini joystick, which is pretty small but also fully microswitched, and with autofire. Obviously that sort of thing is no good if you're playing the likes of Slicks by Codemasters, which I loaded up for a nice little game or three. Having done the six tracks of the calendar and managing to get promoted up a team with a couple of good race finishes, it still plays really well and you have to be so careful not to crash and wreck the race in one mistake - just like the real thing, the armco never forgives you if you stuff it up.

I did also try out the 1530USB device tonight to record TAP cassette images back to a real tape, using the Audiotap utility. Once I had the USB device recognised and had it as default, I ran Audiotap, had a TDK D60 at the ready inside the 1530 cassette unit, and then pressed play and record. The TAP image got recorded back, I connected the 1530 back to the C64, powered on, and loaded the game from it - first go. Good to know and potentially handy as a backup too (as you can do it the other way) if no one has archived to an image, so will definitely look at that for the future too.

Thursday 20th April - The Milkman Delivers

So it was nice to be working from home today which did mean that I could do any final checks to make sure all was well for the landlord inspection later. Thankfully they had given me a time window of around an hour or so, so I knew when they were coming, and that was all positive later with a colleague saying to me how well kept the place was, so made sense that they can see I do the right thing, report things as needed and keep things proper, so hopefully that will stand me in good stead in future. I like where I am and it is a good solid base for me for work and leisure too, so sensible really.

I did note that because of the earlier rescheduling of the snooker, the final session of Joe Perry against Robert Milkins (aka The Milkman) was at 0930 this morning, so had that on the telly in the background whilst I worked and sorted out plenty of technical issues along the way. As the players came out Rob Walker got it the wrong way round and did the intro for Robert Milkins for Joe Perry. Thankfully Joe did see the funny side, but not sure he would have been too happy to see the match unfold in the way it did. And of course Robert Milkins does come out to I Am A Cider Drinker by The Wurzels so that has to be tune of the day. Milkins took three of the first four frames to go in to the interval 8-5 behind (they started with Perry leading 7-2.)

After the internal, Robert Milkins continued to play well and build up some sizeable breaks, and bearing in mind the afternoon session was going to start at 1300, there was a risk of them being taken off. Thankfully common sense prevailed as they had been delayed already, and Milkins had won four on the bounce to go 9-8 up before a spirited break from Perry to make it 9-9. A final frame decider, and for those able to attend and who had got tickets, it was nice to see that. In the end, The Milkman delivered a break of 63 which proved enough to take the frame and match in the end, and a really good result for him and some comeback too. A great effort.

I did head out for lunch later on and did manage to get a few bits from Sainsburys, but had to nip back later as I realised that it was all very well getting a birthday card for one of my relations, but a stamp to post it would also be nice. Thankfully I was able to get a book of four first class stamps, but of course the price increases meant a massive £1.10 per stamp now, so £4.40 in all. Ouch. I can remember a few years back stamps being around half that price, goes to show just how more expensive things are. I got the card posted off and all was well with the world there.

I did have an arrival in the post too today - the Commodore 64 version of Arkanoid: Revenge of Doh, based on the arcade machine follow up to the original Arkanoid. Interestingly, the paddle options were dropped, but you can play with either a Commodore or NEOS mouse, which is a good way to play it. Looks like my NEOS mouse isn't quite behaving as it should though, so need to check that out and see what can be done to make it play ball again. Still though it is a solid conversion, perhaps not as good as the first one, but still decent, and of course the laser actually makes more of an appearance!

Wednesday 19th April - Maximum Attack

I did a bit of re-arranging the visits to the office this week, primarily so I could facilitate a landlord visit to the flat on Thursday. What I do know is that on the last visit they were impressed by how neat and tidy the place is, and my view (as it was with the house back in the day) is that you're paying good money, so keep it all lovely and nice and it means it's less maintenance, easier to live in, and also a better quality of life experience. I don't get just why people don't keep things tidy, maybe though the influence of my Mum especially rubs off here in that she always liked a clean and tidy house. I get that now.

Thankfully even though it was a case of the buses and transport being busier again because it not being a school holiday week, the X68 express bus did its thing and I was soon arriving to the office. I had managed to get a desk on the ground floor (not many spaces there) and also managed to cable up one of the desks for Ethernet, so I could do some full testing as I needed. The good thing was that a few of the staff that are from another part of the business came to join us later, and they were all really lovely - and definitely cheered me up by having good company.

In fact, when one of them broke into a little song to keep themselves doing, I had a really good discussion with one of the team about Weird Al Yankovic and how the parody songs he does are always really good. I did note White and Nerdy especially (make that tune of the day) and mentioned to the colleague that Seth Green appears in the video during the "All my action figures are cherry!" line, and a quick freeze frame of that on Youtube and he was like "Oh yes, never spotted that!" which was good. Of course, having been in the lucky position of seeing Weird Al live several years ago, I can vouch that it's a cracking show and recommended it highly.

I headed out to lunch and a quick check of the scores from the Crucible Theatre showed that there had been a maximum break in the morning session, by Kyren Wilson no less. He managed it against Ryan Day and that was therefore a thirteenth maximum break there, in the 47th year, and the third in the last four World Championship events (2021 was the only one of late that didn't.) I watched that later on and have to say I was really impressed, Kyren took it all well in his stride and the yellow was a superb pot near the end. Nice to see fellow pro Mark Allen on commentary give him a standing ovation along with the crowd, well played.

I did have to stay back and to sort out an issue that was happening with one of our pieces of software, but it did look like an external issue and was monitoring it to ensure all was well - and knew it may affect some machines. As it transpired it was a small glitch for an hour or so, and because I had stayed back to do some testing myself, I could see that it was working well later on and that our teams in the US seemed to confirm this too, so co-operation was the key here to make sure it all worked nicely.

After having some tea later and a good natter to The Love In My Heart, it was time for the next episode of Race Across the World on BBC1. I'm glad they haven't put the latest series on iPlayer in full so you get to watch each week and see the events unfold. Of course, being in Churchill and seeing the polar bears was rather lovely, but of course you don't want to miss the train out of there. I wonder if any of the teams were tempted just to do the whole train to Winnipeg, maybe if the budgets were higher. A lot of the teams sensibly used down time between overnight buses and so on to work and add to the budget, and with the big cities looming, that might make a lot of sense!

Sunday 16th April – Knutsford Stroll

The Love In My Heart and I had a good lie in this morning, as we both felt we needed some sleep. Brian the cat had other ideas though and was very gently tapping his Mummy’s arm with his paw, in a hint to wake up, before then snuggling next door and purring loudly, and attempting to jump on to the cupboard in an attempt to get attention. Eventually, The Love did relent and it was time for him to have a good fuss and some Dreamies along the way. I did get up in almost perfect time to see the opening session of the World Snooker Championship, with new host (to the snooker) Catrin Heledd making her debut, she’s done a lot for BBC Wales and so makes some sense to host here.

We decided it’d be nice to head out for the afternoon, even if the weather wasn’t as good as it was supposed to be for later, and we thought a nice stroll around the centre of Knutsford would be a good thing to do. It wasn’t long before we were on Princess Parkway heading towards the M56, avoiding all the traffic attempting to find a way to the A56 when the Manchester Marathon as on (not a good move) and then on the M56 and A556 getting off for the junction to Knutsford itself, following the road through the back of Mere and finding the car park we normally park in, and with it being free on a Sunday, it was popular with those heading into nearby Tatton Park too.

It was good to have a good look around some of the shops, and indeed we had located a nice homeware shop last time we were here, so walked in and had a peek. The shop even had some of the Little People Big Dreams books with the likes of David Bowie and Audrey Hepburn, but also two more recent ones, King Charles (ties in nicely with the coronation) and local hero Marcus Rashford, which I wholeheartedly approve of, especially how the storytelling mentions his campaign for free school meals and presents it in a positive way (as it should be) for children too – nicely done.

We then walked over to a few more shops before having a stop in Wine and Wallop – which seems to have expanded since we were last in this one. We did have a nice drink and a chatter about all sorts and had some relaxing tunes too, including a jazzed up version of Baby Got Back as done by Richard Cheese (the original by Sir Mix-a-Lot of course) with its iconic opening line of "I like big butts and I cannot lie" which has to be tune of the day for many reasons! It was good to take things easy and was keeping an eye on the West Ham v Arsenal game, with Arsenal leading 2-1 as I’d expect. It was nice though to walk into some of the little shops and have a mooch around later.

We stopped off for lunch at The Angel pub, and managed to get nice round table with lovely staff as ever in there to serve us. The Love had the Sunday Roast gammon which looked gorgreous, plenty of vegetables as well and it was a really tasty dish overall – I think The Love may have wanted some thicker gravy but all was well. I had the steak and ale pie and that was absolutely gorgeous, a proper pie and all the filling of lovely skirt steak, and some chips and peas to go with it too, so definitely well worth the effort there. And some nice new stout that they had too as a nice drink accompaniment, so definitely winning there.

Later on we headed back to The Love’s place, fed Brian the cat his tea, and then cracked on with watching the start of the second series of Race Across the World (to remind us of how much it was an epic adventure across South America, with an epic first leg where you had to be on the right boat in order to be able to progress across the water if heading through Belize (due to Northern Guatemala being a bit of a no go area at that time). It was good to see it again and I relaxed later with the snooker, seeing a final frame decider between Luca Brecel and Ricky Walden.

Saturday 15th April – Home Comforts

The Love In My Heart and I had a well earned sleep, and Brian the cat was of course snuggled up next to his Mummy (because he can) and it was looking a little brighter out, which was good. I did get myself up and ready and after The Love made a rather lovely breakfast complete with bacon, sausages, egg and so on, it was nice to have a walk out and to indeed test the temperature before the Manchester City game against Leicester City later. With Arsenal playing tomorrow it would be a good chance to close the gap for around 24 hours and see if any pressure being put on would tell or not, but we shall see.

We weren’t having any visitors to The Love’s place today (shame, as I’d have quite liked to have see The Cute Little One but appreciate that family time for them is important too) and so we decided to head out in the early afternoon and do a little bit of shopping. We headed first to Home Bargains but there was nothing that either of us wanted, so it was next over to Morrisons. The Love was after a few coronation related items for her workplace, and thankfully they all came through in there which would mean her work plan could go right, so that was all good.

It was then over to Lidl opposite and to get some beer that I’d picked up in my local one the other night but wanted to get some here too,and after seeing a rave review of it online I had to get some more for myself at home, namely the Thornbridge Kakawa chocolate stout, a mere £1.79 for a 440ml can and was brewed by the lovely Thornbridge folks exclusively for Lidl. I’ll be giving that a go later but it looked the part from the outside, and The Love also bumped into one of her work colleagues at the tills too so that was a small world sort of moment.

Later on of course I was keeping an eye on the World Snooker Championship as that had started today, with some intriguing opening matches being played. It’s always nice when you get to Sheffield and feel the buzz of the place with the snooker on, it really does feel like home there the the Crucible Theatre is a special place not only for the players to play, but for us as fans to watch. Shame that the front row seats are now VIP ones at mega expensive prices, because I can remember being front row for a first round match for under £15 and kept snooker going when it was in the doldrums a mere fifteen years ago..

It was then off to meet my friend and off to the Etihad Stadium to see how Manchester City would do against Leicester City. I had a steak pie at the ready and it was time to watch the mighty Blues hopefully do the business. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for an opening goal either, as Leicester failed to clear a corner and the ball came to John Stones who volleyed it immaculately into the top corner with aplomb. No one expected that, it was a special goal and one which settled the nerves early for us, so that was definitely a positive to take. And of course Boney M’s Daddy Cool (make that tune of the day) made an appearance in the chant Johnny, Johnny Stones, Johnny, Johnny Stones (as you do.)

City pressed on relentlessly wanting to get the job done early. A handball from Wilfried Ndid was seen by everyone in the crowd but the referee, who eventually gave it after a VAR check and looking at the screen for what seemed like far too long. Erling Haaland stepped up to take the penalty, and of course he wasn’t going to miss was he? 2-0 to City. Later on, with twenty three minutes gone, Kevin de Bruyne fed Haaland with a superb through ball, and you know what happens next – a dink over the goalkeeper from Haaland and it was 3-0, and indeed another record equalled, most Premier League goals in a 38 game season (Mo Salah did it some years ago) so he’s got plenty of time to break that. Haaland! Haaland! Haaland!

A number of changes were made second half with Wednesday night’s Champions League match with Bayern Munich in mind, so Haaland and Stones were off (darn, I wanted a hat trick again!) and a few more changes later on. Leicester did see this as a chance to battle back whilst we were in cruise mode, and after a corner the ball fell to former City man Kelechi Iheanacho (who had got a good reception from the City fans also) and he refused to celebrate, good lad. It ended up 3-1 but not before they could have had a penalty and Iheanacho had hit the post, small margins and all that. We managed the victory as best we could with a view to the games coming up.

Later on The Love had made the excellent chicken casserole she does for tea, which was totally spot on, lots of nice chicken and vegetables in a creamy sauce, just beautiful. I did also have one of the Kakawa beers too and that was absolutely awesome, it was very smooth and chocolatey as the stout should be, but was nice and drinkable and not overly strong either, so really did hit the spot. Everything about the review I saw was right, and unless you happen to be lactose intolerant (or vegan) then this is the beer for you, no question. It’s absolutely lush and I need to pop back to Lidl and to get more of this stuff!

Friday 14th April – Train In Pain

It was a busy day for me in the office today, primarily as I was sorting out some maintenance tasks but also checking in following an issue yesterday that our antivirus vendor had in that any new registrations of machines were failing. Thankfully that appeared to have been resolved and a couple of folks over in China had managed to get things working over there, so that was a positive to take and meant that we could carry on with what was needed. Bearing in mind I knew that it would be helpful, I brought my planned change forward for the Windows 10 task sequence amendments, got those done and then ensured all was well.

The day went by very nicely and I was able to raise a change to get a couple of updates performed on one of our servers next week in terms of the software, it’s definitely needed and for me at least it means that we can crack on with some future plans also. I’m only hoping that things are scheduled in nicely for backups that will be needed prior, and from there can crack on with how it goes and let everything settle down a bit – at least that is the theory and it would of course be good to make sure that sensible plans are in place. You have to do that!

After work it was a slightly different route to Manchester – from Kings Cross to Doncaster and then across from there to Manchester. Because Transpennine Express are being their usual rubbish selves, the train from Doncaster was being terminated at Sheffield meaning either an hours’ wait for the next train, or I try and sprint across for the 2114 Northern train and get that (and purchased a ticket for said train in case, as TPE didn’t plan for any ticket acceptance, boo.) It would mean a run over, but there may be a potential other plan in the offing, so got myself some food at Kings Cross and boarded the 1833 train to Doncaster.

The train was all fine and I had a comfy seat with lots of leg room, so that really did help nicely. As the train got towards Retford on time I checked, and a train due for Sheffield from Doncaster, which normally gets in 1 minute after my train arrives in Doncaster, as delayed. I decided as it was cheap to get an advance ticket for that (as Northern allow you to do this up to 5 mins before departure, saving you money) and then I’d have more time at Sheffield to be on the safe side. The train came in and it was delayed, but got a seat and was soon heading to Sheffield.

I got there and headed over to platform 1B for the 2114 train, thankfully a shiny new 195 which is pretty comfy, and as that train left for Manchester, I saw the Transpennine Express train that I would have otherwise been on come in late and so would have missed the connection. I was pleased that my impulse decision was the right one and so was able to head via the likes of Bamford, Hope, Edale and New Mills Central head to Manchester Piccadlly where The Love In My Heart very kindly picked me up (and it was around 10.30pm so she was very kind). We headed back and relaxed with some 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, the title tune (and standard Countdown theme at that) is tune of the day – as it represents the countdown to get the trains!

Wednesday 12th April - Judgement Days and Canadian Nights

It was a good day to be in the office today, especially as the traffic was a lot quieter coming in to central London. You can definitely tell when the schools are off because it's amazing the difference it does make to the roads. What can be a longer journey on the X68 express bus at most times took just under an hour all in, which was pretty impressive. I even realised I had a free coffee code for Coco di Mama near the office, so I redeemed that on the way in so I had some nice fresh coffee during the start to the working day. All things winning I think, so good to be able to get that done.

I was also road testing a newly packaged version of the Semi-Annual Channel version of Microsoft 365 Apps for Enterprise (as Office 365 these days likes to be called) and it is quite nice when you package it via MECM as it goes through the same wizard to create the XML configuration file, and download all the necessary bits that you could need too. The good thing is (as I've done this before) is that if you want to tweak that XML file, you can do, and then resave it as a new version with different language options for those that need it - which is actually pretty good all round.

So that was all working nicely as when selected as an option during the build process, so a plus point to me right there at least. In fact, I think the day was positive too as I saw a colleague come back and rejoin us, having been part of a business that was sold on, but then got another position back with us. A new challenge for her, but good to see a friendly face back - we definitely without question need more of those around. Good people are hard to come by and I think it's noticeable that the grass can sometimes seem greener on the other side, but you've got to sample it and find out.

I headed home without any dramas and it was on to Youtube for the final session of Judgement Day - the final day of the qualifying for the World Snooker Championship. The last eight places were up for grabs to make it to the hallowed Crucible Theatre, and although one match had been resolved in the morning, with Ryan Day going through after Scott Donaldson pulled out ill, there were some cracking matches in the evening to conclude. I did have to feel really sorry for Mark Davis, who in the final frame missed a pink to the left corner, and the ball didn't go in the other corner either, leaving pink and black for Joe Perry to snatch it 10-9 on the very last black, and the very last match to finish at that. Such drama and tension all round there!

I did note too that there would be some tricky ties ahead for the draw tomorrow and who would be facing who from the qualifiers, with some debutants making it through but also very good players such as David Gilbert and Hossein Vafaei, whom no one will want to face in that draw and get a very tough first round match. With the likes of Ricky Walden also making it through, there's some seasoned faces who know what it's like to play there, and will be giving it their all. I can see a few shocks next week!

The final match finished around the start of the latest episode of Race Across the World on BBC One. I must admit that having to not be able to go out early doors did reset the teams' leads a little, so was effectively a race to the train to get to Churchill (said train only runs twice a week, so you really had to be on it in order to be in good shape for the remainder.) The noticeable effort was from Mobeen and Zainib, who went via Moosejaw, ended up on a ranch with some diehard Christians, who were super kind and gave them a lift to the station to catch the train. In fact two other teams went to the same stop, with Monique and Ladi joining at a later stop (and also paying less fare!)

I have to say though that arriving in Churchill, and wow, what a place. It's the polar bear capital of the world for a reason and at the right time of year, those outnumber the people who live there. It's very much a tourist place to explore that far end of Hudson Bay and to see the ice sheets coming in, with gorgeous scenery. I'd love to go and experience that, and throughout the night as the teams didn't have any berths to sleep in (not cheap) then I had Mad Train by André Brasseur in my head (make that tune of the day) as the train headed further North towards the Arctic circle. What a trip it's been so far.

I guess the only thing though is that assumedly that the teams will be leaving out on the same train as well at the start of the next episode after their 36 hour break, but could be a good possible opportunity to earn some money to refresh the bank balance, things are not cheap in Canada and budget towards the end will be a question for most definite. The other thing that's going to be interesting will be how things will pan out as the finish line draws nearer - I think the further East there's more cities and options, so might shake up things a little.

Monday 10th April – Seatfrog Success, Part 2

It was the Bank Holiday Monday today and that did mean a nice day off work for both The Love in My Heart and myself, but also knew that I would be heading off home tonight and due to the engineering works still taking place, Euston was closed, so for me this was a jaunt via Sheffield to St Pancras and then homeward. I had a feeling that it would be a busier route back because trains between Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool were standing room only on the Good Friday, so did have a think that maybe Seatfrog would be a good move if I could upgrade to first class for the last leg of the journey, which would be useful.

The Love and I had some breakfast, and then got ourselves ready to head out. I did decide that taking my case would make more sense as I could just go straight from the city centre to Manchester Piccadilly station and if the trains were a little screwed, I could instead plan an alternative action. We got the tram and into the city centre, and from Piccadilly Gardens walked into Primark. The Love did want to see some Summer tops and there was one she did like but wasn’t fully sure. We did note that the Central Perk café was open so we decided to head inside and have a brew in there. It was surprisingly nice, although as much as we do like I’ll Be There for You by The Rembrandts as the Friends theme tune (and tune of the day) playing that a number of times a day might get annoying.

We did then walk over to both Uniqlo and TK Maxx and had a good look around, but nothing quite floated the boat to buy, although there were some lovely things for The Cute Little One in Uniqlo, which even had Boris Bear from the Miffy books, which was nice (and as a Dick Bruna fan, I approve of course.) We did then head through the Arndale Centre and onwards to the far end of Market Street, and went to Oliver Bonas. The Love had some gift cards which she could use to treat herself to something nice, but didn’t see anything she wanted, apart from possibly one top which had really flowy arms in pink – later on she discovered there was a blue version online which looks nicer.

I did head into Fopp to have a mooch at the CDs and Blu-Ray discs and noted a few new releases I might look at in future, but then we thought lunch was sensible and so headed to The Bank on Mosley Street. They do a nice deal in there where you get a posh sandwich and some chips or salad and a pint or a glass of wine for around £8-9, and that is really good value. I had the fish finger sandwich with goujons of fish which tasted spot on, and The Love had the ham and cheese toastie – lots of both ham and cheese, thick ham too. It was nice to relax in there, and we continued later as we headed to Fierce Beer, where I had the Very Small Moose, one of my favourite 0.5% low alcohol drinks – it’s a stout and you would not know it’s 0.5% - it’s superb.

The Love and I headed back to Manchester Piccadilly station and had a hug and kiss farewell as I headed towards Platforms 13-14 and the concourse there for the train to Sheffield. I did have enough Costa beans for a free coffee from there so had that ready for the train over. Because I knew where it stopped on Platform 13 and it was a four-car train, I did get a seat thankfully – but it was standing room only in the vestibules. The guard was also telling people to stay on to Nottingham and pick up any train to London there if you had an open ticket, which to me said that the trains from Sheffield were busy and so that made the mind up.

I got into Sheffield and went to the Sheffield Tap for a well-earned drink – and it’s always nice in there to relax and enjoy the atmosphere, and whilst in there I was checking Seatfrog. I put the bid in, and won the upgrade for £14, so that was a bonus. That at least meant I knew I’d be near the front of the train but also did mean that I’d be able to relax a little too because I’d get a seat and not scramble, and quite a lot were waiting for the 1937 train back, so that did mean it was sensible. I got on, found my seat, forward facing with a table no less, and once the ticket was all checked it was good to set off in a nice big comfortable seat.

And that wasn’t all either, as the staff on board were great, and had plenty of things to eat and drink, so basically my tea for on the way home. I had a coffee, with a bag of crisps and a cake, and then had a hoisin duck wrap with another coffee and some sparkling water later. I did see that the platforms out of St Pancras heading North were utter carnage, but by the time I’d got there everyone had gone (presumably no trains back to Sheffield that late) – but I have to say too that the onboard staff were spot on and really did their best to look after you. I’d upgrade again, that’s for definite, or if the price difference is tiny, book it anyway. I made my way home and all was well with the world.

Sunday 9th April – Easter Strolling

It was nice to wake up on the Easter Sunday with The Love in My Heart and Brian the cat all snuggled up. Just lately Brian’s taken to getting right into the top corner of the bed, resting is head close to Mummy’s head and then snuggling his body alongside. He must really appreciate the love and kindness he gets and almost sits there as her protector, ready with claws out if anyone comes by. He does allow me to stroke him and give him a fuss, but only a little bit, because of course Mummy is his favourite and he doesn’t disguise that – even if the other day he was being playful when hiding under the bedding when being changed and attempting to paw his Mummy.

We thought as that the weather was going to be nice today and less so tomorrow that it would make perfect sense to head out for a nice walk for a while. We did think about a few options but the local and sensible one was to walk alongside the canal to New Islington, turn right there and follow the marina, then head into Ancoats and maybe have a drink there. The Love had got everything for some Sunday roast chicken later on, so we thought it’d be good to build up an appetite. However, as one of the gates by her apartment block is closed, we took another route to access the canal, and that worked well, and were soon heading by lock 7 and down towards the bottom locks as we walked.

It’s always a nice walk to be honest, and more so when there’s people around, walking their dogs, cycling, or taking in the fresh air. It’s also relatively a lot quieter compared to the roads and traffic, which does at least mean a greener space. As we expected it was busier as we got to New Islington and the marina, with the likes of Flawd and House of Esk there doing good business, with Cask also taking advantage of the conditions. It was warm enough but the breezy weather did make for it being colder due to the wind, so even though we could have sat outside the Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse later, we headed in and got a comfy table. I had the Honeycomb Pale and The Love had the helles, which was pretty good.

It was nice too that there were a series of pretty relaxing tunes on in there, definitely set the scene well to chill out somewhat, and we both really did like that a lot. In fact I was half tempted to say to stay for another, but we did need to walk back to the tram stop (a fair way itself) to get the tram back plus The Love did need to nip into the Co-Op to get a couple of bits, it was small enough to remain open today as all the major shops in the UK are shut on Easter Sunday, one of the few times that it ever happens to be honest. Nice to see though that everyone was enjoying the weather and taking a well-earned break today.

We arrived back and The Love sorted out the roast, which was stunning. The chicken was cooked to perfection with the roast potatoes also lovely, and the vegetables and gravy with it (and a crispy spot on Yorkshire pudding for me also) really did hit the spot wonderfully well. I am so lucky to be with a really wonderful cook to be honest. I did later on have some cheesecake for dessert, and we settled into watch some more of the first series of Race Across the World – in fact as there wasn’t that much on the television, we ended up watching the fifth episode just after having our meal, and then later on when nothing else was on, the final one. I won’t spoil it for those catching up, but it’s a good end, and tune of the day today is the theme tune from said series, it really does set the tone well.

Saturday 8th April – Wallop in the Sunshine

It was nice to have a lie in (well sort of) as Brian the cat was doing all he could to wake up his Mummy and get all the attention he wanted, including some play out time (well, sitting by the patio door anyway) and then being able to have a run around the flat. We got ourselves up and ready and had some nice breakfast as in the background the Saturday Kitchen with James Martin was on. It was just good to relax and there was no football to watch as the Manchester City game away at Southampton was on Sky, so would just keep an eye on the score later but hope that we would be able to win the game and close the gap on Arsenal a little.

We did head out around lunch time and after a quick visit to Asda, we headed over to see my Mum for a while. She had my brother over yesterday putting up a replacement fence for the front garden, which looked good, and we got a couple of plant boxes to bring with us so she could plant them in and make it look even nicer, which cheered her up. All seemed well as we had a coffee and some cake and was able to catch up a little too. It was good to see that a few things Mum had lined up for going out was working out well for her and keeping her busy, and that certainly meant she had plenty to natter about, as did we!

As the weather was nice, we decided that it’d be a good idea to see if we could then head out and have a sit outside somewhere nice with a drink. In fact, I suggested one of our favourite haunts, Wine and Wallop in West Didsbury, to do just that. It was busy but we got a table outside and with the sun shining and The Love basking in it with her shades on, we were all happy to say the least. I also did have the Lucky Saint unfiltered lager (the one which is 0.5%) and actually it’s pretty decent, and so if you want something without the percentages of alcohol in, that may be one to consider in future. The Love also tried it and she agreed, it’s pretty good.

We headed back and Brian the cat was of course miaowing for his tea a little early, and of course he got what he wanted, as you would expect. The Love then set about making the tea, and we had some beautiful homemade carbonara, complete with fresh pasta, pancetta, mushrooms and a beautiful creamy sauce with some garlic bread. The Love really did excel herself with this one and I have to say that I wish I could cook like that – and it was really good to relax and enjoy that. We did note too that Manchester City had kicked off against Southampton so I kept my eyes on the score – and it was good to see that Erling Haaland did the business back from injury. Winning.

I did spend some time later online working out what I might want to get myself (or have others buy me if they are feeling generous) for my birthday next month. I like to at least give people an idea and that way they know it’ll be something appreciated – more so because of the CD collection being a decent size. I did take the opportunity where possible to listen online to some of the tracks from albums as a preview to give me an idea of if I’d like it or not – and one of those happened to be the album from boygenius (it is stylised lower case) – the single Not Strong Enough definitely has a nice Americana twang and an album I’m probably going to buy myself soon – so tune of the day it most certainly is.

Friday 7th April – Seatfrog Success, Part 1

It was Good Friday today and the start of a four-day Easter break here in the UK. Of course, that does also mean that public holidays can often bring engineering works to the railways, and so over this weekend it was a good opportunity to close off London Euston in lieu of station and HS2 and track works. This meant anything on the West Coast Main Line would terminate at Milton Keynes, with no onward replacement transport provided. Of course, people would scurry to alternate routes either via Leeds or Sheffield, so I had booked my tickets way in advance of all that to make sure I got a seat.

However, I had a brainwave too. What if I was able to upgrade to first class using the Seatfrog app, so be comfier on the way up and to get some well-earned breakfast at the same time? The thought had crossed my mind as I knew the trains may be busier, even though I was leaving on the 0733 train this morning from Kings Cross to Leeds, so as I headed from East Croydon to St Pancras, I kept an eye on the app and auction and swooped in with not much time left to claim the ticket – and won it. £18 it may be, but that wasn’t too bad all told and it meant I could also avoid the coffee shop crowds at Kings Cross and relax as I boarded the 0733 to Harrogate via Leeds. I found my seat, and a nice single seat (first class are normally 2+1 formations) and facing forwards, so all good.

As the train sped off the guard checked the tickets and all was well, and soon I was being served some nice fresh coffee in a proper mug, with a bacon sandwich on a proper roll with freshly cooked bacon, not microwave nuked, and on a proper plate. That, with a flapjack and a mineral water, was lovely, and had a second coffee later on as the train slowed just past Doncaster and I relaxed with some tunes. I knew this was down to cable theft in the area, and thankfully made my way over to Leeds in good time, albeit with a 16 minute delay. Sadly, one negative about LNER – Delay Repay is at 30 minutes plus unlike most which is 15. They could really do with sorting that out for equality’s sake.

Anyway, I headed over to Platform 11B to get the 1012 train from Leeds to Manchester Victoria. I remembered to sit backwards out of Leeds as at Bradford the train reverses back out and so you face forwards (done this route before). It was fast too as it headed to Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Rochdale before getting to Victoria on time, where it was the tram over to The Love In My Heart’s place, where Brian the cat was all happy and relaxed via the window looking outside for all the birds perched on the fencing which he loves to follow and see what they were doing.

The Love had a little surprise for me when she messaged me as I arrived in Leeds – we were heading off in the afternoon to see The Cute Little One as there were still some birthday presents for her Mum at The Love’s place, plus of course we could make sure anything for Easter for The Cute Little One was dropped off too. We literally arrived as they had got back from shopping, with The Cute Little One having a big smile saying “It’s my Nana!” which was really nice. So, we had a good chat over coffee and it was lovely to see a happy contented face and she was happy to show me her play tepee with Bea the doll inside all sat ready for her lunch. Awww.

Later on, we headed back to The Love’s place and then went out for tea to The Gateway. Nothing too fancy of course, but we could sit outside in the nice weather and have fish and chips alfresco with some rather nice beer too – so definitely for me really good. The Love was of course happy to be off work too so we both were able to take some time and relax a bit. We did consider heading to John Lewis but that was going to shut soon so we thought it was more sensible to head back, feed Brian the cat his tea (he loves his Encore tuna!) and then relax for the evening with some telly. In fact, we decided to watch series 1 of Race Across the World again and so enjoyed an episode of that as the five teams became four during the second stage.

As The Love was watching the soaps I watched BBC Four instead and had plenty of Top of the Pops to watch, and the episode from 1990 was excellent as it featured the They Might Be Giants classic Birdhouse In Your Soul (it has to be tune of the day as it’s such a great tune) and plenty of other moments beside, including Happy Mondays’ version of Step On with Bez being, well, Bez, of course, and added Rowetta as well. Madchester at the height of its glory, most likely. It was intriguing to think that it all was some thirty three years ago and that I was a fair bit younger then (and that has to be an understatement.)

Monday 3rd April – Birthday Bliss

Today is The Love In My Heart’s birthday, so it was nice to be able to have the day off work together and just be able to spend a lovely time in each other’s company. We got up and she opened the presents from friends and family, which were so lovely. There were gift cards for some stores, a nice vase for some flowers, an embroidery set with a bee pattern to make, some candles, and lots of lovely nice things. She opened the presents from me and loved them: I got her a gift card for Oliver Bonas, a personalised mirrored jewellery box from a seller on Etsy that she had seen and liked (and got it with her initials and name) and a paisley gold top from Oliver Bonas that had only come back in stock Friday and had ordered it online for delivery to The Love’s place, which arrived yesterday afternoon.

It was nice to be up with Brian the cat loving the wrapping paper and the gift bags, he definitely wanted to get into the larger ones as you would expect, and so he was being all super adorable and wanting to play ball too. It was really nice to give him a fuss and a love in the morning and certainly he was appreciating the extra time with his Mummy, which of course meant more treats and some dry cat food as well. I was sure that he was going to enjoy the nicer weather and look out of the bedroom window into the sunshine and make the most of the lovely day.

As were we: we had booked a nice place in Congleton for lunch together, and the plan was that we would head to Little Moreton hall first, just the other side of Congleton and a National Trust Property, which we’d get into for free being members and all. They don’t always open on a Monday, but school holidays and an Easter trail meant it was making the most of the time, and of course a good thing. We arrived there and it was pretty busy in the car park, and definitely a good sign that the extra activities were being done. We headed in and off to the hall itself, and there was a short talk being given in the main courtyard, and we headed through the hall.

Each time we’ve visited here, there’s always some conservation work going on which shows that the money invested is being spent. One of the floors not far from the long gallery is being renovated due to the fact that the supports were crumbling underneath, and they had images to explain what was being done. Of course, the long gallery itself is majestic, and a really nice place to admire the view and, back then, socialise, with people promenading indoors along, or a game of skittles being able to be played. Of course all the sloping floors now make for a very different experience since it was built, as you can well imagine.

We did visit the little café there and got a cake and coffee (well it is a birthday!) and we sat outside in the bright sunshine with all the ducks from the moat sitting by every table seeking some shelter and wanting to rest and relax, which was lovely. In fact plenty of families were looking to feed the ducks which meant that they were scuttling everywhere running after where the food was. We did have a walk around the garden and noted more on the Easter trail including a potential to sing around the mulberry tree as part of the family activity - a nice touch that.

We headed into the centre of Congleton and found a nice clean and relatively cheap car park. The town centre seemed quieter than normal primarily because it wasn’t a market day (where the market would I imagine draw more trade) but nonetheless one or two of the independent cafés were busy, which said to me that they were the places to go. We did manage to find somewhere nice and local to have a quiet driink and one of the rooms looked like it used to be a former bank vault that we sat inside, so that was a different experience to have and one to relax before we had lunch together.

We headed to the Lion and Swan, and it was absolutely lovely. The staff had reserved us a table close to the window to see outside, with comfy cosy seating and a modern feel with the décor and wood, yet retaining the beams in the ceiling from its original build, and that was a really nice contrast. We ordered some drinks and then perused the food menu. It was very nice all round and the only difficulty was choosing something nice. I had the linguini fruti di mare, which was the best pasta dish I’ve had in a very long time – squid, mussels, king prawns and capers with a beautiful creamy sauce and soft linguine. I could have had plenty more of that but the portion size was spot on and beautifully presented. The Love had a chicken dish which was perfectly cooked with sweet potato mash, goats cheese, two types of onion and a nice tomato sauce – and looked so good. The Love really did enjoy that and it was so lovely to do that – and can highly recommend it for anyone.

We headed back to The Love’s place, and it was nice to see that once we’d popped to the local Asda and got some cat food and Dreamies for Brian the cat, he was super happy and was scoffing his tea and looking to his Mummy for some treats too. We settled in once The Love’s niece had visited with a card and some presents, which was very nice of her, and then The Love indulged herself with the soaps before we then watched a couple of epidsodes of Drive to Survive on Netflix: The Love quite likes the F1 (I’m responsible for that I think!) and she really does like the behind the scenes of this too – with one focus being on Yuki Tsunoda and the outgoing Pierre Gasly at Alpha Tauri. I did of course think of the classic F1 theme The Chain by Fleetwood Mac, so that has to be tune of the day – and still wish it was being used for the theme today. It had been a lovely day and The Love was so happy, which pleases me immensely.

Sunday 2nd April – Elnecot Excellence

It was a nice lie in for myself and The Love In My Heart this morning, as Brian the cat had decided to want to do whatever he could to wake up The Love first of all, especially when he got on to the bed and was attempting to use his paws. Awww. He is adorable but he doesn’t always get it when his Mummy wants to relax and not get up straight away. We did get up and have some breakfast together, and it was nice to get our clothes ready for later as we’d be heading out for the day with some friends, and we wanted to look the part. We had booked somewhere lovely for later and that at least was good to look forward to.

The Love and I headed for the tram and we thought we had missed it as we saw the tram come into the stop. However, the driver very kindly saw us and gave us just enough time to tap in at the reader and board before closing the doors. Result. We got to New Islington tram stop and headed across the marina towards Ancoats, and noted that there was a Sunday makers market around Cutting Room Square. There were lots of nice stalls all round and plenty of crafts as well as food drinks, and overall a really relaxed vibe. It did feel nice with the sun out too and definitely felt a nice day.

The Love and I headed into Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse, and got ourselves some drinks, and soon to be joined by our friends. It was great to catch up with them and be able to see how their trip abroad had been, and of course the relaxed vibe of the place always really did make things feel good. Maybe the prog rock wasn’t to everyone’s taste and that did change to the likes of the Foo Fighters, which the song Everlong was tune of the day for me – nice to at least have some decent tunes on as the very nice guest ale of Siren Yu Lu was being drunk too.

We made our way a few doors down to Elnecot, and it was time for the Sunday roast for the four of us. They always do a cracking roast there, and it was also good that they had local beers too – so I had the Cloudwater hazy ale which was really good, and definitely would go with the lunch. The rest of us had the Elnecot Lager, which actually was decent and a good session drink to have. As for the Sunday roast, we did have different ones – so one friend and The Love had the pork belly, one had the vegeterian roast, and I went for the roast lamb, which was stunning. It was so melt in the mouth lovely and it really did make the afternoon feel lovely.

Later on we headed back to Seven Bro7ers and they did have the chocolate honeycomb stout, so this was for me rather excellent. I did ask why the Sling It Out Stout wasn’t on, and the staff told me this was because the plan was to only keep on the Throw Away IPA (the one made with corn flakes) and so they were just as gutted. I did have the session IPA later when it was part of the happy hour and that was also really nice, and we chatted about all sorts in a relaxed and contented vibe, just the thing for a Sunday. And Man Utd also lost at Newcastle United, so definitely a double win there.

Saturday 1st April – City Tearing Scousers Apart Again

It was nice to head up to Manchester last night and to see The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat. Of course Brian was having a happy moment snuggled up to his Mummy on the sofa and he was more than wanting to play ball occasionally too. We did end up having a good sleep before we had some breakfast, and Brian did want to have a little play out and get some fresh air. The weather at least did look dry which was going to be good news for later on, as it was the first Manchester City league game for three weeks following the FA Cup and the international break.

I met up with my friend later and it was off to the Etihad Stadium to see City against Liverpool. This for me is one of the three tough league games left this season, with Arsenal at home and Brighton away being the others based on league form and the way that they play. It of course would depend on which Liverpool would turn up – the one that hammered Manchester United 7-0 or the one that lost 1-0 at Bournemouth. That was for good and healthy debate as we headed to the ground and got our spots in good time for the kick off. We knew Erling Haaland was out with a groin injury but hoped that other players would step up and do the business.

City started well during the first half with Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez going down the flanks and causing the Liverpool defence some issues. However when Liverpool did go forward the defence did have to be solid, and John Stones was balancing a defensive midfield role quite well. However, it was not so good when the offside trap was broken by Diogo Jota and he held the ball up well for Moihammed Salah to strike and curl the ball past Ederson and it was 1-0 to Liverpool. Not the ideal start and it was a vital block from Jack Grealish that stopped Salah passing to Jota for a second goal, so that was a big moment in the game.

And so it proved, too. Within a minute or two City headed forward and Mahrez played the ball across to Ilkay Gundogan, and he passed to Grealish on the left hand side. The perfect cross came into the six yard box and Julian Alvarez finished from close range and so it was 1-1 at half time. City had pressed well and the second goal hadn’t come before then, but as I got a chicken balti pie during the half time interval, it was a case of us both thinking that if City got the next goal, we could hopefully clinch an important victory and keep ourselves in the title race.

The second half started and City went on the attack. Riyad Mahrez went down the right and a perfect cross just missed Allison in the Liverpool goal and Kevin de Bruyne then did the rest. 2-1 after around a minute into the second half, and better was to come a few minutes later. Mahrez drew around four players around him before he found Alvarez, his shot was parried out but the ball went straight to Gundogan, who buried it into the top corner from close range for 3-1. That definitely was a positive and we both were very happy indeed as the sun came out and City were really knocking it around well.

Liverpool brought on four substitutes at once in an attempt to shift the balance of the game. However, City were not taking any prisoners, and Grealish went down the left, saw de Bruyne on his outside, and passed it – and the pass back found Grealish in a perfect position to slot it perfectly into the bottom corner. City were 4-1 up and singing to the Joy Division classic Love Will Tear Us Apart (make it tune of the day) – City, tearing Scousers apart, again. And that felt good especially when the Liverpool fans were leaving in their droves after the fourth goal – and we both enjoyed the win immensely. Arsenal did keep up their end of the title race by beating Leeds later, but still we did at least do the business at our end, which was good.