Dear Diary... December 2023

Sunday 31st December – Farewell 2023

The Love In My Heart and I had decided to head to the city centre today, primarily as we both wanted to go and see the new film Ferrari, and the cinema might be a bit quieter if we went today. The Love also had some Oliver Bonas gift cards and wanted to get herself something nice, and the central Manchester store is quite big, so made sense once we got ourselves changed and ready to head out. The Love had a lovely black dress on and looked gorgeous (I am so lucky) and I had on a new Joules shirt that she had got me as a Christmas present – the idea being we could stay as we are to see the new year in and dress up nice.

We headed on the tram and soon were making our way down Market Street. I went into Uniqlo but didn’t see any offers on there that I fancied, so we walked down and headed over to Oliver Bonas. In fact it was pretty good because lots of good clothes were on offer, and The Love did try on a nice blue dress (which wasn’t in the sale) and a nice black jumper with wave shell print. The latter was in the sale and a definite purchase, and she did like the blue dress with its broderie anglaise side pattern, but thought it sensible to wait and see if that became discounted and then purchase it – or use any money raised via Vinted towards it. Sensible move that.

We headed through St Ann’s Square and then on to Peter Street and to Brewdog, as it was close to the cinema and we had time for a drink beforehand. What I didn’t expect was to see two perfectly good pinball machines, the Dr No one and a Led Zeppelin one, which of course I had to play. In fact the £1 lasted me three credits instead of one as I got a replay score twice, and being able to choose the track to rock to (a la the Rush one I played not so long ago) was a genius move. Black Dog got played a bit so that is tune of the day and even sang along “he’s a baby” a la Shooting Stars, well why not? It played well as a machine and I may have to head back there sooner rather than later..

We went across to the Odeon (former AMC cinema) in Great Northern and we’d done the tickets via the MyOdeon app, so they were just £5 each which is a bargain. It was Screen 11 for us today which wasn’t the largest, but had booked seats so no one sat next to us and we had a cracking view with no one in the way. As for the film itself, Ferrari was excellent. It really was true to events too, such as the accident close to the end of the 1957 Mille Miglia where several people were killed (and thus the event was banned afterwards) and also the potential way that the Ferrari name itself was being besmirched due to other accidents happening at that time.

For me, there were several excellent acting performances, not least from Penelope Cruz as the long suffering wife Laura, with hell having no fury like a woman scorned. She definitely did not take any rubbish and was very much the yin to the yang of Adam Driver playing Enzo Ferrari. It was good that they had the iconic dark glasses as part of the outfit, and most of the story was based on a biography of Enzo Ferrari, which why it detailed about the acknowledgement of his second son with his mistress Lina, and the coming to terms of the death of his first son Dino. It was enjoyable and didn’t feel like a two hour plus long film, and having the original Stig Ben Collins playing Stirling Moss was a genius move.

We got back home later and The Love made some lovely nibbles for tea, including some prawn toasts in the shape of stars, spring rolls, little mini chicken kievs and mini hot dogs. That set us up nicely for the likes of the final heat of World’s Strongest Man, where Trey Mitchell did all 7 kettlebells in the toss and joined an elite group to have done so, and rightly qualified, with Evan Singleton winning the stone off. We also did see The Last Leg of the Year before then turning over to BBC One for Graham Norton, with Claudia Winkleman on (so yes of course I was watching that). I was intrigued by her t-shirt and she revealed all later, it was a present from a friend and was all about her new King Charles spaniel dog. Naturally she was on as The Traitors makes its return in the New Year.

We then switched between Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and Rick Astley from the Camden Roundhouse (a gig venue we’ve been to) for the remainder of 2023, with Jools having on Rod Stewart (not The Love’s fave) but also Paul Jones formerly of Manfred Mann (and yes he did do the hits) as well as the likes of Joss Stone. We saw in the New Year together with a hug and a kiss and a glass of prosecco as the fireworks outside from The Love’s place were almost as good as the ones in central London as they went for an extended display and some light shows with drones which looked pretty good. Here’s to the New Year incoming.

Saturday 30th December – Last Home Game

It was good to be able to be heading off to the Etihad Stadium today to see Manchester City’s final home game of 2023 against Sheffield United. After City had won impressively at Everton on Wednesday, and with Sheffield United struggling at the bottom of the table, I would hope for a win today and to keep the pressure on the sides around us at the top of the table – which is going to be a really close challenge throughout between four teams I think, ourselves, Liverpool, Arsenal and surprise package Aston Villa, who have been playing really well under Unai Emery and getting good results, beating ourselves and Arsenal at home.

The Love In My Heart was heading off for lunch with some of the family, and she knew I and a couple of other relations were going to the football and couldn’t make it. However she did show me some pictures later and it was so nice to see that The Cute Little One was being adorable, and asking where her Nana was and then giving her big cuddles afterwards (which of course made The Love very happy.) It’s just the way at times fixtures fall that you can’t do everything you’d like, but seeing City is still one of the things which keeps me going and makes me happy.

I got over to the ground a little bit earlier as I had to head across the temporary paths around the development work at the North side of the stadium and to Entrance X, and after a walk up the spiral ramp, turn left into the Family Stand. I managed to get some steak pie and chips for a well timed lunch and they do have seating areas you can rest and enjoy, so that was good. I was also able to see that they have a new self-service machine for your pints of Asahi, and the price is actually 10% cheaper than going to the bar, so I did see a few people using it – and it did come out with pretty decent pints too. Might have to give that a go myself in future.

I got to my seat and had a cracking view of the goal close by (virtually below me) and was high enough to see the other end goal too. City came out and they had all five major trophies won on display – the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and the World Club Championship. They also had some large sheeting draped down from the East Stand with representations graphically of all five trophies in blue and white, looked really good. Queen’s We Are The Champions belted out (make that tune of the day) and we were all ready for kick off, with the passion being shown from the City fans as Blue Moon belted out before kick off.

In truth, the game itself was a little nondescript and somewhat workmanlike. City pressed constantly and Sheffield United were effectively putting all bodies behind the ball, so they were just hoping for the occasional break, with a lobbed shot almost catching out Ederson in the City goal. City though kept going and a neat pass from Phil Foden found Rodri, who charged forward and slotted the ball into the bottom corner for the opener. I was pleased with that, and it was more attacking in the first half with a couple of decent saves from the likes of Bernardo Silva and Julian Alvarez.

At half time there was an online City quiz to do where you could win prizes – I didn’t win, but did get 10 out of the 12 questions right so felt pretty pleased overall. Ellie Leach who had just won Strictly Come Dancing came on, and she admitted that she had broken the glitterball trophy! Her father is a big City fan which is why she was there, in case anyone wondered. City pressed further in the second half and Oscar Bobb came on for Jack Grealish. Bobb played well and he threaded the eye of a needle for a perfect pass to Phil Foden, who slotted it across the box for an easy finish for Julian Alvarez to make it 2-0. And despite being pretty much camped in the Sheffield United half (so I got to see a lot of the action) it stayed that way with some deseperate defending (and they almost kicked the ball in off Alvarez for a third.)

It was a good way to to end the year as a City fan – third in the table, two points off the top but with a game in hand on some teams, and four wins on the bounce in all competitions, which certainly felt like a return back to form. The FA Cup is next weekend which I will be going to, so it’ll be interesting to see how that works out against Huddersfield Town. I wish I could still have a season ticket and see all the games, and naturally I wish I was with my departed friend to see all of those together, and that’s been hard not to be able to have the chatter with him. But I know too he’ll be there in spirits, cheering the lads on.

Friday 29th December – Walking in the Rain

It was a nice lie in for myself and The Love In My Heart, despite the best attempts of Brian the cat to try and wake us both up. In fact The Love did get up briefly and feed Brian, and then went back to bed with Brian by her side, all snuggled up and cat snoring a little bit. We did decide to head up and have some breakfast later, and pondered if it was worth heading to the cinema or to take a walk locally and get some fresh air. The weather originally looked okay so once we were showered and changed, we thought that it would be good to walk along the canal and towards Manchester city centre.

We headed to the canal towpath and almost straight away the clouds didn’t look convincing, and throughout the two miles or so there were occasional rain showers. I was glad he new jacket had a hood, as this did keep me dry. The Love sensibly had her umbrella with her and so was keeping dry. It was on and off with the rain as we headed along the towpath and down towards the lock close to New Islington Metrolink station. Turning right here to follow the marina certainly showed the weather taking a turn for the worse, as we sheltered a little under some buildings and noted all the swans heading off to hide.

Once across the marina, it was over to Cutting Room Square and thankfully Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse was open, and with the rain looking more ominous, it made sense to head there for a drink. The satin stout was still on offer for £3, so naturally I was having that one, with The Love having a helles lager. We got some very cosy sofas and relaxed in those and had a drink together, and noted the wind and rain outside with the dark clouds meaning that the trees with lights in outside had the lights coming on. Thankfully by the time that we were about to head off, the rain had stopped and it became brighter, so definitely well worth taking the time out for a drink.

We headed towards the Northern Quarter and onwards to the Abel Heywood pub. There were some spare tables so we got one, and ordered a late lunch / early tea. I had the fish basket which had goujons of cod, calamari and also some scampi, along with some proper chippy style chips and mushy peas. That was lovely, and came out a few minutes before The Love’s dish of panko crusted chicken breast, which had a tomato sauce and cheese on top with some fries. It looked very nice and tons of fries too, which I had to help The Love finish off due to them being so many. I also tried one of the new Hydes beers too, the Grand Central IPA, which was pretty good – just a shame that the dark ruby wasn’t on!

The place also had a number of tunes playing in the background as well which was all very festive, including a nice version of This Christmas. It did remind me of the Vonda Shepard version which I adore, so tune of the day goes to that one. It was really nice and chilled though too and we both had had a good walk and a nice meal at the end of it, definitely something which we both enjoyed a lot. We walked back to Piccadilly Gardens to get the tram back and that was very busy indeed, good job we know where to stand to be able to get on and get a seat! The Love later also finished off the final series of The Crown on Netflix, so I am sure she’ll get herself into another series now..

Thursday 28th December – Going On A Game Hunt

I had another day off whilst The Love In My Heart was working, and thankfully for her on an earlier shift which meant more time later on, so after she had headed off to work, I thought it would be a good idea to head out on the trams and trains and go and visit a couple of retro gaming shops around the North West. I knew that Games n More in Wigan had reopened in a new location, and there was also Rewind in Ashton-under-Lyne. I figured it would make sense to get to them both, and locally you can get a combined off peak tram and train ticket for £9.80, which includes all trains in Greater Manchester and the whole of the Metrolink tram network.

First things first, it was on the tram to Manchester city centre and a stop off at Tim Hortons for some breakfast (again) and why not? In fact the dark roast coffee in a proper mug was just gorgeous, and that filled me up nicely for the remainder of the day. I took the tram to Manchester Victoria and crossed over to Platform 5 in good time for the train to Headbolt Lane via Wigan Wallgate. The train headed via the likes of Salford Crescent, Hag Fold, Daisy Hill and to Wigan, where I had to show my ticket at the barrier because it wouldn’t operate them. Still, at least it was all good and despite the weather in Wigan being a tad rainy, the new jacket was doing its job and keeping me dry.

I headed over to one of the shopping centres, and Ultravox’s iconic Vienna was being played (make that tune of the day) and it was good to be able to see some of the shops inside, including a branch of HMV playing nothing but Monkees (I am sure Mum would approve of that) and also plenty of other good shops to have a look around. However, the mission was to locate Games n More, and found that. It had all sorts of DVD and Blu-Ray discs, LPs and 12” singles with various degrees of rarity (in fact the rare stuff was on the wall being displayed proudly) and lots of games on all formats. There was a box of cassette games including C64, and managed to pick up relatively cheap both Kikstart and BMX Trials from Mastertronic, so got both of those. Excellent!

I headed back out to more shops in Wigan and the rain did come down a bit more, so headed to a local pub for a soft drink and some lunch – nothing too fancy, just a panini and some chips to keep me going. In fact I had timed it well as the rain and wind lashed down whilst in there, and had pretty much stopped when I left and would be heading over to Wigan Wallgate station. In fact, the next train was to go to Stalybridge via Manchester Victoria and stopped at Ashton-under-Lyne, so saved me having to change for the tram. This time the train went via Westhoughton to Bolton, and stopped at the local stations prior to Salford Crescent before sweeping round Miles Plating after Manchester Victoria and onwards to Ashton-under-Lyne.

It was a short walk via the market to Rewind, and although I didn’t pick up anything this time, I did note a fair amount of Nintendo Wii games in stock, and also various 8-bit titles at a good price. In fact, had I not already got all the Mastertronic Commodore 16 games, I could have picked up the likes of Video Meanies for a very good price too. I was also tempted by some Atari 2600 cartridges and noted there were some for the more obscure ColecoVision console amongst the shelf there too, which was good to see stock of. I headed back via the shopping centre and was tempted to get some shopping in Home Bargains, but nothing doing. It was then a simple trip back on the tram to The Love In My Heart’s place and arrived half an hour before she arrived home from work.

We decided it would be nice to be able to have a post work drink, and although not Wine and Wallop, I did check and the tap room at Track was back open, so we headed there instead. In fact they had the heaters on and it was lovely and cosy in there as I had the Navigator nitro stout, which was gorgeous. The Love did have a glass of wine later and I had the cask Sonoma in a cute little half pint glass, which was as good as ever. It was just good to wind down together and later on we had some tea, fussed over Brian the cat, watched World’s Strongest Man (now on to the second qualifiying heat for the finals) and The Love indulged herself with more of the final series of The Crown.

Wednesday 27th December – Friends and Festive Food

It was a sad feeling seeing The Love In My Heart have to get herself ready and head back to work, whilst I was having the rest of the year off work. Granted, I did have to book it as leave myself, but did feel bad that The Love was on a long shift today. I gave her a kiss as she set off, and then got myself up and ready for the day ahead, getting changed into a cosy jumper as I would be out in the weather later. In fact after wearing it last night for a bit, it’d also be a good time to use the new Joules jacket and see if it lived up to its claims to be shower proof as there were some light rain showers during the day.

I was seeing a friend today but did have time this morning to set off to the city centre along the way, and this meant breakfast at Tim Hortons, I do like their dark roast coffee and they do some really nice sausage and egg muffins. In fact they do an offer where a breakfast item is £1 with any hot drink, so it is not expensive and good value all round. That consumed, I had a quick look around some of the shops in the city centre before walking down to St Peter’s Square and on to the tram towards Altrincham, alighting at Sale and then waiting there for the 19 bus to head over to see my friend.

It was lovely to see her – and apart from the Covid times, we always try to get together between Christmas and New Year and have a good natter and catch up. Her long term partner was there too and he’s always really good to chat to, so that definitely was nice. My friend had cooked a pie with turkey, leek and mushrooms in along with some vegetables, and I have to say that it filled the gap very nicely indeed, not to mention the mince pies with either cream or Bailey’s thick cream afterwards, which really did put the end on a very nice lunch all round. Tune of the day was the very nice The Kid by André Brasseur, bit of a hidden gem of Northern Soul which I know my friend appreciates.

The afternoon went by far too quickly, with conversation and coffee in equal measures. I certainly think for my friend taking the option to retire from work and being a woman of leisure was doing her an immense benefit, and she certainly felt as if things were much easier – she had spent time doing up the house, which was already lovely, and was even considering a possibility of a move down to the South West if the finances allowed, with her partner. It was just a lovely time and it did feel sad when I headed off to get to the 19 bus stop and head back to Sale.

I had planned to meet with The Love In My Heart after her work, and so once at Sale I took the tram to Trafford Bar followed by a change of tram to West Didsbury as I had planned to meet her at Wine and Wallop. The Love had got there just before me and realised that the place was closed today, so we met and then headed back homewards, and got takeout from La Canadien to save the hassle of having to cook anything. We relaxed with some telly later and it was just nice to wind down after very different days, and I’d had a lovely time out and was good to blow away some proverbial Christmas cobwebs.

Tuesday 26th December – Boxing Buffet

It was nice just to be able to take some time out to have a lie in this morning after a long but enjoyable Christmas Day. The Love had managed to get some time fussing over Brian the cat before heading back to bed for a while and thought it best to leave them to it whilst I was able to catch up on some telly – and this happened to include one of the Giants Live tour event qualifiers prior to World’s Strongest Man being on Channel 5. I always like that over the festive period and seeing some of the arena events where so many of the strongmen show off their skills, and the likes of the Deadlift World Championship too, was just good to get back into watching.

Later on The Love got up and we had some breakfast together, and then was able to just relax with some telly during the day. We knew that we would be out later and didn’t want to face the January sales anyway as we didn’t want to spend any more money than we needed to, and on top of that, it was sensible to wait until later. I did have a quick look online but to be honest I’ll wait until there are some more reductions and then can use the gift cards I received over Christmas to treat myself accordingly – plus if I can use one of them for HMV or Fopp, that might be handy to get some new CDs that I would like.

Later on we got ourselves changed and ready, and prepared to head over to Mum’s for the Boxing Day buffet. We did plan to get there earlier as my brother and his girlfriend were there with their two lovely children, and we wanted to spend some quality time with them before everyone else came. That also proved to be a good decision in terms of being able to get a parking space for the car close by, and it was lovely to see the two children and catch up with my brother and his girlfriend too – and hear about her new teaching job which she would be starting in the New Year.

Most of the family were around later and the buffet was open, so we had some sandwiches, sausage rolls, some cheese and cooked meats, and The Love went for the salad as well. I had taken with us some of the Brewdog Lost Lager (the alcohol free one) so The Love was able to have that and chatter to everyone, as did I. We didn’t stay too late primarily as The Love was heading back to work the next day (her job does mean that she has to be in work between Christmas and New Year) but at least that meant we had spent some time with everyone and longer with my brother and the children too, which I felt was important to do to be honest.

We got home later and it was just good to wind down before an early night. I was able to watch the final of the Giants Live qualifiers for World’s Strongest Man on Channel 5, which was the World Tour Finals from Glasgow. They did also have some new world records set during the competition too which was good to see, and sets the scene nicely for the full contest which will be from tomorrow on the telly. I always have to avoid the result for months mind you as I know it’s filmed earlier in the year, but am used to that now. In the meantime tune of the day is the excellent Fairytale of New York by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, which I had in my head since the start of the day!

Monday 25th December – Merry Christmas

It was a relaxing Christmas morning and The Love In My Heart and I didn’t need to get up too early, and it was actually Brian the cat who looked at us with his adorable cute eyes and wanted us to get up. We fed him some tuna and Dreamies before having some bacon on toast for breakfast, something light to keep us going until the large Christmas dinner later. The Love had already started to cook the turkey and do some prep on the likes of the roasties and potatoes so it was ready to go. I was sure it would all be lovely later on so once that was all prepared, we sat down and opened some presents.

The Love had received some presents from work and they were all quite nice, including a gift card for Costa. Most of the presents I had were either gift cards, or beer related, with The Love’s niece getting me four really nice beers from Beermoth in a lovely box. I also got some lovely presents from friends too, including the 1982 F1 season review DVD (been after that for a while) and the likes of The House With A Clock In Its Walls and Stan and Ollie on Blu-Ray, which was excellent. It was very thoughtful of everyone to get me a present, and I really appreciate it.

The Love and myself always open our presents to each other last, but I allowed her to open one earlier, which were some boots from Zara – as she wanted to wear them today. We headed over to see The Cute Little One and her parents, and this was rather lovely. Needless to say that the youngster had some lovely presents including a wooden dolls house and a little dressing up wardrobe with some outfits including a fairy and the Gruffalo. In fact The Love’s outfit she got for The Cute Little One was adorable, and she also loved the Poppy troll that I had got for her as well – as she loves the Trolls characters and Poppy was her favourite. We left them to it so that they could have a relaxing family Christmas and headed back.

Later on, The Love’s sister, her niece and boyfriend arrived, so that was five of us to have the Christmas dinner together. As the niece’s boyfriend was also a good cook himself, he had prepared a fair amount of vegetables which just needed roasting in the oven, which meant honey glazed carrots and parsnips, some gorgeous stuffing and cauliflower cheese which The Love would devour quite happily. In fact, the dinner was spot on, the turkey was cooked really well and the gravy was plentiful. It was all lovely and it felt rather nice just to be cosy and enjoy the food. An added bonus was the vegetables that had been cooked too – I wish there were more carrots!

The afternoon sped by with Toy Story 4 in the background (admittedly not the best one, in my view they should have ended it at the end of 3) and then the Christmas edition of Strictly Come Dancing, with the likes of Sally Nugent from Breakfast taking part. The Love’s relations headed home and it had been lovely to see them after such a good afternoon, and that meant it was just the two of us and Brian the cat, so he could come out of hiding in the bedroom and be on the pouffle again and enjoy his rest for the rest of the day. And as the song by Vanessa Williams says, you save the best for last (so make that tune of the day).

The Love had been very kind and had got me some lovely presents: a really nice blue showerproof Joules jacket which had a hood (and something I’ll definitely be using!) - as well as a gorgeous Joules long sleeved shirt in blue check. She did also get me a really nice album art print of Pixies’ Doolitle album which was something I had spotted online thanks to Penfriend mentioning it on her live gig – and if you would like to get one yourself, check out Cover Versions online. There are plenty of classic iconic album covers re-imagined in an art style. The Love also very kindly got me the excellent Seeing Sideways book by Kristin Hersh, so that will be something I’ll be reading at length over time.

It was a lovely day and we ended the evening all snuggled up and watching the Call the Midwife special for Christmas, and it was the usual feelgood factor as a precursor for the new series coming in January. It was one of the few specials that actually was decent, and with the likes of Eastenders being on later, it was a case of finding other telly to watch before we called it a night and an end to a long but very enjoyable Christmas Day, where it was special and a more relaxed and calm one at the same time. My thanks to The Love for making an excellent dinner and being so kind and caring during the whole day – it justifies even more just how lucky I am.

Sunday 24th December – Christmas Eve

It was Christmas Eve, and it was just nice for The Love In My Heart and myself to have a lie in with Brian the cat being his usual adorable self, wanting fusses, cuddles and a tummy tickle into the bargain. Of course it was rather nice that he just wanted some Dreamies too, and decided to step into the shower after The Love, so was able to have his little shower time and catch the drops of water as they came from the shower head. He loves that and I think for him it is a little daily ritual he’s been used to and gets pampered, as he should being the boss of the place.

We did decide later that it would be nice to take things relatively easy and have a pre-Christmas drink, and with the options being quite close by, we thought that a park up in Ancoats and a trip to Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse would be quite good, and so it proved. In fact, they had an offer on for their lovely satin stout beer on cask for a mere £3 per pint, absolute bargain that. I had that and The Love had a Helles Lager, and all was well with the world as we saw quite a few dogs with their Christmas jumpers on all being adorable in the warm with their owners.

In fact we were in no rush whatsoever, so it made more sense to stay in there and have another drink, and for me the Satin Stout was a winner again. It was just good to be able to listen to some good background music as well and take things easy, and later in The Love’s car, festive tunes with Heart Xmas including Underneath The Tree by Kelly Clarkson – and that does have a Motown vibe and is one of the recent Christmas tunes I actually like, so tune of the day for me there. It was really good to have some quality time there and I think we both needed a nice wind down, so a definite win.

Naturally of course all the festive television was on during Christmas Eve, so the likes of The Snowman, The Snowman and the Snowdog were all on as well as some more modern festive fare too. It was just good to be able to relax and The Love had made a really good lasagne a few days ago in preparation, so we had that and it was really lovely to be able to have that. I definitely thought that it made more sense to get something prepared because I knew that The Love would be sorting out the turkey for tomorrow’s lunch, so this was definitely one to be able to enjoy.

As we headed off to sleep later on with Brian the cat being all snuggled up and ready to cuddle his Mummy, we at least knew that we’d be together over Christmas, and with the up and down year I’d had, and not being fully recovered from a chest bug I’d got overt a week ago, even being here was pretty good to be honest. I was just glad to be together and appreciate that for what it is, and that has to be something special to treasure. I think that sometimes it’s sensible to reflect on what you have and appreciate it, and make the most of it too. So I am going to do that.

Saturday 23rd December – Cemetery Gates

It was a sort of sunny day, so I’d be heading to the cemetery gates as per The Smiths’ song (so make that tune of the day.) Normally I would be going to the cemetery so see family relations who have passed away on Christmas Eve, but as that would be a Sunday and transport would be much less available, it made more sense to go today. I had planned the route out and it meant I could use the Bee Any Bus all day ticket for a mere fiver, and on the Bee Network app it means you have a a little QR code to scan on some bus ticket machines (but not all, you have to show it to the driver otherwise.)

So it was on the 216 first of all and off to the city centre, followed by the 85A, which goes beyond Chorlton bus station and to Mauldeth Road West, and a little bit closer to the Manchester Crematorium near Southern Cemetery. It did make me feel a little more upset because the last time I was here was at my friend’s funeral, and naturally thoughts of that day came flooding back a little bit. I composed myself and went to the rose garden to see my relations there, and gave myself a few minutes to pause. I think I needed to – I found it a lot harder this year and this is why I have to go on my own to give myself that suitable time.

As it transpired, the 23 bus that was due earlier arrived late, which worked out perfect for me to get to Didsbury Village in good time to get the 42B bus to Mill Lane, and then time to see another of my relations there. I was able to have a few moments to myself there, and then off to the Costa Coffee in Cheadle for a late-ish breakfast, with coffee and a sausage bap to fill the gap nicely. I have to admit it was definitely nice to take that time out and have some thoughts to myself. Once that was done, it was then on the 371 to Parrs Wood and a relatively shortish (for once) wait for the 50 bus and off to see Mum.

It was nice to have a coffee and a chatter with Mum for a while, and she did have presents from my sister to hand over which was lovely, and then was able to have a catch up before I’d be round there over Christmas. I did also pop round the corner to see my auntie as well. It was good to see her and she had her grandchildren there too which was always lovely, so nice to see them both too. It made the day a bit lovelier, and she had got us a present, which I didn’t expect. I then headed back to the city centre and back on the bus to The Love’s place, where I had a very nice surprise.

Not only had I arrived back in good time to see some of The Love’s family, and was nice to see them and have some good chatter, but The Cute Little One was also there being adorable. We later on took her out for a bit and we went to one of the shops to try and get a couple of items for over Christmas, and needless to say she was eyeing up all the dollies and wanted the Disney Princess ones as well as wanting to try out the Peter Rabbit sayings when you pressed the paw (which admittedly was adorable). We did drop her off later and she was just being so happy and adorable, having lots of smiles and hugs. Awww. A lovely way to spend later in the day.

Friday 22nd December – First Class Festivities

It was the first day of my Christmas break today, and I had already booked today off to take the train up to Manchester. However, our workplace then gave us today as an extra day’s leave, so I liaised a bit and re-arranged the day off for the second of January, so effectively not eating into next year’s leave. Either way, it meant that after yesterday’s bad wind and weather and seeing the disruption to travel, I was a little bit concerned that would eat into today. I had managed to utilise the loyalty programme with Avanti West Coast, and this meant I had a voucher to use for a free first class return. Naturally this made more sense to use over the Christmas period.

I had my case packed last night and so headed off to East Croydon station and then took the train over to St Pancras, then walked over to London Euston. The good thing was that I was able to go into the first class lounge, and so relax there with a coffee and a croissant and watch the world go by below. In fact, it didn’t seem as busy as it could have been, despite the fact anyone who had tickets for yesterday could travel today. It was soon time to head to the platform and straight on into Coach K in first class. In fact there was only me and a couple who had re-arranged their travel plans from yesterday, so that’s something.

It was relaxing and comfortable on the train and the staff were lovely, sorting me out with some coffee and orange juice, and before long, a full cooked breakfast, with little mini hash brown spheres, bacon, sausage, egg and mushrooms. It was all very nice and the landscape sped by as I headed further up North. More coffee and orange juice was consumed as the train sped to Stoke on Trent, and was a little delayed between there and Stockport due to some high winds, but all was otherwise well. I had the headphones on for later in the journey, and the excellent I Used To Know Everything by Penfriend is tune of the day.

I took the tram over to The Love In My Heart’s place, and Brian the cat was there to greet me and have a general fuss as I unpacked. It was really lovely that he wanted to play ball with me as he sat on the pouffle and just loved a good bounce of the ball. I did head out later and took a quick trip over to Home Bargains to see what other beer I could get for over Christmas, but the selection was a little lacking. I got some Jaipur but also a four pack of the Brewdog Lost Lager (the alcohol free one) which would come in handy to take with us if say The Love In My Heart was driving back from somewhere.

Later on The Love arrived home from work after a late shift, and we decided it was easier to get a nice takeout to enjoy rather than her cooking, so we ordered some nice burgers from La Canadien, which we’ve used before. The good thing is that they’re pretty spot on with the time they say when you order, and the delivery drivers know the way to The Love’s place, so it’s a nice stress free experience. And the steak burger sizzler I have is spot on, proper steak done charcoal pit style and topped with bacon and cheese, and ketchup, and good fries too. The Love’s cheeseburger is always good and it’s consistently so, so definitely for us it’s one of our go to places for take out, and a nice way to wind down the day.

Sunday 10th December - A Stay In Sunday

I had had a nice walk yesterday and had put up the pictures as well as had a very lovely online chat with friends last night, where I had also done a themed quiz too (not Christmas related I should add.) That went down very well and it was a nice way to start looking forward to the festive period as well as enjoy a drink and be able to catch up too. That also meant that time went by far too quickly to be honest, and before I knew it, it was time for a well earned sleep and feeling nice and comfortable.

As I had been chatting with friends last night, I got up and had some breakfast and watched Strictly Come Dancing from last night's semi final. There were four excellent celebrities with their pros and all giving their all really well, from the emotional connection of the waltz from Annabel Croft and Johannes Radebe, from the sass and power of Ellie Leach with Vito Coppola, and to the fun of the charleston from Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin. I also really liked the grace and style of the ballroom routine from Bobby Brazier and Dianne Buswell too, so all of them had something really good to offer, with the standards being high.

I did contemplate going to watch some football later (Dulwich Hamlet's women were at home as were Crystal Palace for the Women's FA Cup) but trains meant no - I'd have had rail replacement bus to get to Dulwich and a potentially long walk from Sutton to Sutton United's ground for the Palace game. Instead I noted on BBC Two that Arsenal were playing Chelsea in the Women's Super League at 12.30, so stayed in to watch that and have lunch during the game too. And it proved to be an absolute cracker of a game with Arsenal going 3-1 up by half time and consolidating with a fourth in the second half.

I then had the radio on and listening out for the Luton Town against Manchester City game from Kenilworth Road. It wasn't going according to plan when Luton took the lead right on half time and without Erling Haaland out injured, I did wonder who would actually score for us. City attacked more and battled hard in the second half and first of all Bernardo Silva pounced on a loose ball to equalise, and two minutes later a breakaway for City meant the ball passed across to Jack Grealish who slotted it into the bottom corner for 2-1, and that's how it stayed til the end, three very much needed points for City to say the least!

It was good to take things relatively calmly today and then gear up for the final two weeks of the year at work before the Christmas break, and for me at least it was definitely nice to have some music on whilst being relaxed - with tune of the day being the rather nice and chilled Little Umbrellas by Frank Zappa from the iconic Hot Rats album, which to this day I can understand why it was so popular on release - all instrumentals apart from Willie The Pimp where Captain Beefheart does his thing..

Saturday 9th December - South of the River

It was a weekend of being at home this time around, and so thought it would be good to make the most of the time and spend it doing another section of the South Bank of the Thames Path - as even with the rain coming down, most of the path should be along paved or tarmac surfaces due to flats and developments being by the rivert, and did have my walking shoes on anyway if it did get muddy or slippy, so would at least have some confidence as I walked. The rain didn't look so good this morning but I knew it would clear up around 11am or so, so made sure I got everything ready and sorted and left around 10.

I got on the tram from Church Street to Wimbledon, and then from there exited the station and walked to Wimbledon Hill Road and just as I arrived at the bus stop, a 93 bus that I was after was arriving. Excellent timing all round, and that sped me to Putney in no time with less traffic around too. I soon got to close to the bridge and was able to start my walk, taking in some sculptures as part of the Putney Sculpture Trail along the way before crossing under the tube line on Deodar Road and heading along to Wandsworth Park.

At the end of Wandsworth Park lies the first of many posh apartment developments, complete with riverside views and balconies - I dread to think how expensive they might be. I did also note the posh floating boat houses alongside the pier here and in the mist they did look rather even more expensive. From there it was then heading alongside the river and then having to take in The Spit, a tiny public park that has a sail sculpture and is where the start of the River Wandle is (which flows all the way to Croydon, so not a short distance either it has to be said.)

Passing The Ship pub and heading under Wandsworth Bridge, I then saw London Heliport complete with its helipad on the river, and diverted around the terminal building back to the river again. At Battersea Railway Bridge I did see a London Overground train crossing, and then walked towards St Mary's Church which faced looking across the river diagonally with a smart view. I then arrived at Battersea Bridge complete with its In Town sculpture on one side and the Two Swans on the other, with the blue sky here it did look rather nice too, which made the final part even more exicting.

Because.. I was able to see a rainbow! The rain had come down heavily as I crossed the road near Battersea Bridge and on the final approach to Albert Bridge it had started to dry, and the rainbow arched over the bridge itself which was just magnificent. I couldn't have timed seeing it better and was just so pleased to have captured that with the camera. Cue the theme tune from the iconic television series Rainbow by Telltale being tune of the day - it just reminded me of the adorable lovely title sequence. Life was, shall we say, a lot simpler back then!

Once I got to the end of the walk I did walk along the North Carriage Drive of Battersea Park, and headed under the road bridge and on to Battersea Power Station, where at the railway arches there's the Battersea Brewery tap room. I had one of their best bitters on proper cask and in a proper old school pint glass, and enjoyed that being sat outside for a while enjoying the view. In fact the shoppers around the Power Station itself were many and some were heading to the ice rink and the restaurants by the river, all of which were rammed. So many expected the tap room to do food but were disappointed, but to be honest, I just preferred having a drink here and being relaxed.

I did have one final thing to do, head over to Tealby's Café at the front of Battersea Cats and Dogs Home, and have lunch there. They do nice little hot food dishes between 12 and 2 and the staff are super lovely. I ended up having some pasta with mushrooms and spinach in a pesto sauce (and note, it was fully vegan for those who needed that sort of thing) and the staff also substituted some salad for cheese for me and an extra garlic bread portion - as I said, they were super nice. Hot fresh food and a lovely latte for around a tenner? Superb value, and knowing any proceeds go to help their efforts was even nicer. I adored the pictures of the cats and dogs on the wall (one looked like Brian the cat and was adorable) and it was such a nice vibe.

I headed down the road to Battersea Park railway station and got to the platform just as a train was coming in. Winning. Even more so as this would mean I'd avoid the football fans piling out of Crystal Palace v Liverpool with their 12.30 kick off, so that was very handy indeed as you can well imagine. I took the nice walk from West Croydon home and reflected with a cuppa on a lovely nice relaxing walk that really did surprise me for all the right reasons too.

Thursday 7th December - Postage and Packing

I had booked today off work primarily to sort out getting a lot of the Christmas presents I had purchased both wrapped and then sent in the post to various family and friends, and made sense to just give myself time to be able to do all of that. I did of course sort out a few things last night, so had the cards all ready, had the wrapping paper and gift tags to hand (actually got a really nice roll from Lidl of all places) and then it was just a case of making sure that I had everything ready to pack and sort.

I did have the wise move a couple of weeks ago in getting some padded envelopes that were large enough to fit a Christmas card and any gift card type presents, as well as anything else I may want to include that's small. The good thing is that the likes of Poundland or One Below sell these for a decent price, and so means that packing anything like that is more secure. I also had a larger than A4 sized one which I was going to use to send a couple of larger presents to one place, so I felt like a mini post office as I did all the print at home postage with Royal Mail - so much easier, I have to admit. And more so because I have a parcel postbox not far away so anything I send by the tracked 24 or 48 service can go in there easily.

I did venture out also to Beckenham this afternoon, so had fun fun fun on the Croydon tram tram tram (cue the classic song from Eccentronic which is tune of the day and well worth a listen if you get the time.) It was over to Beckenham Junction and then from there a small walk over to the town centre, and to head into a couple of shops. As it transpired the one I really wanted to go in, the book shop, did have some lovely cards also and I managed to get two plain ones with the sellophane wrap - as they are handy when I visit my departed loved ones at the cemetery at Christmas and leave a card there.

I did head back into the centre of Croydon and noted that the old former Allders department store was having a massive stone cleaning operation being done to the front of it, with cranes and all sorts of specialist stuff going on. Not sure why this is, unless the inside is being converted and cleaned up into some form of shopping once more (it was last some random clearance outlet.) With the likes of Deichmann returning recently and Foot Locker looking like it's opening, maybe the retail tide is slightly turning? We'll have to see, but notable especially as that location of Allders was known for an episode of Mr Bean being filmed inside.

With the last of the parcels packaged and send later in the day, it was time to head over to the Cronx Tap for a well earned drink - and what a nice surprise it was too. I had their Christmas spiced winter ale called Scarf Ritual, which was very nice. The staff even were giving away a posh mince pie (looked like a Sainsbury's Taste the Difference one judging by the box) which was appreciated and one of the customers said it went well together. They were right, it did, and it did make me feel nicely warm and festive inside too, so there is that at least. A nice way to wind down the day.

Sunday 3rd December - Sunday Roasters

It was off out today to meet up with some friends and to try somewhere different for Sunday lunch too, which had been recommended to us as a place to have a cracking Sunday roast. Of course that was right up our street, so we'd made the suitable arrangements and this would tie in nicely with being able to meet up prior to the football, and get back before it finished. With it being a 4.30pm kick off, and with no trains back to London, I did feel for the opposition fans having to take on a long coach journey to see their team. One day it won't be about the telly and all games will be played on a Saturday. If only.

All was well as we got on the tram and we did notice it was already starting to get busier, with some fans making their way to the ground. I did feel gutted I wasn't going myself, but of course having the incentive of friends and beer was also very nice too. We did take the walk from New Islington and past the marina and then over towards Cutting Room Square and onwards to the Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse where we met friends for a drink. They did have their chocolate honeycomb stout on so it just had to be done, and I have to say was very nice too!

We headed across the square where there was a nice festive market on, and later The Love would get a nice Christmas present from one of the stalls, and then over to Jane Eyre. It was quite a nice inviting place and we got shown to a nice table. They even have their own pale ale on, and as a session beer it was pretty decent it has to be said. We did all go for the roasts (most of the week it tends to be small plates - as their kitchen isn't massive) and they were bang on. The Love had the roast turkey and that was pretty ace, lots of meat too we both noted.

In fact that was the case for mine too - with the roast beef being pretty pink. Some wouldn't like it that way, but that, carrot, a carrot and swede diced creamy mix, stunning roasties, Yorkshire pudding, kale and gravy all went down the right way for me - and I even indulged myself later with a sticky toffee pudding with some clotted cream that tasted every single bit as nice as it sounds. I have to say it was totally gorgeous and well worth it, and we had a really nice time in there enjoying the food.

Naturally it was back over to Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse, where I did try out this Loam low alcohol lager with some lime (0.5% at that) which was decent, but if you want something similar, Fierce do a 0.5 version of their legendary Cerveza lime infused lager, which The Love and I can highly recommend. Later on it was their happy hour so that meant that their core beers, the Helles lager (which The Love likes) and the session pale (me) was a mere £4 a pint, can't argue with that can you really? And they were both gorgeous as ever.

The time went by far too quick and before long it was a walk back towards the tram and to say a fond farewell to our friends before they are heading to German markets next weekend (lucky them!) - and we all noted that the Christmas markets in Manchester were just overpriced food and drink, and in truth, not very good. I could hear roars passing the Etihad later, but not all of them that good - and it ended up a 3-3 draw between Manchester City and Tottenham, not ideal but there you go. Somehow, Don't Look Back in Anger by Oasis seems appropriate and that's tune of the day.

Saturday 2nd December - Plum Pudding Plundering

One thing I did want to do this weekend is head off and visit one of the JW Lees pubs around Manchester. Every year in December they bring out their Plum Pudding beer, which they call Christmas in a glass, and it's always been a staple of mine in the last few years to go and enjoy a drink of it, and get into the festive mood where possible. I do love the taste too, it's very smooth but definitely fuller bodied and has the taste of the plums in there, so definitely lives up to the name (master of understatement there) which is pretty good all round. Needless to say, we had plans.

After breakfast and indeed some quality time with Brian the cat, who was happy to sit watching the world from the window and see the rather much nicer patio outside The Love In My Heart's flat, then it was good to be able to head out later after The Love's sister had popped over for a coffee and a chatter. First stop was to see my Mum and see how she was, and had a coffee there and noted that it wasn't the warmest for some reason - but my brother had been fixing the central heating so all should be well.

We did note that Micky Dolenz (he from The Monkees) released a set of cover versions of R.E.M. songs as an EP last month on 7A Records, and one of them from that, the version of Shiny Happy People, was up on Youtube. It's a surprisingly nice rendition actually and tune of the day for me - and if the original band themselves have heard it and liked it, then there's no better recommendation than that to be honest. I also recommended something for her for the telly and that was nice to take on board, and we headed off for Heaton Moor later on.

It was to the Elizabethan and whilst in The Love's car, both my two Christmas rules were met: it was December, and Slade came over the radio with Noddy Holder proclaiming it is Christmas. So we're officially there now, sort of. Thankfully the Plum Pudding ale was in and so had a really nice relaxing pint of that and The Love had the Manchester Craft Lager along the way. It was just nice to enjoy the festive ale and noted that things had changed since a recent refurbishment, and I have to say not for the better - sadly.

Anyway, we got back later and The Love made her fantastic chicken casserole which was delicious, and we settled in to watch Strictly Come Dancing for the evening, with the Musicals Special being more of a preamble to the semi final due to the fact that Nigel Harman had to pull out due to a broken rib (which meant he was unable to continue, and his pro partner Katya Jones was gutted.) So it was the four left to do their routines and scores be carried over to next week - which means why bother showing a results show on Sunday - they could have extended Saturday's episode a bit, had Joss Stone on live and all was well. Meh.

Friday 1st December - Train of Pain

Another busy Friday of work saw me heading up to London Euston to get the train to Manchester Piccadilly and to spend an extended weekend with The Love In My Heart - primarily because on the Sunday, the trains are on strike on Avanti West Coast and as such I would not be able to head home. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing because I was going to be out with friends on Sunday anyway, as I wasn't able to get a ticket for the Manchester City game against Tottenham, which I am sure would be a good one to go to - and sort of glad now I'd spent time last week being up in Manchester for the Champions League tie instead.

So all seemed not so well when I arrived at Euston. At first I thought that trains were on time but a check of the arrivals showed that trains were late coming in which meant they would also be late leaving too. It didn't help where one bunch of school children and teachers were heading off a train at Platform 16 and decided to hog the whole top of the ramp despite the fact it was then advertised for a train to Liverpool from there - which meant they and all the posh waiting parents were all in the firing line of commuters and leisure travellers heading home. I had a view from the small waiting room between platforms 15 and 16 (which is always pretty quiet, escape the madness in there.)

Eventually it was announced my outgoing train was late (great) and just to add insult to injury when Avanti West Coast did announce it on platform 7, there was a train that had come into Platform 6 with everyone getting off. Not very well planned whatsoever and that meant more people having to basically battle queues of crowds to get on the platform. It's a shambles really and the only way I can see this being resolved is if trains were running on time but also a less tight turnaround - it used to be longer but I think that's the pressure of not otherwise being able to fulfil a timetable kicking in.

So I did get on and got my seat and the train did start around 25 minutes late, and that got worse as we hit Rugby, and then on the approach to Stone and Stoke on Trent that got slower, and seemed to be stuck behind a local stopping train once at Macclesfield and between there and Stockport was wading through proverbial treacle. I got to Manchester Piccadilly some 50 minutes late, so Delay Repay more than kicking in to be honest, but absolute shambles.

I was just glad that I had arranged to meet The Love In My Heart at the back of the station and so was able to get in her warm cosy car and head home, with her having Heart Christmas on in the car, and the first of many times I'd get to hear the dulcet tones of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime that weekend (still tune of the day because it's decent.) Little did I realise that the song would haunt me over the whole weekend mind you, but it was nice later to be warm and cosy and have Brian the cat being all snuggly as ever.