Dear Diary...

This is my diary. How things are. Or something. Please note that the diary is archived month by month, so feel free to click the links for the archives:

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Friday 25th September - Preparation

It did feel a little odd actually not heading to the office today, and indeed I wouldn't be heading up to Manchester tonight. Actually, The Love In My Heart is coming the other way for the first time in a very long while (remember folks: we are our own support bubble, so this is allowed under current guidance) which will at least mean that we should be able to have a nice time. Having also checked, the number of cases of the current thing are hardly any where I am, primarily this is due to a lot of home working, less commuting, and people being generally really sensible about what's happening.

I spent a fair bit of time today checking over the next daily synchronisation of one of our pieces of inventory software with a cloud based SaaS piece that we wanted to ensure was doing it right, now we had the revised connector. In fact, it was all going very well indeed, with the synchronisation happening once a day, when we wanted it to, and getting the data pull in at the right time. This should mean that we'll be able to add some of the other connectors in now, and know that it all works correctly without any issues, which is what we want.

I also did a bit of cleaning up around the flat after work - didn't have to do too much per se as I keep things tidy anyway, but did want to be sure all was well for tomorrow. Lots of cleaning products at the ready and indeed plenty of vacuuming and cleaning of floors in general, but I also noted that in fact as the windows had been cleaned from the outside, cleaning the insides would be good. It just always feels nicer when you get all the cleaning sorted in one go and you can then relax for the weekend knowing you've got it all sorted and be good to go. I even treated myself to a collection pizza from Domino's for tea..

I did later on have my food delivery tonight from Sainsburys, as I wanted some extra bits for when The Love arrives, but as a fair amount of that are drinks, then I didn't want to be lugging that around for obvious reasons. As it turned out the supposed work on the front of the block of flats didn't materialise, so it was a straightforward delivery, and all on time and everything I needed as well. In fact there was one substitution, but it was the same item anyway but a different brand, so not too meithered on that one. Always good when you have a friendly service too - other supermakets take note.

I also blasted out some Industrial tunes to get me in a good mood and to forget all the current goings on (which are rubbish, obviously). KMFDM's excellent compilation Rocks: Milestones Reloaded is a great take of remaking their own tracks or having them well remixed but keeping the spirit intact. The Victor Love remix of Krank does just that, giving it a massive bit of bass power with crunching guitars, and allowing Sascha Konietzko's vocals sounding a little more darker because of it. In fact on this compilation, Sascha himself remakes Sucks, a classic tune gone by (classic line: We don't like Michael Jackson, we hate Depeche Mode, which made people think the DM is KMFDM was Depeche Mode haha)

Not just that album as good as it is, but also some classic mid-era Cabaret Voltaire as well. Some of their 1980s output may have been more electronic and beat driven, but it really does pack a punch massively. The Covenant, The Sword and the Arm of the Lord album also has plenty of speech samples interspersed with its heavy beats and Stephen Mallinder vocals on fine form, very much beats and cut up sounds too. The final track on that album The Web is tune of the day and really does pound it out massively.

Thursday 24th September - Wombling Haircut

It was a pretty productive day in the work from home office today for me. I had to resolve an issue with regards to a software installation, which was relatively straightforward in that the user didn't have it, and was able to deploy it via MECM to their machine and indeed with minimal fuss, as ever. I think ultimately what it does show is that the service teams are more than willing to work with me and approach if they need something doing the right way, and that really does make me feel valued too. They're a good bunch of people, we have a good understanding, it works well.

I also did a bit of work with our inventory software vendor, and they had come up with a SQL query to get some information that we were after in a specific way for the purposes of a non-standard way of reporting that is needed. In fact I looked at the code and thought "actually, I could adapt this a bit" and managed to therefore get some other fields included relatively easily, based on that. It got me thinking, especially as I could output the query by doing a copy and paste into Excel, that it might be worth a bit of further testing.

On a positive note though, I've also been working with one of our other teams and it appears thus far we have working instances of pulling data through from one of our CRM pieces of software into the inventory side, after the vendor gave us a bug fix. Initially positive thus far and it shows that actually when you raise an issue, always have proof of what the cause actually is, suggest a resolution, and work with the vendor to make sure it works to the best of your ability. The fact that we've done that for two pieces is something I'm pretty proud of: how many others may benefit from that are yet to be seen.

Later on it was off on the tram and then tube to Wimbledon Park to see the folks in James Barbers for my haircut. They've been operating pretty well since coming back, all with visors on, and indeed using washable gowns for each customer (a large bag full of them at the end of the day is proof of that) and face coverings mandatory for everyone. For me, it's really reassuring they've done all measures, and as they're a good local business, I've supported them before the current situation and will continue to do so now - they're a great bunch of people and really friendly, lots of football chat ensued.

I arrived home later and had a good natter with The Love In My Heart before having some tea, and then settling in to relax with some old school computer game music. It's always interesting how much musicians had to attempt to replicate the arcade machine music, or in some cases, improve it. That was certainly the case when Rob Hubbard did his version of Commando for the Commodore 64 - doing the whole thing overnight, having the main theme along with the base and level complete tunes interspersed in there, and giving it some funky notes too - definitely tune of the day and one which has been remixed countless times..

Wednesday 23rd September - The New New Normal

So it was working from home today, and after the announcements yesterday by Government, and indeed by my employers, that is going to remain a pretty default position for a fair while now. I'm still inclined to think that in the long term, people will want to have a balance, but not entirely 100% working from home, sort of a half and half. Because actually, meeting people and having conversations face to face is actually a really rewarding thing to help get things done - it is not the same when you are in a meeting virtually, believe me on that. So with that in mind, I formulated a plan in my head.

Effectively, the company I work for has one office open and after yesterday they've decided that numbers may need further limiting in some way. They have really made every step to have it all as good as possible: everything sanitised to the nth degree, one way systems around the floor, and desks all more than two metres apart where you sit, with face coverings now required when moving between desks (only take them off at your desk). It's somewhat ironic that where employers have done that and made things as safe as possible that all the money they've spent in getting people back safely could potentially be money down the drain.

That said though, we're keeping that one going and my plan is to do a once a week visit at least - because I can then do plenty of testing with kit that you can't really do when you're at home. You can't PXE boot for one, or test out functionality on a piece of test kit where you want the full network access and not just VPN, but also be able to effectively have physical stuff for other testing is very useful. I must admit I feel like I've got a lot done in the last month or two since I've been able to visit, that's for sure.

I did also keep an eye on a few sessions at Microsoft Ignite yesterday - one of which I did find interesting was the pushing onwards of the new Chromium based Edge. As of the Autumn 2020 large update (20H2) it'll be a part of the OS and therefore patched with OS updates, and also finally getting rid of the old and rubbish version. I do wish though they would put an end to having Bing everywhere with it, which is rubbish. Microsoft only have to look at the negative feedback they had when they planned to include Bing search by default as part of Office, and had to withdraw that plan. On the other hand at least they were listening to their users.

But a fun sort of nerdy tale to end the day. When I was younger, one of the arcades I used to visit had a four player Daytona USA arcade machine, which was awesome if you had lots of mates to race against. The iconic soundtrack of "Daytonnnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Let's go away!" (etc) was one that always caught the ear, and a few years ago, Sega actually got the man who composed the soundtrack and sang the vocals, Takenobu Mitsuyoshi, to do a singalong and belt it out. Needless to say, almost twenty years on, being able to still belt it out properly, kudos to him and tune of the day of course. This one. Let's go away!

Tuesday 22nd September - Ignite The Office

It was off to the office today to run though a planned change and ensure that the updated WIM (Windows Image) of Windows 10 was added to the build task sequence in MECM, and run through a couple of builds to ensure that all was well and that it worked fine. Even though I had road tested the whole thing when last in the office, it's always good to do a final run through when doing the change itself in order to make sure that you have actually done all you said that you were going to do - keeping your promises, so to speak. Paul Weller's version of Don't Make Promises, originally by Tim Hardin, is so apt here, so tune of the day.

With all that sorted out and all good to go, I then checked over the update compliance. Unbelievably in the first day, I'd gone over 50% easily without any issues and bearing in mind that also meant that users were all restarting their machines when asked to do so (which sometimes is ignored) so felt pretty good about that. I think because it's been on the whole a lot more of a reliable process now, and I'm weeding out any issues as I see them beforehand, it has meant that it's a pretty good level of take up, not least when people are taking annual leave at the moment and obviously not everyone is around for other reasons, based on a world clock and being a worldwide sort of place to work for.

Ultimately, this allowed me the time this afternoon to settle into some video sessions as part of the all online and digital version of Microsoft Ignite, which normally is one big three day event at this time of year where all nice things Microsoft are not just announced, but also put into some perspective with new innovations. Interestingly, due to the current situation, a fair amount of focus has been placed onto Teams and how that's been really helping people get together. As someone who does suffer that meeting fatigue with the grid view (I really hate it in all meeting applications) the together mode really does help.

One thing of note also when they had someone speaking about the new working environment and how that works for online users is how often the isolation and the lack of meeting people face to face really does affect mental health. Interestingly Microsoft have partnered with some wellness companies to work on that side, as definitely for me I do work better when I've got people to chat to face to face, have a more human conversation and basically work together to get things done - as I did today. It's good that this side of the downside of working from home is being noticed: as well as the need to switch off and not overdo the working hours just because you're at home. Admittedly, I've got myself into routines now to avoid doing that.

It was a relatively busy train home tonight which did make me wonder just how many of us were now back at work, or choosing a good day to be in and then heading homewards at similar times. No doubt too that with the Prime Minister's announcement later on, it's going to be a long Winter but one we need to take on together, and work hard to eliminate as much spread of the thing as possible in order to be as healthy as we can. This does mean no idiots panic buying (remember: supermarkets will always be open so no need to) and isolating if they have to so that they don't pass anything on. This shouldn't be hard, or at least wouldn't be if the guidance wasn't so stupidly bad from this Government.

Monday 21st September - Brian and the Basket

It was a sad farewell to The Love In My Heart earlier in the day as she was heading off to work, and after me working from home today, I'd be heading back homewards, albeit a day later due to the signalling issues at Cheadle Hulme, which have at least been resolved now which should mean a safe and speedy trip home later. This did of course mean with my work laptop in tow that I could at least work from home at The Love's place today, and indeed be able to get through the day without too many issues, and to have company for Brian the cat during the day.

Not that of course Brian was that bothered. After I'd had my online meeting with friends, The Love had put our picnic basket back on top of one of the chests of drawers in the spare room. So what does Brian the cat decide to do? Not just jump on to it but lie on the basket itself and just stay there virtually the whole day and just have a snooze. It's alright for some, I thought to myself, and the only time he moved up to lunch time was when I gave him a few Dreamies - one shake of the bag was enough for him to have some Dreamies, and then head back to the basket for further dozing. I wonder if this is what he's been doing for a while now only if The Love is at work, she wouldn't know?

The work day at least was productive, and I got the September batch of updates out to the masses, to hopefully get even more takeup than last month, and so was monitoring that to ensure that we had a good level of compliance. Certainly now with the Cloud Management Gateway side in place, it's really made a difference not just to get the update metadata needed (as to which updates to serve) but also for clients to get them from Microsoft, but under our control, makes a massive difference. It does also mean that in effect we're lightening the load internally too, so pretty epic win there.

Later on in the day Sammy the squirrel (The Love decided on that name some time ago, incidentally) decided to pop on to the decking to see what was going on and was heading to the planters looking for some acorns (none there of course) - Brian was on it and was watching every move being made before Sammy decided to head into the trees and hide away. Not that Brian wasn't keeping his eyes focussed of course and was only distracted once I was feeding him his tuna and prawn Sheba along with some Dreamies for his tea, and he had a stroke and a cuddle from me before setting off. Cool For Cats by Squeeze was in my head all day, so obviously tune of the day for that reason.

It was on the tram to Piccadilly station, and on the 1815 train back down South. One really nice bloke asked if he could sit opposite me on a table (we were distanced, so all good) but also if I minded him taking his face covering off whilst eating. I was fine with that (after all, how else would that work) but the fact he was kind enough to ask really did make me feel rather humbled that there's still really good people in the world. He almost forgot his case when he got off so I shouted for him to get it, and he got it, and waved to me to say a final thank you when he got off. Very heartening that to be honest, and made me feel a bit less worried about the world for a while.

Sunday 20th September - Mamucium Magic

The Love In My Heart and I were off out for the Sunday, and as it turned out, I would have to be staying until Monday due to the fact that the trains were still at the moment not fully active due to the signalling issues. In fact Avanti went on record to say I could use my ticket on the Monday if I wanted, so I thought that'd be better because it would mean not carrying my weekend case around the city centre with me to then get to the train station later for the train home. That was one piece of good news ish, as we got ourselves up, had a light breakfast, showered and got ready.

The Love did look gorgeous in her blue dress and nice heels, and I had my new shoes on together with a nice Fred Perry shirt and some jeans, casual but smart, and I must admit being able to have such a beautiful woman with me just shows me how lucky I really am - something that I know every day. We headed to the tram stop and on to the tram into the city centre, passing through Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter and noticing that what was the Marble bar there is now a place called Fierce Beer, might have to check that out later on.

We headed to near Victoria station (Manchester Victoria that is) and were at the Hotel Indigo for their Mamucium bar, where we were meeting, at a social distance, two friends for lunch. The table was laid out so that The Love and I were at one end, and our friends at the other, so able to talk but keep that sensible distance apart. It made all good sense and indeed the Sunday roast sharing boards, with the roast beef, roast potatoes, carrot and swede mash, plenty of vegetables and gravy, were just the thing - all very nice and all very lovely food, it had to be said.

Even more impressive was that they had bottles of the Bowland Brewery beer - I had the gorgeous Pheasant Plucker first of all which was quite a good dark amber ale, and really tasty, followed with my sticky toffee pudding and the rather spot on Deer Stalker, which was a chocolate stout and absolutely full of flavour, well worth a recommendation methinks. It was just gorgeous, as was the fact that we were able to have plenty of chat about all sorts and catch up a fair bit. In fact plenty of decent tunes on in the background too, which reminded me of being at the Arena up the road and seeing Nine Inch Nails there, so Hurt is tune of the day - still awesome ages ago when a friend and I saw that.

Later on was off to Fierce Beer's bar on Thomas Street. The staff were lovely and had ensured the outside tables had been sanitised before sitting down, and indeed insisting on ensuring everyone had provided them with track and trace details - spot on too. One of the staff recommended a couple of good beers, and I went for the Mouse Mousse stout - very nice and also very rich, so definitely one not to have too many of. I did try the Pilsner later which The Love also liked, and then the very raspberry pale ale called Cranachan Killer - totally lovely too. The time flew by and the weather stayed dry, it was all lovely really.

Saturday 19th September - Chatting Commodore

The Love In My Heart and I both had had long weeks at work and so a well deserved lie in was more than welcome. Well, apart from Brian the cat wanting to wake Mummy up because he wanted to play outside on the decking of course. He now as a matter of habit lies on the bed next to Mummy and just wants plenty of fuss and cuddles along the way. I do think as he is getting older he does want more of a fuss and a love, and I think too that he's realised that it's a good thing if he gets twice the fussing!

After a nice breakfast and a bit of James Martin on the telly, The Love headed out to see one of her relations and I waited at home with Brian the cat (thereby keeping to the households rule incidentally) and as Brian was sat on the pouffle, a bit of playing ball was definitely on! In fact, he was quite happy to bounce the ball around whilst I was seeing some classic arcade game footage on Youtube, including the original version of Puzznic from the arcades, and Brian was just happy to look outside the window for one of the tabby cats to stare at.

Later when The Love returned, we headed off to West Didsbury and to Wine and Wallop for a well earned drink together. They've put all the correct precautions in place, you sign in for track and trace, and it's table service only with staff having suitable protections also. In fact, I had the Mill Town ale whilst there and that was very dark and delicious whilst The Love indulged herself with the Camden Hells lager as well, and why not. It was really reassuring to relax and chatter and know that all the measures taken have been rightly done. In fact, I've avoided any pub or bar that doesn't have measures in place now, I want to have a nice ale but enjoy my health too, you know?

The Love made a gorgeous bolognaise with some tagliatelle pasta, which worked a treat. In fact the 2017 live film version of Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson was on, which we watched a while ago on Blu-Ray and was quite good. In fact, I have to say also that Luke Evans as Gaston was also pretty good too. Naturally it has some of the classic songs from the animated version such as Be Our Guest too. The Love watched the rest of it and then the rest of the Strike series whilst I had the laptop set up in the spare room ready to chat with my friends online.

In fact it proved to be a rather good occasion, as our little Commodore 64 demo group we'd sort of formed during this period had the premiere of the first release we did, Monotrona Mansion. It has a track by myself which is a version of the Maniac Mansion game theme by Chris Grigg and David Lawrence (make that tune of the day) and it's nice to see it all come together. In fact it was enjoyable to see how my friend had put some nice effects such as the eyes blinking as the scroll text goes, and the odd sound effects that play in the tune (and yes, I mirrored the original!) had a nice flashing border too. Definitely made for a good topic of chatter during the evening too.

Friday 18th September - Cheadle Hulme Conundrum

Whilst heading to the office this morning, I thought I would quickly check on the trains to see if they were going to be running okay heading up to Manchester tonight. The short answer was no, and the long answer was all down due to some signalling issues at Cheadle Hulme, which is just south of Stockport. What makes this more difficult is this is where the line from Stockport splits - one way to Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent, the other to Wilmslow and Crewe, eventually rejoining not far from Colwich and onwards to London. However, although you could avoid that junction out of Wilmslow by going via Styal and the Airport line and go that way, capacity on there is pretty busy.

So it meant ultimately one train per hour instead of three from London to Manchester in both directions, meaning that social distancing might prove difficult, and indeed that there may also be delays in getting through that tricky area of Cheadle Hulme as the train would need to head much slower through there. I'd accepted I was going to be late but checked in with Avanti and got a seat reservation on a train that would be running, with the view that I could see if I was able to get that seat (and be safe) and take it from there.

Later in the day Avanti did the sensible thing really and suggested that you could use your ticket at any time between the Friday and Monday, or if you wanted to cancel entirely, you'd get a refund. Why they didn't suggest that initially is anyone's guess, it would have stopped more going to Euston I suspect. Anyway, I was working well through the day and testing out the revised Windows 10 WIM image and checking it all played ball well (which it did) so was ready for later on to see what would happen.

Euston wasn't as busy as I thought, primarily because only the line up to Manchester was affected: if you could go to Liverpool, Crewe or Birmingham you didn't have any issues anyway. Ticket acceptance was also being helpful, but still, I managed to get on the train I had revised a seat reservation on, and got my seat, with no one sat next to me and social distancing at least being in operation, so wasn't too bad. Of course, yes, there were considerable delays between Macclesfield and Stockport as expected, but at least it all did run - and just took some time.

It was such a relief to get up to Manchester and to see The Love In My Heart, we got back and Brian the cat was wanting lots of fuss and attention (he even had a stroke and cuddles from me, aww) and then we settled in to watch Gogglebox on Channel 4 +1, which as usual was really good. I did like it when Mary and Marina were talking about various toys for pleasure and it made me giggle, but also it was noticeable that the Siddiquis were at their Dad's place again, and in the meantime, the theme tune (In A Perfect World by Kodaline) is tune of the day - if only the world could be so perfect.

Thursday 17th September - Another Drop In The Ocean

Following on from yesterday's delving into the old ways I used to do listing POKEs for games, it got me thinking about one popular theme amongst many gamers, particularly those of us on the Commodore 64: the Ocean Loader themes. They were synonymous with waiting for the cassette version of games to load, but at least that and seeing the loading screen do its thing was at least something to make the time seem a little less and have something for you to enjoy during that time.

Of course, over time, there ended up being five main Ocean loading themes: the first two being by Martin Galway, with the second a mainly slowed down version of the first one along with some other differences, such as the no-delay in the middle section (it sounds more like phasing in the first one which led a fair number of us to think it was weirdly out of sync) - and then in mid-1987 that changed to be a third version by Peter Clarke, lulling you into a false sense of security to be like the first two for a few seconds, then heading off into its own wonderful thing.

In early 1988 it changed around again and had the fourth main theme, this time by Jonathan Dunn - that lasted around a year until a very slightly remixed one (mainly the odd sounding intro part) became version five, which was pretty much used until late 1990 - and after that, no more loading music - bit of a shame really as it was always entertaining to have a good listen and it made the games more fun to be patient to load. However, what of course was always interesting that there were other games from the Ocean / Imagine labels that had their own loading theme too.

A prime example of this where the title theme was also used as the loading theme were both the surreal Mutants by Fred Gray (I adore that one so tune of the day all day for me) , and the superlative film licence of Platoon which had a great Jonathan Dunn main theme. Rambo: First Blood Part II had the opening part by Martin Galway that spelt out all of those involved in the game in Morse code beeps (yes, really) and Green Beret had its very sombre moody loading theme too which was more akin to a film decrying war rather than going to one when you played the arcade, if you know what I mean.

There's more in what I found too: the first Ocean-composed loading theme was that by Martin Galway for Daley Thompson's Decathlon: effectively a version of Rydeen by Yellow Magic Orchestra, and a couple of games around that time of 1984 also used the standard Novaload piece (itself a version of a song from the Pirates of Penzance musical) by Paul Woakes. Moving further along, Daley Thompson's Olympic Challenge had a unique loading piece by Jonathan Dunn, but some versions with the "see you at the PC Show" text before the loading screen actually bug out the music so you can't hear one channel. Nonetheless, some great pieces of nostalgia to be had right there.

Wednesday 16th September - POKE-ing Around

I had a busy day working today, even if it was from home. It was mainly due to a couple of meetings I had in the afternoon with regards to the inventory software we use, and how we could potentially look at extending with a customised report that would need some SQL back end wizardry, but also a case of how we'd be able to utilise the existing databases and the custom fields we added within to make it all work. In theory there's some good ground work there, and thankfully one of the technical people at the other end was agreeing with my approach, which did make me feel better.

I did some old school digging out later and managed to locate one of the Commodore 64 disks I had backed up, and this had a master listing to one of the old multi hacks I used to do, this one was for a number of games by Ocean and Imagine that used Paul Hughes' excellent Freeload loading system around 1988 and 1989 and onwards. In theory, the loader system was well programmed to be reliable and effective, and did stop people using some of the earlier freezer cartridges to take a peek at the game when it was loading to try and get some clues into how the loader worked.

Unfortunately, when the master listing and data lines were printed in Zzap! 64, the editor of the tips section at time (who wasn't as meticulous as Robin Hogg was) mis printed one of the key lines in the listing, so it would never work - adding an extra 1 to the count of the number of bytes to read to make it up to 4111 instead of 411. As a result, I re-tested it with the correct data on a few Ocean games I have around that era, and the good news was that my original listing with its correct data line did work - always a relief that to be perfectly honest.

I did also manage to locate a listing POKE I wrote ten years after the game's initial release - that was for Imagine's conversion of the Slap Fight arcade machine. It was a good game and having played it in an arcade a few months back, I knew how hard it was. The Commodore 64 version was a good conversion but pretty tough, so what I wrote actually didn't just give you infinite lives (as you may need to repeat sections again) but also invulnerability, so no ships or bullets could kill you, making the game obviously a lot easier but allowed you to at least play through it.

As much as Zzap! 64 disliked the in-game music by Martin Galway (which to be fair is the same as the arcade version!) - they did mention i their review that they liked the loading music a lot. What they may not have realised is that it was actually by Peter Clarke, lulling you into thinking it was a remake of the first two Ocean Loader themes before going off and doing its own melodic thing rather brilliantly - and vastly under-rated in my view. So tune of the day for me, no question.

Tuesday 15th September - Pilgrimage of Pizza

It was off to the office today and to test out some amendments to the Windows 10 build task sequence via MECM which I had tested and was making the change live today. I always make sure when doing a live change that I re-test the same steps I did when doing an initial test task sequence, so schedule the change for when I am in the office and able to do a full test. In fact, it worked very well and so was able to get a couple of run throughs with different scenarios selected, and all working well too which definitely was good.

After work, I had decided that as they were still doing a half price offer on food for this month, similar(ish) to the Eat Out to Help Out thing last month, and I had passed it a few times on the way to Victoria Station, it was off to Pizza Pilgrims which is on the road not far from the station. They had advertised on the website the newer offer and because I had gone straight from work, I had more chance of getting a table and having a nice meal out for tea rather than have to head home and then cook something.

The staff were really nice and friendly - notably Matt who was front of house and running a tight ship generally, and spotted I was from up North (he was from Bolton himself) so that was good to see he'd noted it too. It was all very good too - contact details taken for walk-ins so they have full track and trace compliance (obviously if you book they have details already) and all the tables cleaned and sanitised, and with the bill, a bottle of hand sanitiser so you can clean your hands after using the card machine, as it was card only payment. All good all round though.

I went for the Italian sausage and brocoletti pizza, little pieces of broccoli and Italian sausage with a white sauce base, and quite different, but really really nice. I also had a pint of Birra Moretti too - I was going to go for the zero version to try that being a low alcohol version, but they were out of stock of that so went for the normal. It did work well with the pizza, and it was indeed reminiscent of many pizzerias in Naples too - a properly nice dough, and really crispy underneath. Toppings on all the pizzas I saw were plentiful, and they did take out if you wanted to as well. A great experience all round, and I'd definitely go again for sure.

Later on after a good chatter with The Love In My Heart, I had a good listen to some more of the music I had purchased over the weekend, and went for the 12" single of Happy by Ned's Atomic Dustbin. Side B has the other three tracks which includes their excellent "Aim" performed live at the Wolverhampton Civic. Make that tune of the day especially with Jon's nod to Ice Ice Baby and then changing the later line of "Manchester, so much to answer for" to "Manchester, can you hear me?" with the crowd going mental, probably pogoing and stage diving a plenty. Ah, memories.

Monday 14th September - Pillow Talk

This afternoon there was a two hour video which was effectively a mandatory event - a conference filmed at one of our offices and you could interact with it using the Slido app if you wanted to. I think that bearing in mind that a get everyone together type conference won't be happening for the immediate future (too much of a risk in the current climate, and given the circumstances we now know, maybe we shouldn't have had the one in January in person either?) - so was a case of to sit down, watch and take notes.

On the whole it did work well, and certainly having the input of an external person we're working with at the moment to undertake some training did work well - certainly more thought provoking and for me definitely a sign that our welfare but also our thoughts were being taken into consideration. We want to be a more conscious company in what we do, but to do that we need to be able to recognise where we may not be doing so well and look at initiating a change, in thoughts, the way we look at people and so on. I for one admire this: it's good to actually feel like something is being done, and not a token gesture to tick boxes.

I had nipped out to Argos earlier in the day, as I realised that the pillows on my bed just were not comfortable anymore and hurting my neck when I go to sleep (and not sleeping well as a result). I also remembered I had a gift card, one of those One4All ones, which I could use in Argos, so made sense to plan to get four new pillows from there and use the gift card towards it. In fact, the queue management was very good - only a small queue but limited numbers. In fact the big queue was next door for the school uniform shop - by all accounts people were waiting up to two hours to go in and get some stock!

Anyway, the staff in Argos were brilliant, I have to say. Two were checking the queue and ensuring those on click and collect could get to where they needed to, you were shown to a touch screen to do the order, which was cleaned after every single customer (fair play). All the staff at the tills and the collection points were really good too, and processed my gift card and the rest in cash with no fuss. I have to say that they took everything seriously and were being uber-careful, and I felt very safe shopping in there. So well done to them, and my new pillows were on their way home with me. In fact, the the ones I got were the bounceback ones and quite firm too, so that should support the neck better.

Later on I played some of the vinyl singles I had got over the weekend. It was quite interesting to note how different the 12" of Fooled By A Smile by Swing Out Sister was, and especially with the intro and outro parts - nice almost soundtrack like nod, and tune of the day because of that. I also played the Forbidden Colours 12 inch too and it reminded me of course of seeing Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence the film when I was younger. Class act that Ryuichi Sakamoto is of course, being in Yellow Magic Orchestra and all that.

Sunday 13th September - Deer in Dunham Massey

The Love In My Heart and I were up at a reasonable time, still having had a lie in, to have some nice breakfast before we were going to head out for a walk later on. We had realised that if you want to go anywhere National Trust these days, even if you are a member, you need to be able to book in advance so you can go. With that in mind, we had decided to go to Dunham Massey near Altrincham and get a decent booking time to be able to mooch round there (and hopefully see some deer too) - and then have a nice lunch at the Axe and Cleaver not far away a bit later on.

The Love and I got ourselves ready and soon were setting off in the direction of Princess Parkway and the M56, and before long turning off the roundabouts to take us to the A56 and back towards Altrincham. Even from the turn off there were clear signs that you needed to book in advance before going to Dunham Massey, and all along the road towards the place, plenty more signs, so for me obvious, you had to book. We got to the car park, showed our e-tickets and all was good. Not so for the two cars in front who had to turn round a little exit road and exit, as they had not booked in advance. I wonder how many signs they had missed on the road there - it wasn't that hard to see!

The Love and I checked in and we were soon heading around the gardens, all on a nice one way system which worked well and allowed us to admire the rose gardens before heading towards the pond at the back of the house, crossing by the little bridge and noticing a number of families picnicing on the lawn, which was nice to see. We decided after a nice walk around the gardens to follow one path that takes you up towards the deer park, and we spotted a deer all relaxed and happy sat down in some shade near a tree.

As we walked further down one of the paths, we did spot several little deer running across the path and onwards to the more wilder part of the deer park, their antlers just about showing as they headed through as a group. It was really nice to see and gave us both a sense of the nice side of wildlife being there. We had a good walk around there and The Love spotted someone who she knew, so was good to have a little chat and it all seemed good on that side. Always nice when that happens for her to be honest, and we had a good look around the shop and heading off to the Axe and Cleaver for lunch.

Sadly, all the outside tables were taken (when you book, you can't specify - maybe I should have added it to the comments bit?) - but in any case, we got a nice table inside, they had nice beer, and we both had a Sunday roast - The Love had the pork with an extra side of cauliflower cheese, and I went for the trio of roasts, which proved to be rather good too. It was nice just having a relaxed Sunday together and certainly I didn't want to go home later, listening to "I Won" by The Sundays (tune of the day) on the way back thinking about how I had won, being such a lucky person to be with such a wonderful woman.

Saturday 12th September - The Sound of the Vinyl Suburbs

The Love In My Heart and I had two very different days planned today. The Love was seeing a friend who she had not seen for a while to have coffee, cake and a good catch up together, which had been planned for a while but had to be put off because of the current situation. In the meantime I'd thought it would be handy to head out of town and indeed along to a few record shops not in the city centre, by using the Metrolink tram service to get there and have a mooch around. I did some research as to where to go.

And having checked the trams in the morning, I knew I needed to take a different route but this meant another record shop to visit, as the trams to Rochdale were subject to engineering works. So, first stop instead was after getting to Manchester city centre, off to Bury, and to the excellent Wax and Beans opposite Bury Met. It was a really nice layout, the front had all the tables with cushions printed with album covers on, and having had a coffee, I can tell you it was really good and very fairly priced. They did simple hot food too, and they had racks of both new and second hand vinyl. I'll definitely have to come back here as the staff were also very friendly and keen always to have a chatter to the customers about the vinyl they liked.

It was then off on the tram out of Bury and heading towards Prestwich and to Beatin' Rhythm, not far from the Longfield Centre and in a shared little unit. You buzzed to get in, and the first floor little shop was a real heaven for those of you into Northern Soul - plenty of bona fide classics from that era, and a good array of other singles of soul, disco and the likes as well as an array of various pop 7" singles too. Definitely had a really good vibe about the place and if the likes of Wigan Casino mean anything to you, a visit here is well worth it.

It was then off into the centre of Manchester and changing trams and heading off to Stretford for the final and best stop of the day, Reel Around The Fountain (named after a Smiths song, so tune of the day for that reason). Their selection was very large, with plenty of 7" singles, 12" singles for a quid, and a good array of stock, even cassette singles by Inspiral Carpets if they were your thing. Obviously, as Morrissey used to live in Kings Road not far from the centre of Stretford, any Smiths and Morrissey stuff did command higher than normal values, but the selection was cracking.

In fact, I did get a number of 12" singles here for not that much money either - two Swing Out Sister early singles (Twilight World and Fooled By A Smile, adding to my Breakout 12" from that era), the superb Forbidden Colours by David Sylvian and Ryiuichi Sakamoto (his name is spelt incorrectly on the single cover), Happy by Ned's Atomic Dustbin, and Let's Go Round There by The Darling Buds - I wasn't sure if I had the latter, but thought why the hell not for the cheap price and the vinyl in excellent condition. In fact I remembered later, I had the etched 12" and not the standard one, so good to have both!

It was a very productive day of shopping, and later on as I fed Brian the cat his tea, he purred contently and waited at the window for his Mummy to come back, who had a lovely time too. We had some very nice chicken and leek gratin for tea, with some vegetables and kicked back later on to see some of the documentary about Fergie and Princess Diana that The Love enjoyed, and before that we had also been watching the excellent Tuscan Grand Prix qualiying from Mugello, that looked every bit a superb circuit as it is for MotoGP.

Friday 11th September - Coffee and Cats

It was off to the office today as a good bit of testing was needed to be done (and I had planned my week around some testing time too, so was being sensible) and it was a case of being able to get up early enough to get the train to Victoria, followed by the bus to Piccadilly Circus and to the office, via a quick stop to get some breakfast. The one thing I do miss about the office these days is that you cannot get your coffee from a machine on site, you have to venture out to get one, a bit frustrating at times but I can understand this is for safety reasons of course.

In fact, after some initial and constructive testing, I realised I had plenty of points on my Costa Coffee app, so used them to treat myself to a mid-morning coffee, and indeed a posh one at that as I got myself a honeycomb latte, and with some extra honeycomb sprinkles on top. Admittedly, a bit indulgent I know, but it is a Friday and I had been working hard, so why not. In fact later in the day I signed up to the Pret subscription thing where you get a QR code sent to your Google or Apple Pay account, and can use it for up to five visits for a coffee - it's £20 per month but the first month is free, so will see if that works out better over time.

It was also good that I was able to see the final stages of one of the new parts of the building being readied for next week - they've been transforming a meeting room into something different and actually meant that effectively we could produce a lot of our own content on site, and some final touches going on today, so this did mean some background noise, but also they were testing some audio levels by playing some jazz. Niiiice. Grrrrrrreat. Where's Louis Balfour when you need him?

It was off to Euston later on and to get the train up to Manchester to see The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat, who of course wanted his usual amount of fussing, treats and so on. In fact he decided that he wanted to sit next to Mummy on the side of the sofa where The Love normally sits, and insist on some tummy tickles along the way at the same time. It made me giggle, but I did have to wonder just how pampered Brian is (answer: a lot) - and he definitely was purring in approval every time he did get a tummy tickle.

We did watch Gogglebox on Channel 4 +1 later on, and noticeable to see some new families present as well as some of the favourites, not sure about Ellie's hair though, a bit too vibrant methinks. The Love's favourites Jenny and Lee were back, and it seemed that a few changes were in the works (the Siddiquis were now at the father Sid's house) too. We did later watch a bit of BBC Four seeing Motown at the BBC, which did have the excellent Night Shift by the Commodores, their biggest hit post-Lionel Richie, and definitely tune of the day - one we both loved back in the 80s and a cracking track too.

Thursday 10th September - Recycling Road Trip

It was high time I thought to myself that I needed to look at recycling some clothes I don't wear anymore, freeing up wardrobe space and effectively meaning that I could do my thing for charity at the same time. In fact, I knew I needed to do this when I bought myself a nice new Jack Wolfskin short sleeved shirt recently - that the wardrobe was tight for space and that wasn't so good. It made sense though to check through the wardrobe and chest of drawers and effectively plan a trip to get rid of a fair few bits of stuff.

So once I had finished work, and indeed had ordered myself some new Fred Perry mid-height shoes from M and M direct that were cheaper than the pair I'd planned to get (also Fred Perry ones incidentally) it was therefore time to check the shoe boxes, work out which boxes had old shoes in that weren't wearable and get rid of those - it turned out three pairs, and three boxes, leaving me still with four pairs in all - my Clarks shoes I tend to wear during the week, and then a pair each of Vans, Ted Baker and Fred Perry cavnas ones for more leisurely weekends (the latter though I might also sell on eBay as they pinch a bit), plus my Regatta walking boots for when I take on the likes of the London Loop too, so more than enough really.

I then checked through the wardrobe and made some decisions as to which shirts to get rid of, and it was mainly ones either of a smaller size that didn't fit, or ones I've not worn for some time - so no point in still having them in my view. I also checked the chest of drawers and was ruthless here too, and another three jumpers went into the bag as well. I had already recycled the cardboard shoe boxes and other bits of cardboard in my paper recycling locally, and so with a bin bag pretty full of clothes, it was a case of checking where I could do so and taking it there.

As it turned out, the Tesco in Purley had a number of textiles recycling bins I could use, and that made it easier - plenty of buses from my place to there, and I could also get some food shopping at the same time and use the Hopper fare to make it just one cost of bus journey (£1.50) there and back. The bins were all labelled as going to the Salvation Army, so thoroughly approve of that - if the old clothes I have can be given to someone else to help them get back on their feet, I'm all for it. The jumpers might come handy for the winter too, and that definitely is one which I thought about when packing the recycling.

After that it was into Tesco to stock up with some food for next week, mainly lunch and also some things to have for an evening meal, with the plan being to stay inside for most of the week before I head up to Manchester again, and thus minimise things to a degree. The good thing was I got all I needed, and then headed home on the bus. As I had been chatting with some of my Commodore 64 owning friends about the excellent Reyn Ouwehand CD Nexus 6581 and in particular the medley of oriental game tracks that is Asian Legends, I have to make that tune of the day - still brilliant in every way possible.

Wednesday 9th September - The Joy of The VLookup Six

It was a good opportunity today to effectively get a fair few things done in terms of work and workload, and look at aligning some spreadsheets together with a goal of working out what assets had definitely been returned based on those records which aren't in the Human Resource system any more. In effect, I knew who the members of staff were, and I knew what machines were associated. I also knew that a fair number of them had been rebuilt, so if they had been, we would know they woul be on site too. Collating all of that information wasn't too bad, and it meant much more accurate figures of what was needed to be done.

I must admit this is when certain bits of lookup functionality (vlookup being one of them) really does pay dividends, especially if you remember that using the false parameter at the end is for an exact match only, and that does matter - particularly for example if you are matching a number that you want to be unique (for example it may be a unique identifier for the record for the staff member etc) - and so you can effectively work out exactly what is where. I must also admit that it does help considerably that the data we receive from certain systems is pretty spot on to start with, so that does help.

I did have one eye on the recent press conference to do with the current situation later on, and it was clear even from the leaks to the press and online the night before which way this was going to go - and effectively one way - a more restricted one. So as from Monday next week, no more than six people can meet up indoors or outdoors, so you may have to choose your friends carefully. And in addition that's for the rest of the country not already under certain restrictions as Manchester is - where you cannot visit another household or be out with another household in a pub or restaurant either.

It was always a concern of mine that when restrictions were relaxed and as people ventured out for some form of normality (whatever that might be) that ultimately people would forget some of the basics of social distancing, and forgetting to do so. That of course increases potentially risk, and so it's a similar move that what happened in Belgium, where they acted pretty quickly to get the rate of infection down by implementing the same sort of thing. It does make sense, but nonetheless you can see some just having it down as an inconvenience, not realising the bigger picture.

So what now? For me, at the moment nothing changes per se. The Love In My Heart and I are our own support bubble anyway so we can see each other as we do currently, but we know that we do have to book more places if we head out over the weekend - so for example we've already booked for somewhere to go for a walk on the Sunday and indeed for Sunday lunch, because otherwise it wouldn't happen. And on top of that we're thinking already about booking places for when there may be a visit to me at some point in the future. In the meantime, tune of the day is the ace Everything's Cool? by Pop Will Eat Itself, still to this day a track I will happily bound around to when played.

Tuesday 8th September - Upgrade Time

It was off to the office today and it was always nice to have a proper full speed gigabit connection on the desktop to be able to be more efficient in the work that I do of course, but also was noticeable that the office definitely had more people in on a Tuesday than previous weeks. This did mirror what happened on the train this morning where it definitely felt busier, although the tube up towards Piccadilly Circus from Embankment did seem still a little quieter. I think though also based on my lunchtime stroll out that there were a number of businesses sending people back to work this week, which ties in with schools.

The main thing I was doing today was to perform the Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MECM or MEMCM depending on preference) upgrade to version 2006, the most recent release and one which definitely has further functionality improvements. We took advantage of the token based authentication for the cloud management gateway which has seen a new record of numbers of clients showing online at any one time later today, and there's further possible detection of when a user is on a VPN when on a new client, so they can be directed to cloud based distribution mechanisms and keep the load off the VPN also (just using management point contacts)

I had a backup performed by our colleagues, and it was the usual case of running the pre-requisite checker and ensuring all was well, and once that was done, going through the wizard, verifying the new client in a pre-production collection (important that gets done so we can see if it is stable) and then off it goes and does its thing. It's actually pretty slick these days, with the database back end being updated first, then all the server side programs and services, and then gets them all started and operational. It works really well and actually shows just how much they take it seriously at Microsoft these days.

Post-upgrade, I was keen to try the community hub feature where it forks into Github for some useful things you can use posted by others within the configuration management community. There is however one issue: if you're running the console as another account (so for example if I run it as my admin account instead of my standard one) the community hub thing crashes the console. This is actually down to the way the web interface works with the admin service, so ideally something that would be good of them to fix - and you have to be running Windows 10 also - Server 2016 won't cut it.

Still, it was a good productive day, I had three meetings back to back in the afternoon and when I got home I reminded myself of the fact that everyone with masks on now is just like the days when Altern-8 had some class dance choons in the early 1990s - with the A8 mask being way ahead of current times. Activ-8 (Come With Me) is therefore tune of the day with the classic kid half way through going "top one, nice one, get sorted" which really was such a Northern thing to say back then!

Monday 7th September - Please Leave This World As Clean As When You Came

It was back to work today for me, and a full week after the two shorter weeks I had either side of the Bank Holiday. It is also Labor Day in America (hence the Americanised spelling, they do that with all words ending "our" too) so all the offices over the pond were out of action, so should in theory have been a bit quieter, and to a degree, it was. That wasn't though to say I wasn't planning out some actions for the next few weeks either - far from it, I was looking at a number of possible scenarios and improvements that could be made.

One thing I did find out, purely by accident as it happens, is that myself and one of my colleagues do have access to a report in one of our systems which means we can request it as we need, and get all the up to date information from that to help us out with another of our systems. When I delved into things a bit further I worked out that actually we could add it to the front page of that particular system and have easier access to do as we needed, so walked my colleague through that and initiated a bit of a cunning plan. It's kind of nice when those things happen and you're able to get things done the right way round.

I also today did a bit of work on being able to get the upgrade tomorrow sorted, so was cross checking a few systems and also was able to organise some planned backups with colleagues so that I've always got a go back to point in case of any failures and issues, which is always important to remember really. The good thing about that is that I know then there's safety net, but can also work through getting all I need sorted out for the upgrade and ensuring it runs as well as it can be, so a definite good thing in my book.

Later on I ventured out to Sainsburys for some lunch, and noted that apart from a fair number of reduced to clear items (Monday must be a day of stock shift) again, like Friday, they had the security on the door policing the number of people in store properly to maintain correct distancing, even with a face covering on. It's the right thing. I think people are lulling themselves into a false sense of security that somehow a face covering is some sort of magic cure. It's not. You still need social distancing on top of that as well as good hand hygeine, the idea being that you are doing what you can to protect everyone else from you, not the other way round.

It made me think later of how much The Game (Parts I-V) by Roy Harper (make that tune of the day) resonates with me - it's a very intelligent poem written into thirteen and a half minutes of song, detailing the way that the "game" as such is the systems and processes that you live by, and somehow you think you can change that without realising all the other cogs in the wheel are there and in place, with a final reminder to please leave this world as clean as when you came, thus maintainig the "system" as is. Absolutely majestic, and the guitar solo towards the end by Chris Spedding just adds to the whole brilliance of it - in fact, go buy the HQ album it's from, because you'll also get the best song ever written about cricket at the same time.

Sunday 6th September - Car Boot Bargain Hunting

I had done some research yesterday when I got back and noted that a fair number of car boot sales were back and running again after the recent situation. A lot of them insisted on one way systems and enough distancing in open air to ensure that it could all be run as safely as possible, whilst also giving people an opportunity to sell off their old wares, again pretty understandable to be honest. I had checked the transport situation to work out which ones I could get to, and the best one appeared to be the Calverts one in Uxbridge, which looked to be quite a large one and in an open space.

I set off early and grabbed a McDonalds breakfast on the way to East Croydon station. From there, and because the Overground doesn't run so early on a Sunday, I couldn't use my avoiding Zone 1 route, so it was a train to London Bridge, then the Jubilee line to Finchley Road, picking up the Metrpolitan Line from there to Uxbridge, so not too bad on the whole. I then left the station at the side and past the bus station and headed slightly uphill along Belmont Road, turning left at the roundabout to Park Road, passing Uxbridge College and to the former Uxbridge Showground site where the car boot is.

As I had arrived just after 9am, this meant £1 to enter (it's more expensive before then) so had timed my travel really well. There were several long rows of car boot stalls, with plenty of spacing between each side to walk around without issues, and indeed lots of all sorts of stock. Certainly DVDs and books to be got rid of seemed the most popular things, with a few stalls selling off some vinyl records (nothing I fancied however) and also for some reason a fair number of Xbox 360 consoles together with games - certainly an interesting note to observe. All was very well though.

The organisation was as I said well laid out, all the food stalls for hot breakfasts and drinks were at each end, and all sensibly distanced too, so that was good to see. Had I not already had breakfast, a bacon roll would have been tempting, definitely, and I did also see a really old Ingersoll pong type console that might have been an interesting curio to pick up - but as I'm being sensible about how much space I have for all things gaming, I decided against it, but it did have its original box, so would probably be a nice item to get if you were into that sort of thing.

After around an hour and a half of some good mooching round, I walked back to Uxbridge station (it's only two bus stops away, so why wouldn't you, especially as it was downhill?) and with Uxbridge slowly waking up, it seemed a little busier but still okay, so was able to take the cheap way back - the same route as I did to get here yesterday before heading to Harefield for my walk. All in all, a good visit and definitely one car boot I'd go back to provided transport is okay to do so - the large space and sensible measures really did make me feel pretty safe too. Tune of the day is a 12" single I saw at the car boot, but I already had - the really good Surrender by Swing Out Sister. If I didn't already own it, some cash would have been surrended to buy it!

Saturday 5th September - Double Looping

So it was nice to be up and about relatively early today, as I had set myself a goal of taking on the next two sections of the London Loop, starting in Harefield West and going via Moor Park to Hatch End, so effectively doing around nine miles or so and meaning that transport at the other end would also be relatively easy. And because the Overground didn't have engineering works, I could take a route from East Croydon avoiding Zone 1, so it was Southern to Clapham Junction, Overground to Willesden Junction and change for train to Kenton, then do an out of station interchange from Kenton to Northwick Park and pick up the Metropolitan line to Uxbridge. That means a much cheaper fare of £3.10 too.

Once at Uxbridge I picked up the U9 bus in the bus station to take me onwards through past lots of HS2 sites and then to Harefield West, for the Belfry Avenue stop. It was then downhill to the road beside the Grand Union Canal, and encountering a rather lovely cat along the way, before going up hill at the side of Old Park Wood, and along then to some allotments before crossing a road, heading back to some fields, and lots of farmers' fields growing corn, having some lovely cows, and then a walk down and up another hill and past some rather peaceful and content horses, which was good to see.

After a quick walk up to the Rose and Crown pub, it was then following a path downhill and along some trees towards the entrance to Bishop's Wood. It was nice walking through there, although the left turn for Lockwell Wood seemed to be hidden away - I had walked past it a little before realising I might have gone the wrong way, really needs some of the foliage chopping to make it easier to see to be honest. Once through all that, the paths at the far end of Lockwell Wood were a bit muddier, but with ways round, so eventually headed out of that wood and to the Ye Olde Green Manne pub, known for its connections with Dick Turpin nonetheless.

That was all good, and once I headed through some more fields it was on to the very nice Moor Park conservation area - a really posh feel with tree lined streets, lots of large front driveways and a calm place to be. I followed the paths to the narrow road under the Metropolitan line, and followed the path through the trees by the side of Sandy Lodge golf course to Moor Park station itself (as although section 13 finishes at a junction by the golf course, section 14 actually starts from the station, so needed to walk there anyway).

Once at Moor Park, I got a cold drink from a local shop, and headed back through the path in the trees, and then you follow a permissive path at first round the side of the golf course, and then crossing it carefully with one part having to wait till the fairway is clear before heading over, and into the trees and out onto the road, taking you down to a garage with a Spar and Greggs attached (handy to know if you need food at that point.) Crossing over more fields took me to Ashburnham Park, followed by a quick stroll through some streets and then into Oxhey Woods.

Three distinct sections of woodland and quite a long way through there to be honest, but was nice to see that the paths were well maintained and you could pretty much get round without issues, and at the very end you then turned along a couple of fields and followed paths at the edges to take you to Pinnerwood Stud, a farm with plenty of horses present and being well looked after, and skirting around Pinnerwood House before heading across some fields towards Hatch End and a gap in the stile denoted the rather unassuming end to the section before branching off and walking along some suburban roads to Hatch End station.

It was then back from there (in Zone 6, too) all the way to Willesden Junction and effectively repeating my route back home. Admittedly the Overground was very busy between Willesden Junction and Clapham Junction but I suspect this is because it's a cheaper avoiding Zone 1 route. I ended up getting home around 4pm and after a good chat with The Love In My Heart, I was online later chatting to some of my friends and having a few beers as well, which was nice. One of them even showed a recording of a band he was in doing a great version of Magic by Pilot, so that tune is tune of the day - certainly the feeling of walking through the countryside today was rather magical to be perfectly honest.

Friday 4th September - We're All Going On A (Next Year) Summer Holiday

So, I'm all sorted. At lunch time, I had a quick check with The Love In My Heart to make sure all was good, and we could both get the time off - and my manager had authorised my leave request, and next year's week away within the UK for next July is booked. So go us. I think realistically that seeing that a number of potential places were looking either fully booked or close to being fully booked, I think we were both of the view that if we pay the deposit now, and then save up to pay the remainder over the next few months, we can then relax and look forward to having a good time (even better if weather does its thing of course)

The one thing we were both keen on was having a place with a good view from its outside (we definitely have that), the living is comfortable (tick on that score too) and that we get some added nice luxuries if we can - and we have an en-suite bathroom in the bedroom too, so definitely a plus point. Oh, and a balcony. Added win. It was somewhere we both agreed on was lovely and would serve as a good base for exploring all of the local area we're going to, and as an added bonus all around the local area appears to have some nice restaurants and places to eat out too.

I think for us both the important thing is that we've really enjoyed having some lovely holidays together, and especially that we treasure a lot the time we have together too. This will be another case of doing so, on top the fact we have a re-arranged trip to Brussels to look forward to in April next year (which includes a Paul Weller gig whilst we are there) so things are working out well. That might change depending on other circumstances, but at least we have something pencilled in which is good, and indeed there's a nice sense that over time we may start getting back to more normal, whatever that might be.

In fact talking of which, one of our health and safety folk at work emailed us to state some improvements and changes to the booking system in place for the office we're allowed back into. Essentially, it transpired that some people decided to ignore the system in place and just turn up anyway. Err. No. Not how it works, and because they're not effectively in the bookings, there's no easy way of tracking and tracing for example if they happened to be carrying something and infecting others without realising it. I was glad that the folks pointed it out and should serve as a reminder to everyone that there's procedures there for a reason and to be safe.

I also was road testing something a little different this afternoon - our inventory client actually has a Linux executable and installer, and we need this because a couple of developer users use Ubuntu as their operating system. It wasn't too difficult to set up a virtual machine with the latest Ubuntu LTS release on, and from there I was then able to download the package I had saved earlier, and run the .deb version (remember folks, Ubuntu is based on Debian) and so all good. Tune of the day in fact is All About The Pentiums by Weird Al Yankovic, which really does laugh at all those people dissing other people's computers...

Thursday 3rd September - Cashing In The Coins

After work I had decided to head down to the local large Tesco Extra that's around two and a half miles from me, primarily as I knew that their Coinstar machine was back and operational after having been out of action for some time due to the current situation. I had assembled a number of pieces of loose change, all 1p, 2p and 5p coins, and were effectively in a large pint pot I have (which I transferred into a smaller envelope I could fit inside my pockets) - and always seem to accumulate those over time. As I'd not cashed them in for some time, thought it best to get it all sorted, then at least I could use that towards some shopping I needed anyway, so two for the price of one.

In fact, the supermarket is well served from buses from my place, so with face covering on, it was then off on the 405 bus, and I soon arrived at the stop outside. Naturally of course I'd worked out that if it was less than an hour between boarding the bus there, and the bus back, the hopper fare would kick in allowing for only one fare of £1.50 to be chargeable, bit of a win methinks. As it turned out, that did happen. And I located the Coinstar machine pretty quickly, so was a case of emptying out said envelope. I didn't realise I had something like 160 or so 1p coins, and the total was around four pounds eighty in all. Not a small amount either.

Once I exchanged the voucher for cash (and the woman at the customer services desk told me lots had been doing their cashing in this week) it was definitely a quick visit in and out, mainly to get some essentials such as fabric conditioner (on offer too, so win) and also some latte pods for the trusty Tassimo, as well as spotting a bit of a bargain in the beer aisle - the very nice looking Wake Up and Smell The Gose from Evil Twin, a 440ml can for a mere £1.23! Considering Brewdog (who distribute this in the UK) sell this for around £12 for four cans, definitely a good bargain.

With everything in the bag I needed, it was back home and I had decided that it was time to look at some old Commodore 64 games and extract the music out of them. I always like to cross check any records in such databases as Gamebase64, so if there happens to be a tune in a game I recognise, and it's not as yet credited, I can send them over some corrections and make sure that it's all good on their side. It's somewhat still good fun to actually challenge myself to see if I can still do some old school coding, and you should always enjoy what you do. With that in mind, tune of the day is the rather nice music from the game The Last Ninja by the late but great Ben Daglish - the opening loading theme from The Wastelands as it's just majestic.

I also spent some time tonight looking at potential holiday places for next year. I'd already had a chat with The Love In My Heart and decided that it would be sensible to look within the UK and indeed for somewhere that we had never been before - and to go exploring. We did have a think and The Love is pretty keen on getting somewhere really nice to stay that would at least be good to do - and I also wanted somewhere that had lots of nice things to go and do close by. I think we've got some contenders already but having seen bookings already on the rise, we're going to act sooner rather than later methinks.

Wednesday 2nd September - Back to the Office

I must admit that my employer has been absolutely first rate throughout all the current situation. We were basically asked to work from home a full week before the lockdown happened in the UK, based on data at our other sites worldwide and listening to the science, and indeed even when opening one of the offices, they've had it all set out so all the desks you can sit at are two metres apart, you have sanitiser everywhere, you have a one way system round the office, and there's no tea or coffee making so less risk of cross contamination. We also have to book a space to come in, and indeed have contact mobile details in case anyone present falls ill with any symptoms.

Bearing in mind the current Government directive to get people back into their offices, primarily to ensure their Tory friend fat cat landlords can start charging full rent again as well as supposedly give back to the city centre economy (last time I visited, McDonalds and Pret were full of construction workers so they're not doing as badly as you may think) it was refreshing that we had an email from our employers explaining that how we're operating isn't going to change - effectively work from home for the rest of 2019 and visit the office if you've booked. The key sentence was this: "We care more about your wellbeing and how you are performing rather than where you are working."

That made me smile and made me realise at the same time just how lucky I am really. Wellbeing is key, particularly mental health as well with the situation, and it's been telling that we've had more chats either online or in video call etc just chatting normal stuff, seeing how we're doing, and had a good chat with my manager in my one to one today about the weekend I'd had, what beer I'd bought from the Black Sheep Brewery, and the CDs I had purchased as well from Vinyl Exchange last week, so of course later when I got home had to play The Bog by BIGOD 20 - classic tune that it is and tune of the day.

Several of us were in the office so it was good to just have normal working conversations, and for some reason, a lot of meetings. A heck of a lot of meetings actually. But I guess that's become par for the course now where you can't necessarily get some heads together and be able to chat face to face, and to be honest, it's good that we can be constructive and be able to get things done. It's really about the fact that we've found different ways of being able to work to get the same results, and part of what I've been doing has been to enable that as much as possible.

It was also good that when I walked out to get some lunch that I'd noted another improvement around the building: and mainly in prep for other companies who use the other floors: the use of a face covering in the communal areas is now mandatory too. Makes sense with more people, and we've extended it so you only take it off when sat at your desk. That will take some getting used to, but I know it's being done for the right reason. Again, shows why I'm so lucky I have an employer that cares for your wellbeing and actually realises that better wellbeing equals better performance equals a better company.

Tuesday 1st September - September in Salford

The Love In My Heart and I had a well earned sleep this morning, and Brian the cat was more than happy to oblige snuggling up to his Mummy, with lots of happy contented purring along the way. I think he was definitely pleased to see us when we got back yesterday and we'd given him lots of fussing and attention, just the way he likes it of course. We were debating whether to go to a National Trust property today as it would have been quieter, but unfortunately you cannot book a ticket to go there on the same day - it has to be the day before, so that kiboshed a few plans. And as The Love had driven a fair bit, it was unfair to head out to Snugburys as well, as nice as that might have been.

So instead we came up with a more local plan, head to Salford Quays, have a good mooch around the Lowry Outlet Mall as it should be pretty quiet, and head for a walk locally there as well as possibly grab some lunch later. So we arrived, The Love got a good parking space on the third floor close to the shops of the Outlet Mall, and with face coverings donned, we went into a few of the shops. The Love admired the furniture and homeware in the Marks and Spencer Outlet, and we also went into Gap Outlet too - I was tempted by a couple of things but was being good.

From there we headed out towards the Lowry itself and headed over the bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal, and along towards the Imperial War Museum and the ITV place that side that also has the new set of Coronation Street. It was then over another bridge that took you back towards the BBC Studios and indeed the statues of both Upsy Daisy and Pudsey, still popular with children even today (some are back at school tomorrow) and we noted all the little greenhouses as part of the plan to distance and offer a different dining experience for those at the places in Salford Quays itself.

We did decide that a drink at the Dockyard was well earned, and indeed we had an outside table in the September sunshine too which was nice. The Factory Pale Ale (you can guess which record label was an inspiration there) was actually very good too, so well worth it. We even spotted the Manchester Bee in the Blue Peter Garden, and then headed over to Wagamama as we both fancied some nice lunch and the sun was still out - so why not dine alfresco in one of their outside tables.

And that's exactly what we did too. We managed to get a really nice spot, got drinks and then had some duck gyoza to share as a little starter followed by the chicken katsu curry for main. The Love really enjoyed it as did I, and it felt all rather chilled out and civilised too. The staff were lovely and friendly, and it just felt like a really good end to having a good few days off together too. In fact, I have to say that I was tempted by the ginger chicken udon as I like that too, but the katsu is a proven winner with me, so had to be done. I just felt so happy to be together with The Love and having a chilled out day off, as it all should be.

Needless to say I didn't want to be heading home on the train later, but that was what needed to be done. The Love and I had a hug and I knew that Brian would be thinking "woohoo! Just me and Mummy" so at least he'd be pleased. Nonetheless I had a good listen to the excellent Butterfly by Swing Out Sister on the way back (make it tune of the day) and that put me in a happy mood knowing we'd had such a good time today and that we were all going to be able to spend some more time together soon, which we treasure, a lot.