Dear Diary... July 2021

Saturday 31st July - Remembering Denise

It was a very early start for me today, as I was on the 0735 train to Doncaster from Kings Cross, and then over from Doncaster to Manchester. As it turned out, I got up early enough and then left to get to East Croydon for the train to St Pancras. I did wonder if the Seatfrog upgrades were available for the LNER train, and they were. I managed to get it for £10, which meant a nice comfy seat, coffee and bacon roll for breakfast (and the coffee in a proper mug now too!) and some water too. In fact, a famous actor was also sat in the same carriage as me, who spent some time complaining about a previous train being cancelled.

I got to Doncaster, headed across for the train to Manchester, and normally the front three carriages are all reserved, and I had a reservation there. However, I thought it'd be a lot quieter in the rear three, and I wasn't wrong - there were around three people in there, so did feel a lot safer. When I got to Manchester Piccadilly I walked through to Thomas Street and to the Smithfield Social where The Love and some of her relations had had breakfast and wanted me to join them. This did mean the littlest member of the family joining us and being super cute, and I kept her entertained with Sophie le Giraffe too (for those of you who don't know, it's a teething toy and really lovely.)

After some nice coffee and heading back to The Love's place, we got ourselves ready and changed later and headed out on the tram to Piccadilly, where we'd then walk towards Oxford Road station and to Gorilla where tonight's gig was happening - a rememberance gig for the singer Denise Johnson who passed away last year. Obviously at the time a gig couldn't happen, but it could do now. We got in and were given a nice canvas bag with an illustration and some goodies inside including a CD single, some sweets and a postcard. Nice. We also saw the organiser Sue, whom The Love and I knew separately before we met (me through Flickr for example) and although she had a million things going on, it was nice to say hello and share a hug too - I knew how much today meant for her.

There were some lovely messages from the likes of Clint Boon and Tom Hingley, as well as plenty of others within the Manchester music scene who couldn't be there - such as one musician who was shielding at present. What was nice to see was a collation of some of Denise's best tweets, and some were basically watch alongs from Top of the Pops old school style, which was nice too. We did have the first band on - with Heavy Load playing a pretty nice set of tunes and a good vibe to set the evening off. The bar did Camden Hells so The Love was happy (the bar sold out of said beer later!) and it was just a different feeling actually being at a gig.

We nipped out (as we had wristbands to get back in) for some food later and went round the corner to The Gasworks, which is the sister pub of the Dockyard in Media City. We both had some lovely burgers with some fries and I had this really nice banoffee chocolate stout - really good, but I couldn't imagine having too many of those as it might prove sickly. We got back to the gig and the first set of raffle draws were being made with some really nice prizes - so made a note to buy some raffle tickets for the next set of draws later on as the prizes were really good.

Next up came a little sort of supergroup, effectively Phil Cunningham and Tom Chapman (from New Order), Elliot Barlow from Sea Fever, Thomas Twemlow of Heavy Load (who also played guitar on Denise's album) and Ellen Beth Abdi. They did some nice songs and a rendition of the way that Denise Johnson herself had covered New Order's True Faith, which of course had the crowd singing along. Ellen was really on point vocally and it was nice to show the respect in such a good way. I enjoyed that, and enjoyed the second raffle draw even more as I won a prize: the entire Denise Johnson solo back catalogue - 12" singles, CD singles and the Where Does It Go? album, which I've given to The Love with instructions to play and love as much as I do.

After the final set of raffle draws, on came A Certain Ratio for the headline set, and it was ace. In the last few years especially Denise had worked with them a lot and sang with them live too, so naturally any songs that featured her vocals got an airing here - even those released first time round. So we got the Won't Stop Loving You version of what was originally called The Big E (you can guess why it was changed), and also Good Together from acr:mcr too. Naturally, as Denise had played with the band live a lot, a selection was played of their favourite tracks they'd play live with her, and not least one of my favourites, their cover of Shack Up, which sounded amazingly funky and tight - proper musicians, and tune of the day too.

It was a really good set overall, and just the right amount of tribute but also a cracking live set. The love was very much felt for Denise Johnson in the room, and it was the tribute I think ACR and others would have wanted last year but couldn't, so to have it on what would have been Denise's birthday was somehow special and right. It did feel good to be back at a gig too of course, but knowing how much it meant to so many really did make it all feel so special. Even the Mancunian rain as we headed home didn't stop the enthusiasm, I was buzzing from that and it was so good to be at.

Friday 30th July - BMX Brilliance

Well, that was unexpected and rather brilliant, wasn't it? I'm talking of course about the BMX events in the Olympic Games and how it seemed that within ten minutes Great Britain had first of all their first Olympic medal with a silver, but then a gold medal in the next race. The sort of thing you can't script and yet was wonderful to see at the same time. It was a really nice surprise to wake up to (the races were around 5am UK time so was fast alseep!) and of course re-watching all the drama unfold on Olympic Breakfast on BBC One was excellent, I have to say.

So first up was the mean's final race and this one had Kye White, who was proud of his Peckham roots where the family have a hand in the BMX club there. Kye had moved to Manchester where's there is a specialist facility close to the velodrome, and trained hard, and off the start he got a good one and kept going to be close to the Netherlands rider Niek Kimmann - and as they headed around the final turn well ahead, a crash behind meant it was between them two. Kimmann held on, but Kye White had had a superb race and was really pleased to nail an excellent silver - and the first ever British BMX medal, so history made. After his post-race interview, he stayed around to watch the women's race and cheer on Bethany Shriever in the final.

And what a final that was. Both commentators (especially Shanaze Reade) getting into it massively as Bethany got the first turn first, and kept herself going really well and got the crucial line to ensure she was ahead of the double Olympic champion, Mariana Pajón. The final straight was a run between them both and Bethany got over the line first. Cue pandemonium in the commentary box, but was so nice to see Kye White screaming for his team mate and smashing the water bottle down when Bethany crossed the line - so much cameraderie and support, and he lifted her up as her legs had gone through all the effort. And in another lovely sporting gesture, as Bethany was being interviewed, Mariana came up to the camera, and pointed a number 1 in Bethany's direction and congratulated her. What a legend, said Bethany, and I couldn't agree more.

I had today off too because of the fact that work had given everyone two days off (today and Monday) as a thank you for all the hard work we'd put in during the last 18 months, giving everyone the chance to relax and refresh. I actually used the time today with the wind and rain howling around to head over to Wimbledon Park and get my hair cut - it needed doing anyway and was a good time to be able to get that nicely sorted. I did feel a lot better for it as well and had a mooch in the shops in Wimbledon on the way back to getting the tram, so definitely well worth the trip out methinks.

I also settled in later for another set of Olympic action, this time on the track as the athletics had started off in earnest today. It was the women's 5000 metres qualifiers, and Eliish McColgan appeared to be spiked a few times and ended up not qualifying for the final (no British woman did either) and then to the final of the men's 10,000 metres race. I have a feeling that the result might yet be altered on appeal because it was clear that Uganda had sent out one of their athletes to be a pacemaker for the other two, which you're not allowed to do in Olympic competition - I was glad in a way that the Ethiopian athlete Selemon Barega won, but if you're the nation of a team finishing 4th or 5th, you'd be inclined to appeal! In the meantime, tune of the day is the title theme from the film BMX Bandits, I loved that film back in the day and seemed apt considering the achievements today.

Thursday 29th July - Round the Elephant and Castle

After work today I decided it'd be a good idea to head out for something to eat for tea before getting the train back to East Croydon later on, and thought that going back to one of my old haunts at Elephant and Castle, where I used to work, was a suitable option. In fact, this meant I also had two options from the office: either get the Bakerloo line to its Southern terminus (but the weather was decent outside so could be hot and sweaty on that line) or get the 453 bus there instead - and as the bus came first before I got to the tube station, and it was cheaper, that was a nice easy option.

The bus takes you past the entrance to Horse Guards Parade before crossing the square at Westminster and across the bridge (the original London Marathon finishing line, fact fans) before then going around the back of Waterloo station via Lambeth North and on to the road to Elephant and Castle's trumpet junction, so I could head off by the Bakerloo tube exit and then cross the road over to one of the pubs I used to frequent back in the day. This did mean some decent beer and some food at not that expensive prices too, so a nice dark ale and some food later, and that did feel a lot better.

I also then noted the lack of shopping centre as it has of course been demolished. It's literally just a pile of rubble on one side to be cleared ready for a new development, and that's well seen from the train station platforms later on. And on Elephant Road itself, as well as the new flats which are scarily expensive to rent (£1,900 per month for a one bed anyone?) there's the scene of the fire close to the train station under the arches (the charring is still visible) as well as Castle Square, which actually looks really good with its little shops and the metal elephants in the square, some of the smaller ones being benches to sit on too. Nice.

Of course, the important thing was that the Elephant and Castle sculpture, which was at the front of the shopping centre opposite where the UAL campus is was still present, and at the top of Castle Square, there it is, standing rather proudly. Of course you can see it from Platform 4 at the station itself at almost eye level or look up from Elephant Road, there it is. It did feel a lot more urban bohemian now with the station still a remnant from the First Capital Connect days, never mind Thameslink. Hopefully the new developments will mean the station also gets a much needed makeover.

I think too that essentially that it was always an interesting place to work round there, especially as I had a straight run on the 68 bus to Euston for easy escapes back up to Manchester (with Northern Line as backup) but of course too it's a definite sign that things are moving on. I was just pleased to see the iconic elephant and castle statue remain and that of course that there's a sense of the old meeting the new. Tune of the day is in fact the theme tune to the 80s sitcom Up The Elephant and Around the Castle, which was a bit odd, but still had its fans (although probably less so now I suspect...)

Wednesday 28th July - Milky Milky

I was going to make myself a coffee this morning before I started working from home, but alas, not to be. I had made the Azera intenso coffee all good, and then I was about to pour the milk out of the bottle. The fact it seemed to be slow and a little bit thicker meant it wasn't happening, so would need to head out at lunch time to get some - I did have some Tassimo capuccino pods so they'd have to do for now. Lovely. Milky milky! Thoughts of course went back to the classic Mary Whitehouse Experience sketch with Hugh Dennis playing Mr. Strange, leaving milk on a radiator and insisting that it still smelt fresh.

I spent some time today sorting out a bit of nifty Powershell scripting for Active Directory that might come in useful, especially as it was able to get some attributes that may be in a GUID format, convert them to the actual readable value, and export all of that nicely into a CSV ready for use. I guess it'd be handy as a backup when we get to remove some objects next week and want to be sure that effectively those are all safely removed, but if we need the attributes for any reason, we have them backed up (plus of course using the active directory admin console anyway you can undelete for a time period anyway - so double sure.)

I did head out to the local shop later and as well as getting milk, I also managed to spot the Azera coffee for £3, so a jar of the stronger intenso was mine - I was running out of the other one and a perfect perk to get myself sorted for the morning brew too. I did note too that it seemed quieter outside at lunch time generally, I think the initial few days of "wooo, freedom!" have worn off, and it's back to some level of how it's been previously. No bad thing of course for me, as that means a bit more space for everyone to feel comfortable too.

I also managed to see the intense rain that happened mid afternoon along with some wind - it did really feel a lot fresher and nicer and I must admit having the fresh air in the flat was very nice after it'd been so hot and insulated the last few weeks. At the same time though I did note that the rain was happening everywhere - in fact some lightning hit the roof of Trafford General Hospital not far from Manchester and that had caused a small fire. It goes to show, always be careful when a lightning strike is around. I think though hopefully it'll start to cool off a few places anyway.

It did feel sad to hear the news that the former drummer of Slipknot, who had been with the band for many years until a health condition meant he left the band in 2013, had passed away. Joey Jordison was a cracking drummer, underpnning so many of the classic songs from the band, not least the powerful Psychosocial, which I've rocked out to many a time on Guitar Hero Warriors of Rock as well as moshing too - so definitely tune of the day in tribute. Powerful, accurate and with a sense of speed and precision, that's what most drummers should aspire to be, and he did that. In spades.

Tuesday 27th July - Travelling Writer

It was off to the office for me today, and I have to admit that I'm really getting into the twice a week in the office routine, and might even increase that back up to three over time. To be brutally honest, I do feel more productive and can get more things done, and that certainly helps. In fact today I was road testing out the policy change but also a way that we could use the desired configuration baseline in MECM as backup (so some settings could be cloud deployed via the cloud management gateway) and that seemed to work for what we needed, so a nice option to have to be honest.

I also spent some time today sorting out the remnants of importing some data back out of the HR system and tying that up with some machine records, just to be sure all was well, and on top of that working out another potential way of being able to claw back some licencing in some cases - so definitely thinking head on and plenty of opportunity to put the brain to good use. I did head out to Tesco at lunch time to get the meal deal, and to be honest, it was surprising (as it had been on the train this morning actually) how many people were still choosing to wear a face covering - it did feel reassuring.

On the way home I decided that I'd take potentially the cheapest route home at peak time, which would be £4.80 between London Fare Zones 1 and 5. This was on at Piccadilly Circus for the Bakerloo line to Waterloo, change there and down the very long corridor of doom to the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, then London Overground to West Croydon. It did all work although the Overground was still pretty busy. Yes, it did take longer than two trains from Charing Cross of course, but might be a good alternative option as TfL have made it a condition of carriage to wear a face covering, so still technically enforcable. It took some time but good to know there is an alternative.

Of course, not being in all week means there's no point having a monthly travelcard loaded on to the trusty Oyster card, so pay as you go either with that or contactless - so any chance to save money is useful. I do know going home after 7pm by train will be less anyway (£3.70) but there are times I won't want to stay that long unless I'm heading for drinks or food in central London afterwards, so we'll see. Of course now when I go to get my hair cut, it's tram then bus so hopper fare of just £1.55 each way kicks in, I'm not daft you know! Maybe if I went to four days a week with one at home that might tip the scales a little, but we'll see.

I spent some time this evening writing up part of an article that a friend of mine had written and wanted some input from myself with various sections. It did feel nice to collaborate and I think that hopefully I was able to add some useful information as well as a different perspective too (similar to how some magazines did their review systems so it wasn't just one opinion.) I didn't realise how late it had got whilst doing that but must have been a sign I was enjoying what I was writing, so tune of the day has to be something writing associated, namely Paperback Writer by The Beatles, it's still for me one of their more under-rated songs, just in my view of course.

Monday 26th July - Medal Monday

I had gone to bed late last night primarily because of the Olympics. I had got home after taking the train from St Pancras back to East Croydon, and when I got in the triathlon was on, so watched that to its conclusion and saw that Alex Yee came very close to winning gold, but had to make do with a still excellent silver behind an inspired performance from Kristian Blummenfelt who broke away on the final lap of the run. The controversy was at the start of the swim, with a rib boat in the way of half of the field being able to depart safely. No repeats of this in the women's event please!

And when I got up, it was more drama - this time in the diving and the 10 metre synchro event. Tom Daley and Matty Lee were up against the Chinese and Russian pairs, and it was incredibly close throughout. Daley and Lee upped their game with two excellent fourth and fifth dives to go top, and then pulled off a 4.5 somersault dive absolutely spot on to get over 100 points for it, and it was a nervous wait as the Chinese pair went last. They did another 100 point dive too, but the British pair won by just over 1 point to get gold - a long wait ended for Daley, but I think massive credit actually should go to Matty Lee for keeping it calm, and actually showing the experience beyond his years to nail it.

It was then on with the mountain biking on the red button and this switched over to BBC One later during breakfast as they realised it could be a British gold medal - and it was too, with a superb performance from the first time Olympian Tom Pidcock in the cross country event. He took the lead past two Swiss athletes on the third of seven laps and just kept inching out a gap to win comfortably in the end, but showed control too, knowing when to peg it along the flatter surfaces to gain time, then taking care over the rocks and hazards to be sure he stayed on his feet.

All this of course was good and had followed on from what had happened overnight as Adam Peaty, as predicted, destroyed the field around him to win the 100 metres breaststroke and defend his title, and put himself into British swimming greatness. It certainly did feel like he was on it, and syched out the other competitors too. I must admit that I enjoyed that but for me the Tom Pidcock cross country mountain biking gold was less expected, so superlative performances like that really do deserve to be given a heck of a lot of credit to be honest.

I did have a relatively busy day at work too, sorting out a number of machines and users now being able to be imported into our inventory system. It was pretty pleasing to be able to see a significant number of users and machines that came in, and I think the work I'd done last week was now starting to pay off. I also road tested the software patching capability in JAMF for Mac, and armed with the latest Firefox, the test for that went very well indeed, so definitely one to do some further work into for sure. In the meantime, with the gold medals coming, Manic Monday by the Bangles is tune of the day - but maybe with the words slightly changed....

Sunday 25th July - Sunday Slowdown

I had got up at a reasonably normal hour, but The Love In My Heart had been up earlier with Brian the cat wanting fussing and playing out, and had ended up watching the women's road race at the Olympics with an Austrian woman taking the lead at the start and staying there all the way through to get a surprise and well deserved title. Brian was more than eager to want to play ball too, hiding in his little tent and then reacting to the bounce of the ball by using his front paw to paw the ball away and at some pace too - what is he like?

We did watch some more Olympics when breakfast was being had, and we did keep an eye on the likes of the taekwondo as well as the swimming highlights from overnight then the heats from the evening over there - primarily for US TV reasons, the finals are in the morning Japanese time, which does take some getting used to it has to be said. We did though also note that it was difficult to try and get everything across the BBC to be shown, primarily because of the fact that the IOC deal with other broadcasters meant only two channels of BBC allowed, so having to cram everything in - a real shame that.

The Love headed to Asda and I settled in to watch the second Formula E race from the ExCeL which was live on Channel 4 - and it was to prove a controversial race to say the least. As the safety car took the cars round, the Audi team pulled in Lucas di Grassi in the pits, he then claimed to have stopped, then went out again, but in front of the other competitors. This obviously was going to go against the rules and so there was a penalty which was appealed, but then he was black flagged and got a massive penalty anyway. To me it seemed like that rule should be that either the pit lane is closed, or if you take a pit stop, you can go no higher than the place you vacated at.

We later on had a really nice late lunch which was chicken wrapped in bacon and cheese, along with some potatoes, carrots and some mushrooms, and that was really nice. I even had some apple crumble with cream for afters too which was a nice surprise. The day had gone by far too quickly and we were both really chilled out and relaxed, but I did have a train home to get unfortunately, so The Love dropped me off at Manchester Piccadilly and it was on with the train via Doncaster to Kings Cross.

Except.. the train coming in which would form the train out was delayed due to a swing bridge issue further down the line, so got into Piccadilly late, left late, and then slowly delayed even more so much so that when I got to Doncaster, the train was 24 minutes late and my scheduled train had already left - but thankfully I could use my ticket on the next one, and got a seat on there no problem. I even noted the at seat order service allowed me to order some beer - so had the Hop on Board ale whilst listening to the excellent Penfriend track Cancel Your Hopes (apt title with the trains!) and so that was tune of the day as I sped off towards London and home.

Saturday 24th July - Dine At The Midland

It was nice to be able to relatively chill out and relax with The Love In My Heart today. She had had a long week at work and so wanted to take things relatively easy, so left her snuggled up with Brian the cat whilst I got up and checked out the first full day of the Olympics. In fact, it was a busy day all round but the main surprise was that the cycling road race was in full flow for the men, and that some early crashes had put paid to the likes of Geraint Thomas as well. It did feel surreal seeing them cycle around the Fuji Speedway F1 circuit, which was to be the finish as well, but there you go.

In fact, it proved to be a dramatic last 50 kms or so, with the two climbs meaning breakaways happened, with the final key one being Richard Carapaz breaking off and leaving an American behind and made his bid for glory with not that long to go - and really cemented a famous win and could look back along the very long Fuji home straight to see no one in sight. It made up for a third place finish in the Tour de France, but was really a case of being able to carry it home on the day. Tune of the day is Kraftwerk's Tour dr France for that very reason.

We also had a nice visit from some of The Love's relatives which also meant the tiniest relation coming over to see us too. She was as cute and adorable as ever, and had plenty of giggles on her face, most notably when The Love reminded me that actually she still had a Sooty little hand puppet, so ended up keeping the little one entertained with Sooty whispering all sorts in my ear (as you do) and generally making her giggle which was good to be able to do. I was also watching the GB women's football team beat Japan 1-0 and qualify for the quarter finals with a game to spare, so all good there.

Later on we headed out and were off to Marple, for the first time we'd been out on a Saturday night in a while, and to the Midland at Marple Bridge. We do like it there as the food is very nice and the staff are always lovely, and we thought it'd be a good change to head there. Parking was of course nice and easy as there's the Brabyns Brow car park close by, and we were soon shown to the tables. Reassuringly, all the staff had face coverings on and the tables were still distanced enought to put everyone's mind at rest, which was rather nice to be honest. It felt good to dine out.

The Love had the really nice lamb koftas with salad to start, with me having the salt and pepper squid with a lovely sauce, spot on that was. The mains were also really good with The Love having a chicken Milanese style with toppings and some nice fries, and I had to have the chicken, bacon and brie pie which was of course a proper pie (had to be done!) - and even had a mini dessert of lemon and blueberry polenta cake with ice cream and a coffee for afters. The staff were lovely and we both had a lovely time, and it was nice to have some good background music on too, just a perfect relaxed vibe.

Friday 23rd July - Let The Games Begin

I was in two minds during the year about if the Olympic Games, even with its postponement, should take place. On the one hand, we're still in a pandemic and it's not getting any easier anywhere with new variants et al. On the other, and provided that things can be as safe as possible, with sport being a thing to keep us all going as the Premier League did least season for example, maybe there's some good to come from sporting achievement to drive us all to keep going at this crucial time. I knew that the opening ceremony might be toned down somewhat but with me keeping an eye during work, I thought it best to see.

I have to say that it was a masterstroke of the BBC here in the UK to get Andrew Cotter and Hazel Irvine on the commentary - both of them are absolute consummate professionals in what they do, and they complemented each other really well as they saw the opening parts of the ceremony followed by the athletes coming out - not all of them from every nation for obvious reasons, but all 206 competing nations present. It was in the Japanese syllable alphabetical order, which was why Great Britain came on early on. Also, in a new thing, the next two home Olympic nations came out third and second to least (USA for 2028 then France for 2024) followed by the host nation Japan - Greece of course always go first.

There were some lovely more reflective moments too which really got the mood and tone right, with singers from multiple continents all contributing to a version of Imagine - which Yoko Ono co-wrote with husband John Lennon and she had given her permission for the song to be performed. It even had John Legend for the Americas and Keith Urban for Oceania, which meant that some people would recognise those, but local choir singers as well as a Spanish representation for Europe and a beautiful African voice too really did symbolise the whole song well. I noted too the Olympic motto is now faster, higher, stronger, together, with the last word being added and it just felt the right thing to do.

I also really liked the way that the pictograms for each of the sports and the different events within (so for example road cycling, track cycling, BMX, mountain biking) came to life in a really well rehearsed display - it had one slight error at one point but all got back into sync and was really enjoyable to watch as they showed off all the disciplines with a catchy little tune as well. It was beautifully done and somehow a light moment in the darkness but yet showed the sports on offer in a good way - in fact pictograms for the sports were first used for Tokyo 1964 so made sense to be able to celebrate that.

The Olympic torch made its way around the stadium with Ravel's Bolero playing in the background (cue obvious flash backs to Torvill and Dean in Sarajevo 1984 and therefore tune of the day) - and nice to see the heritage of the nation including health care workers, baseball legends, a Paralympic champion and children from schools affected by the tsunamis and earthquakes all featuring before the flame went to tennis champion Naomi Osaka, who had spoken recently about mental health and how athletes need to be treated nicer, which I agree with. She walked up to light the cauldron and it somehow seemed a more solemn and reflective ceremony, but done with a sense of responsibility too. Let the games begin and may sport be the winner.

Thursday 22nd July - In The Air Today

It was good to be back in the office today as the heat was continuing to be problematic. I did note that the train to work did seem a little busier too, but once I changed trains at London Bridge to head to Charing Cross it did seem quieter than the other day - so maybe a sense of once the novelty for some of heading back to the office had worn off (if Monday was say the first time they were back) then they've maybe realised that actually working from home and having that work life balance might be more productive anyway.

For me, today was about getting the new Windows 10 WIM image added to the task sequence and doing a build test to ensure all was well - which of course it was, and all well there. After spending some time with our colleagues in the US setting up a new MECM distribution point, it was then a case of starting to send over some content to the DP and see if that responded well - which it did. The key seemed to me that sending from the main site server was fine, but using a pull DP from another location didn't play ball, so it was definitely something that could spend some time sorting, so going back to a standard push DP was easier.

I spent time checking all of that was in order when sending things over, and content was working nicely going there so definitely felt positive about all that. I was also able to work on a plan to set group policy up so that the print nightmare recent vulnerability could be checked for client machines and made sure that it was all compliant - there's a few possible ways that this could be done of course and may need to look at a desired configuration with the same settings as registry keys deployed via MECM if need be as well - we shall see.

It was pretty warm outside and the aircon inside was very nice, and with cold water and a working coffee machine, all was pretty good (definitely made use of the fact that smoothies are included in the Pret coffee thing though, so got that all sorted.) It was nice too that I was able to then take the train home and head off to the local pub close by to have some tea - I thought it worth me having it in an air conditioned place rather than suffering with heat and sweat at home was a better idea, and so it proved too.

Later in the evening I settled in and tried as much as possible to keep cooler which wasn't easy. It's more the mix and the head and humidity that makes it uncomfortable and some fresher air will be appreciated. I also spent time listening to some nice tunes too, so had a blast of the new James album, which was surprisingly better than I thought it'd be. There's some good songs on there but my current one I love is Magic Bus and therefore tune of the day - Tim Booth is in fine vocal form and there's some catchy hooks too, and with the line "if I knew what I was getting myself to" which pins the whole thing really well. Ace.

Wednesday 21st July - Hurrah for The Hundred

Back to the humidity of working from home again today (I really could have done with being in the office) but actually it did work out well, as I had a parcel to collect from Next at lunch time - I had ordered some jeans which were slim but with tapered leg, and the previous pair I'd got in a dark blue wear really well, so to get a plain black pair in the same style, and for a mere £11 at that, made perfect sense to me to be perfectly honest. I must admit too that I have noticed that they wash well too, and so being able to get stuff for less is the sort of thing I'm here for.

I did spend some time this evening with one of my colleagues over in Salt Lake City, working on a new MECM distribution point over at a remote location which is going to be a blueprint, potentially, for some dispersed ways of working in future. As it turned out, all the setup from my side seemed fine, but although I'd mentioned the ports that needed to be allowed (particularly port 135 from the master server to the DP) the initial setup failed because of the lack of connectivity. The moment that was freed up, everything started to flow pretty well, which was good.

I then watched The Hundred cricket from The Oval on BBC2, with Manchester Originals taking on Oval Invincibles, and two women's teams packed full of stars from that game. It was a really good advert for cricket full stop, no matter the format, and Kate Cross of Manchester Originals tried her best with the bat and took three wickets with the ball including two in two balls. It was pretty close with the Oval side chasing down a pretty tough target to win with two balls of the hundred to spare.

I think for some it'll take some getting used to, with five balls from each bowler before a change, then another five from the same end (or if someone wants to, ten balls on the trot) so in effect ten ten-ball overs could be bowled instead, but the chnage of ends at ten balls at least gives it some speed too. I think that obviously the more garish colours and scoring might bring in some less committed fans, but the quality of play from both sides tonight shows the women's game is in a good place - and the fact that they get equal prize money and pay is a really positive thing, not to be underestimated.

It still felt really warm as the clock turned for me to head to sleep (or lack of) later and I did think about whether it'd be worth while investing in some form of cooling at least when working from home that wasn't going to be just blowing warm air around constantly. I'll have to look into that, but it's definitely going to be into the shower before I head to bed, and I've changed the bedding too so hopefully that'll help - or else it'll be like listening to Isomnia by Faithless (make that tune of the day) as I can't get no sleep...

Tuesday 20th July - Office Respite

I must admit that on a really warm day like today, it's worth getting up early, getting changed, and heading off to the office, where the lovely cool air conditioning really is like manna from heaven, let me tell you. I was actually pretty surprised that on the train to work via Charing Cross with my normal London Bridge switcheroo, I reckoned that mask wearing was at around 90% - which was way more than I thought. I can see that declining over the next few weeks, but it's now their own choice, but it's sort of preferred that you still do wear one. I will, because I actually care about other people - remember, it's more you protecting them than yourself.

Anyway, the office was nice and cool and even the coffee machine was back in action - although I have to say that it still had the same faults as the ones we used to have - too many air pockets in the milk for the latte and it just makes a real noise too. I did get some cool water though and I still have the Pret thing active anyway, so was handy to head there later with the option of an iced coffee if I did fancy one, but having a good coffee in the office and remaining cool was just the thing to be honest.

I spent most of today getting to the bottom of an issue which had happened by accident, but I was able to find not only a workable solution but also a way forward in order to make sure it didn't happen again - so preventative measures first, then remediation of some MECM clients second. It was just a case of killing off a powershell process that was being repeated every so often, and this then freed up WMI correctly in order to be able to then perform the MECM client check via ccmeval, and all appeared well. As I got through the day, the number of failing clients had gone down from 133 to around 45, most of those were offline so would wait for them to come back online or be restarted.

I had the half year review as well this afternoon and I was pleased that my manager mentioned that I had performed well, was more than happy to get stuck in on some tasks, and indeed that today's example was just the case of how I'd be able to get things done. He also mentioned that my work had been noticed by other departments and managers and that the feedback I often get is that I work well and that people value what I do. It was very nice to hear that and we both discussed the fact that it's been important for the employer to look after our welfare too, and that has been a bonus.

I headed home slightly later to try and avoid a rush, and instead had a little rain shower to contend with no less. This wasn't too bad on the whole and I got the bus to Victoria followed by the train off to East Croydon - the first one after 7pm so cheaper fares of course, but it did seem to me like Clapham Junction was very busy, so maybe worth noting that in fact for future journeys. Work was all good though, and it felt a lot warmer and more humid at home, so wishing I had the same aircon as work does - with The Heat Is On by Glenn Frey in my head and tune of the day - it's on the street!

Monday 19th July - Humid Happening

So I couldn't sleep at all well last night - it was hot and sticky even with the window open, and today was meant to be hot, but also it's more the humidity which is more of an effect to be honest. Whenever I've been to say Nice or Lisbon, it's been hotter than the UK, but the difference is that the sea breeze does help to make it feel more bearable and there's at least a different type of heat - it's not as humid either, truth be told. So working from home without any aircon was certainly going to be challenging.

I had also ordered some food from Sainsburys and it was good to be able to have that arrive early: and a perfect time to pack it all away, get some breakfast and then start the working week. I had carried out some investigations last week and of course it was interesting that I was nearer to locating the root cause - looked like a policy which was only supposed to go to servers looked like it had gone to clients, and was constantly attempting to run something. Hmm.. more investigation needed there methinks.

Anyway, the good news of sorts was that I've got a plan of action now, and it certainly coincides when I noted some oddness happening with some machines and MECM clients, meaning.. it's not me that caused it. Phew. That at least makes me happy that I can bring it forward and be able to resolve something, and put it out there on the table, which is good. Sometimes having that breakthrough that's been puzzling you for some time really does reap its own rewards to be honest.

I had a good chat with The Love In My Heart later on and she too had been suffering in the heat and humidity - her place of work has no aircon and if you're running around all day, then it's a case of just doing what you can to try and keep cool. However, she did head to the local Tesco to try and get some cat food for Brian the cat, and the queues at the tills were long, and the reason - staff were having to self-isolate due to the current situation. In fact, some branches of Iceland had to close for the same reason too - so makes me wonder how dumb today actually really is.

But enough of that - I did at least manage to get plenty done and of course as is customary on a Monday evening, watch Only Connect (the theme tune of which is tune of the day). I always do well on the missing vowels round of course, but was pretty pleased too to get one of the connections after only two clues tonight, and along with a sequence or two along the way. And of course the dry wit of Victoria Coren-Mitchell is always appreciated - more of the higher brow quiz shows please BBC!

Sunday 18th July - Cheadle and Crewe Conundrums

After a nice little breakfast, and a longer lie in because we could, and with the weather being all nice again, The Love In My Heart and I got ourselves showered and ready and with Brian the cat being happy to play out and sit on the decking admiring the view (and keeping an eye on any birds around) we thought it'd be good to go for a walk but maybe with some shade due to the high temperatures. We did think about going to Fletcher Moss in Didsbury but we both suspected that would be a tad on the busy side.

So instead it was off to Cheadle and indeed to Abney Hall Park. In fact this worked out well because we'd be close to the Ashlea where we had booked a table for Sunday roast lunch later on, and so that also meant that we could take a leisurely stroll. We parked up at the small car park near the duck pond, and followed the path all the way round, then followed another path to the left which took us to the old driveway towards the hall, and down past a waterfall, over a bridge and then on the other side of the hall itself beyond a stream. A few people were picnicing on the lawn and one had brought inflatable tenpins to play bowling - what an excellent idea!

We followed the path that took us towards the other car park, then followed the path round the other pond, near the side of the hall and care home entrance, then through the trees and towards one of the long paths, and followed this for a while along the tree lined path and had a nice rest at a bench and admired the view - it was all shaded too so definitely was a positive to be there for a while at any rate. We did feel a lot better for that and so it was then on towards where the café was (currently closed) and back towards the car - a nice walk all told.

It was time for lunch so we headed to the Ashlea, and the staff were as lovely as ever in there. Of course The Love gets us 20% off in there too which works well, so a nice Dizzy Blonde pint went down nicely with the roast turkey for me, and The Love had the pork loin which looked really good too. It was really nice to be back in there and indeed my first roast for a while. We spent a bit of time back with Brian the cat then before heading to Piccadilly to get the train home.

And.. err... not to plan. At all. I got to Picc in plenty of time for the 1830 to Crewe, so would then be there in good time for the 1933 to Euston, getting in just before 10pm - so all good, right? No. The Transport for Wales train eventually had to be cancelled at Piccadilly due to a train fault which couldn't be fixed, and then they made our tickets valid for the 1908 Northern train to Crewe - which had no air con so was just blowing hot air around. I got to Crewe at 2000, knowing at least I'd be able to get the 2016 to Euston, right? Errr.. no.

So I got on, all lovely aircon, all good. But then came an announcement - no driver. The staff tried to find one and eventually said that that train would also be cancelled, but made our tickets valid for the 2049 Avanti train to Euston. I headed over there (as did lots of others) but then that got delayed also due to signal failures! It arrived at 2116, so got on, got a seat, and had the iPod on playing the likes of Howling Bells' Across the Avenue (make that tune of the day) and got myself a cold drink on the journey too, so night fell and it sped along as good as it could, considering a diversion around Northampton as well. I arrived at Euston at 2315, headed to St Pancras to get the delayed 2324 to East Croydon, eventually getting home at 0025. A long night that was!

Saturday 17th July - Springhead Sunshine and Witch Kings

After The Love In My Heart and I had got up and made ourselves some breakfast, which was gorgeous, we got ourselves showered and ready. The Love's sister was picking us up later and we were heading up to the Love's niece's new house the other side of Oldham, which she had bought with her long term boyfriend (who is an all round good bloke) so that would be good. The weather was already set to be very warm so it was a case of putting on some sun cream to be sure, and making sure where possible I sat in the shade too (primarily to prevent direct sun, as that's bad.)

So The Love's sister came and off we headed on the A62 towards Oldham, then at Mumps turning right for the A669 through Lees and then towards Springhead, following the left turn up a hill - but the next left we needed we didn't realise at first as it was an unadopted road, until The Love's other sister pointed it out. We managed to get a space and soon arrived at the niece's house - a proper stone built terrace with thick walls and even an extension which housed the kitchen: two nice sized rooms including the lounge with corner sofa - and all good. Looked very nice actually.

Soon one of The Love's relations arrived with the Love's granddaughter, and it was all cuteness and light for lots of time too. I do like the fact she responds well to me and has a cheeky smile on her face, and she has a teething toy called Sophie la Giraffe (yes, really) which is perfect for little teeth to get used to and with plenty to hold on to - so adorably cute as well. We later headed back off towards The Love's place but safe in the knowledge that we had had a nice time - and the house certainly was a very good buy in an area that they liked, so all good there.

We decided to head into the Northern Quarter of Manchester later, more Ancoats than anywhere else to be honest, and after parking at a usual spot where it's £1.20 for up to two hours, but we got all weekend for that price because the parking is 8am-6pm Monday to Saturday (so noted: Sunday is free parking, handy!) - and we first had a mooch and decided that a nice drink at Elnecot was a good starting point. I had the Shindigger West Coast and The Love had the Camden Hells (because she can) and the sun had just headed over the building so we were in the shade and still warm but not burning, so all good.

We had passed a little place on the way which normally has a pop up little market, but in fact School Court is a little siding off Radium Street, and the building next to it houses a few little enterprises - one of which is Witch Kings, who make their own different types of rum and put that in various cocktails. That was intriguing but they did have Shindigger beers as well, so I had their Summer beer (a nice fruity lager no less) and The Love had a mojito too, which looked and (as she said) tasted really nice. There was even a guitarist performing a mix of blues and other songs, including his own song Lockdown Blues (which was actually really good) so make that tune of the day - and the vibe was really good, staff were lovely - definitely a surprise but a very nice one!

Later on The Love made some nice steak and some potatoes and veg for tea, and we settled in for the evening with a nice drink each and watched the F1 sprint race with Max Verstappen winning that and getting pole for tomorrow, with Lewis Hamilton second and Valtteri Bottas third. Fernando Alonso make up some places, and all was decent for that. I'm not sure how successful it might be in the future, but good to see at least that it was given a go of course. And we even watched Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with plenty of shouting the answers out at the telly.

Friday 16th July - North, The Cheaper Way

It was good to be in the office with some lovely aircon flowing through, which meant I felt considerably cooler than outside, where the temperature was slowly getting warmer. Of course it's nice to have a lovely warm weekend ahead and I'm sure that The Love In My Heart and I will make the most of it, but when you're attempting to work, it's a lot easier being in an environment that supports working better rather than of course feeling a tad on the warm and overheated side. In fact, I had plenty to do today anyway.

First of all, I had got to the bottom of what had happened in some cases when users were attempting to deploy the in-place upgrade to Windows 10, using the task sequence (because we need to kill off Google Drive first). What I think happened was that in the deployment properties, the default is to try and use another DP, but of course because we're getting the actual downloads from Microsoft Update itself, then you don't need that, so amended the deployment properties, and all good, happy days.

What I was pleased to see though was the announcement from work about next week onwards: although restrictions are being relaxed and removed somewhat from Monday (not convinced it's such a good idea myself, but there you go) we're keeping things as they are in the office: maximum of 50% capacity, face coverings when not at your desk, and on top of that, still all the same security and hygeine measures too so we're all as safe as we can be. I know staff have reaped the benefits of being in, so it really does show that wellbeing is being taken seriously.

It was off to Euston later (and earlier than scheduled due to an early finish on Friday for the next few weeks) and so it meant I could take advantage of the off-peak return for £45 between Manchester and London that I am going to do with London Northwestern Railway and Transport for Wales - the first between Euston and Crewe that stops at more stops, the second between Crewe and Manchester, the idea being that although slower it's massively cheaper than Avanti West Coast, who should be called Avanti West Cost due to the lack of advance fares now being available.

Anyway, all was good as I'd got a Sainsburys Meal deal at Euston, so had that on the way up to Crewe, and had plenty of time to walk between platforms 7 and 6 (same island bays too) and then get the train to Manchester, with the likes of John Carpenter's excellent Vortex playing in the background (make that tune of the day) and The Love In My Heart was waiting for me and we soon sped to her place, with Brian the cat all ready for some fussing and cuddles, because he is so adorably cute of course. We've got a busy-ish day tomorrow so it was a case of watching Gogglebox and The Last Leg, then heading off for some well earned sleep.

Thursday 15th July - Gronda Gronda!

I was a bit narked at a few things happening with work today, so I thought it best to completely unwind a little bit and do something else instead after the working day. And after a bit of thought, I thought it was high time I watched some more episodes of the classic 1980s TV show The Adventure Game, where three contestants had to make do with solving fiendish puzzles, ending up (from series 2 onwards) with crossing the iconic vortex in their attempts to escape from the planet Arg with a crystal intact, hopefully not offending the ruling Rangdo too much (an aspidistra in series 2 and 3, and a teapot in series 4 - yes, seriously!)

It was notable that two episodes at the time of the DVD box set I have still remaining missing from the BBC archives: in fact one of the series 1 episodes, which I watched first of all, was actually an off air recording which was salvaged as much as possible. It was longer than the other episodes of that series and potentially gave away something for series 2, that Lesley Judd would remain on Arg and become the Mole for that series, working with (and most likely against!) the contestants, who had to work out who the Mole was and make sure the correct one was identified, thus not evaporating the other contestants.

One thing you may not have realised is that the major characters were all anagrams of the word dragon, and the currency, the iconic drogna, more so. The butler Gandor was the only character to remain constant in all four series, often asking for tickets in payments of drogna or asking how many argonds were around the pond in later series. Gnoard, played by the ace Charmian Gradwell, was the one to sort of help and guide the contestants a bit, and in series 4, there was Dorgan, played by Sarah Lam, who would do similar. There was also the backwards speaking Australian Rongad, who would even sing Waltzing Matilda backwards and proclaim "Doogy Rev" (work it out!) if the contestant did well.

Of course, you would always look forward to the vortex and to see the contestant they least liked to be zapped by walking into the vortex - with acclaim of course from Gandor from series 3 and 4, with the Mole and Gnoard being the ones to operate the vortex in series 2. Clearly of course this was very popular as it wouldn't have lasted that long or indeed be so iconic of course. The theme tune in series 1, 3 and 4 was the same (it changed for series 2 with the contestants clearly arriving at BBC Pebble Mill!) which was a version of Duo in G, Op 34 Rondo, arranged by Julian Bream and John Williams and therefore tune of the day of course.

Hard for me to pick a favourite series of course, but probably 3 because it still had Gnoard, and having Rongad added to proceedings. There was also a maze the contestants had to travel through to get a password, controlled by a BBC Model B micro no less, with them controlling a alien dog called Dogran (see what they did there?) and solving puzzles along the way. I really still like this even now and watching episodes of the DVD box set tonight proved it - Thursday evening telly was that and then Monkey! back to back. Awesomeness.

Wednesday 14th July - Bastille Brilliance

It was Bastille Day today and so knew that the Tour de France stage today was going to be cracking - and indeed it was with the most likely winner Tadej Pogacar producing the goods in epic fashion, especially on the final long climb which was a hors categorie climb at that, and finished the stage first and most likely the Tour too. No cracks, no breaks, just absolutely using attacks at the right time to be in the right place at the right time to get to the top first. I must admit it did look pretty steep in places, apparently 12-13% gradient in part, and an average of 8-9% all the way up. Ouch.

I was spending some time this morning in a meeting with two of my colleagues, and we finalised the plan to send out communications to those who were going to be updated to Windows 10 20H2 via task sequence means, and those who didn't need that would get going and have the update brought down automatically. I could already see a fair number were done by the end of today too, with a significant increase in number and the way it all is handled appears to be working nicely. It's always good when a plan comes together, so will see how that works over the next few days or so.

I did then push all of that out, and could see things were working, and also prepped for a software rollout to a test group tomorrow, which was to do with some security software that we're doing as a controlled test environment. It's taken time to get things together but it does look like at least that we'll be able to see the results of that tomorrow, and take it from there. I have to admit that it'll be an interesting next few days as a number of projects are coming together well.

I did venture out to Sainsburys after work and it was reassuring to see that everyone was being compliant with the current rules on face coverings, although of course that'll be different next week. I do think though that keeping them on the tube, Overground and trams etc was a sensible move to be honest, especially if they get busier. I do think employers currently aren't in a major rush to get everyone back in to work all at once and a gradual split over time will most likely be the way forward in my view, but we shall see.

There was also the additional treat today of having some reasonably nice weather but not being too warm, although with the drilling going on outside due to some drain maintenance, I couldn't always keep the windows open to get some air in. I did though decide some music was the option of the day and of course the classic Channel 4 Tour dr France tune used in the 1980s and 1990s, a version of Give It To Me by the late Pete Shelley fits the bill perfectly and is tune of the day.

Tuesday 13th July - Re-Activation

So it was off to the office today, and after a pausing of the Pret coffee subscription so I wasn't charged needlessly for days I wasn't going to be using it, it was back to activating it all this morning before I set off for the office. With me having on average three coffees a day in the office and with no tea or coffee facilities at present, I worked out that for the £20 per month, if I'm doing eight days out of the month in (at minimum) that's twenty four coffees at £2.85 each normally, so saving lots and working out at 83p each, and even less if I decide to add a smoothie on the way home via Charing Cross (also included in the subscription) - and of course I can get one for trains to/from Manchester too, giving me even more if I need.

I must admit it has been good to be back in the office again though, and today I was spending time on working out a couple of future scenarios as well as reading more in depth some of Microsoft's in depth documentation. So, as it transpires, you won't need to go to Windows 11 immediately, and on top of that there will be a feature upgrade (albeit minor) to Windows 10 21H2 later in the year - so anyone even on Pro getting that gets at least another 18 months' grace, Enterprise three years. I know the desktop PC at home doesn't meet the processor specs to run Windows 11 (doesn't have TPM either, but it's a home PC of course!) so much further down the line I might have to invest in a replacement machine.

I also did some checks as to how many of the devices at work would not be compatible - more so that if there is a move to look at going to Windows 11 sooner instead of later, we can see what machines would meet the processor spec and what wouldn't. The numbers were around what I expected, but that's probably going to be in line with a replacement programme and inded the way that we'd look at making sure the replacement kit would be compatible, and it would be. Certainly anything new we'd get now would of course have TPM and be processor ready, so that's a positive.

I did head out to Tesco at lunch time and it did seem a little busier in there as I got lunch, but also was pretty good this afternoon to crack on with a number of projects and queries, and that felt positive, as I did with my one to one meeting with my manager later on. I do think I've been very lucky in that I do feel much more supported and really valued, and I also had investigated a piece of new software and found that the way it updated ensured that the original install product code remained as was, which was excellent news all round.

I stopped off at Pret for a mango and pineapple smoothie on the way home (may as well get the money's worth) and got the train home before having a good chat with The Love In My Heart and then watching the evening athletics from Gateshead. It was all pretty good actually and nice to see KJT back doing the long jump and preparing for her decathlon mission for the Olympics, back from injury. I do miss the proper athletics theme though, World Series by Keith Mansfield, and that has to be tune of the day for me, for definite.

Monday 12th July - Back In The Swing

It did feel within about an hour of working from home today that it didn't feel like I had been away at all. Not necessarily for a specific reason, but primarily because I had seen that a fair bit had gone on last week and that I wanted to play catch up in order to be able to make sure I knew where I was, what the plan of action was to be and how that would all work in the grand scheme of the future happenings. I was also able to assist my colleague over in Shanghai resolve an issue this morning, so that was good all round to be able to devote some time there accordingly.

In any case, I was able to also do some checks over a group we'll be using in future to be able to road test and check out software in any beta form before going live to the masses - the idea being that we get a wider range of people and users and effectively be able to get them more involved at this stage rather than a go live, so we shall see how that all works ultimately. It was a good job I checked though because I found a few things that needed correcting, so always good to be thorough on jobs like these.

Anyway, with the day done, a nice treat for me tonight on the telly as Only Connect was back on for a new series, complete with Victoria Coren Mitchell in a polka dot dress. What was there not to like too, especially as one of the connections was all do to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger's famous "I'll be back" catch phrase as well, so definitely interesting to see that. Of course the tune of the day has to be the theme tune, a proper way to open and close the show of course.

It did disappoint me hugely that there was so much racist abuse of certain England players after the result last night, but quite rightfully the likes of Gary Neville called the politcians out for allowing people to boo the players taking the knee, and the way that they attacked footballers calling it gesture politics. Tyrone Mings, the Aston Villa and England defender, rightfully also called out the home secretary for the fact that she was encouraging division, and actually proved why the players have been taking the knee in the first place as their stand for equality and against racism in all forms. Harry Kane the England captain also said that if you want to be like that, then you're not a supporter. Spot on.

I think it's important that as well as so many players calling it out, having allies who are not subject to racism calling it out also shows how together the team are, and how much that together the team are stronger, and better for it. There are now so many more people of different faiths and religions wearing the England shirt that may not have done so before, there are kids at football games taking the knee in solidarity because they've sene the England players do it and say no to racism. And that's because of the players and manager setting the example of how to be a proper person that our politicians sadly lack.

Sunday 11th July - It's Not Coming Home

I must admit that although it's been really positive to see the England men's football team progress to the Euro 2020 final, and that they've really set their stall out to play to win, on the other hand I was also pleased that Roberto Mancini had guided Italy to the final too. As a City fan, he gave us the all important FA Cup win we needed after no trophies for so long, and the year after the whole Agüeroooooo thing happened as we lifted the Premier League for the first time. Defining moments for sure, and the way that Italy are back from the lack of World Cup qualification to this speaks volumes for Roberto too. So whilst naturally wanting England to win, if they weren't in the final, I'd have been cheering for Italy no question.

I knew that a lot of people would be out drinking all day and I couldn't be meithered with any of that, and why would you bother when you had the Wimbledon men's singles final and the Tour de France to watch with a dramatic mountain climb in Andorra before the big game? I was a bit gutted that Matteo Berettini didn't win Wimbledon - as much as I respect Novak Djokovic's ability to play the game and indeed get his 20th Grand Slam title, all his antics around the pandemic last year, attempting to form a players' breakaway union, and hitting the umpire to be disqualified from the US Open really did show me he's not in the same league of class as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Or Sir Andy Murray, for that matter.

So the kick off drew near, I had made the dough balls and pizza, and settled in for the evening. I wanted an exciting game and the hopes were raised a little bit when after two minutes a cross from the right from Kieran Trippier found Luke Shaw on the other side, and he slammed it home for the opener. What a start that was. I refused to get excited, as Trippier had scored a free kick early on against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi final and look how that turned out in the end. England did seem to play well for the first half hour or so before Italy gradually got themselves back into the game and it was even stevens in terms of possession at half time.

The second half was all Italy, spurred by some tactical changes by Roberto Mancini. He had managed to work out what was going on and changed the formation to break England down, and went close with numerous chances before from a corner, the ball pinged around the box and up popped Bonucci to score the decisive touch for the equaliser. In truth it was no more than they deserved and yet I still hoped when Jack Grealish came on that we might get a winner, and not before time hopefully.

Extra time came and went, and both sides had their chances but realistically I suspected that I was going to go all the way to penalties. I had no idea what would happen but was worried that realistically we needed to win in 90 minutes. Jordan Pickford in net did all he could and saved two of the penalties, and although we hit the post with one and had two saved which meant we had lost, realistically those who stepped up were brave enough to do so and deserve all the credit for doing so. Sadly I feared that those involved would end up being subject to horrible and vile racist abuse as I headed off to bed, disappointed but still proud of the England team and also pleased for Roberto Mancini that his side had won from the position they were in a few years back.

Saturday 10th July - I'm Coming Home

So, with a nice evening spent together by myself and The Love In My Heart and all snuggled up with Brian the cat (who insisted of course that he has the spot on the sofa that The Love normally sits in, therefore being the boss as per usual) it was nice to have a snuggle at night too and Brian purred his way to sleep lay next to his Mummy. Every time I'd turn around overnight he'd be purring contentedly all the time, so he really must have missed her. Awww, he is so adorable sometimes and this was definitely one of them.

I had got myself showered and changed this morning, and I was all good to head off to Manchester Piccadilly to get the 0955 to Euston. The Love had dropped me off earlier as the first class lounge was supposedly open, but alas, nothing doing there when I got there - closed due to unforeseen circumstances. Ah well, I waited outside the station and had a coffee whilst I waited and took my time before then boarding later on. Thankfully at least the journey was all good - staff were lovely, I had the bacon roll and coffee and orange juice, and all sped on as I had Penfriend's Seventeen amongst the tracks blasting out on the iPod (make that tune of the day)

At Euston it was over to St Pancras and on to the 1220 train to East Croydon and then home. It did feel good to be able to get back home, and all was well with the flat once I had returned. Once I had put on the first batch of washing, and had transferred the pictures from the camera to the PC to be processed over the weekend, I headed out to the local Tesco to get some lunches for next week but also some food for the weekend, including a nice Pizza express offer on a thin and crispy Romana carbonara pizza, dough balls and cheesecake for £8 and some beers too.

In fact, it was good just to settle back in, and not have zero post to come back to either, and then watch the Wimbledon women's singles final. I was pleased that it did to go three sets and Ash Barty was a deserved winner in my view - she went for the shots when she needed to and it was entertaining to watch - as in fact was the Formula E race from New York later on with all sorts of fun and games going on inside what seemed to be a very tight circuit near Brooklyn - notably the hairpin turn by the harbour with the attack mode activation on the outside of the corner as well just to sort of really spice things up a bit.

I did have a chat with some friends later online, and it was just good to catch up with everyone and be able to discuss all things football (and of course the final tomorrow) and also be able to have a couple of drinks as well - the Vocation Life or Death IPA went down very well despite being strong and I was able to identify that one of my friends had one of the St Peter's ales due to the fact that the bottle is pretty unique in its oval shape, so something I spotted straight off.

Friday 9th July – Home via the Tyne

It was an early ish rise for myself and The Love In My Heart, and we both were able to get ourselves showered and ready, put all the bedding and towels in the laundry bags provided so that the changeover staff could do their thing safely, and we were getting the cases packed and put into the car. I did feel sad as did The Love as it really did feel like the week had gone quickly, but managed to get a lot of places visited and had had a wonderful time too. We stopped off at the local Morrisons to get some petrol and at around 9am we said one final goodbye to Amble as we were heading off to The Love's place and homeward.

We decided on a different route back due to all the roadworks on the A1(M) we had experienced, and so instead took the A1068 south towards Ashington before turning off for the A189 bypassing Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and on to the A19 main road, passing by Blyth and the turn off for Whitley Bay before then entering the toll booth for the Tyne Tunnel. It was £1.90 so had a two pound coin to hand to put into the coin acceptor, which cleverly was a big basket to drop the coin in to then enter the machine. We got through the tunnel fine and followed the A19 past the turn offs for Sunderland, Middlesbrough and then Thirsk before then following the A168 towards the A1(M), joining in North Yorkshire just after the turn off for Masham.

We did stop off at Wetherby Services, which was pretty busy it has to be said. I went into Costa and we both had a Wiltshire ham and cheese toastie with a coffee, which did the job for a late breakfast / early lunch. It was nice to sit outside as the weather had stayed dry, and then were heading off back onto the A1(M), followed by the M1 down to the M62, and across the Pennines back towards Manchester. We did get slowed up slightly by some congestion on here, but I have to say that the journey via the A19 went smoothly, and the fact we took just over 4 hours to get back to The Love's place, including a 30 minute break, compared to six and a half hours (with an hours break) meant we'd actually saved two hours travelling time.

Back at The Love's place Brian the cat was being super cute and wanting lots of fuss and attention, which he of course got in bucket loads. He had his tuna, and some Dreamies, and also was able to have plenty of love and cuddles too. He also was sniffing everything and wondered where we had both been, so definitely for us nice to see he was all well and good. He was also preening himself later on and definitely was really cute, and had a play outside admiring the view. I know that The Love had really missed him all week, so definitely for me nice to see the two of them reunited as well.

I also watched the latest stage of the Tour de France as the riders headed across to Carcasonne. Interestingly it looked like at one point a rider hit an outside pole and some riders following took avoiding action and headed down a ravine. This did mean the end for some riders including Simon Yates, but thankfully Mark Cavendish avoided that and along with his team mates, was led out superbly to win the stage and equal Eddy Merckx's all time stage wins record at the same time. It was a historic moment and a pleasure to see, to the classic Tour de France by Kraftwerk is tune of the day – mega pleased for Cav to land that milestone too.

Thursday 8th July – Alnmouth Ambience

As the sun was going to be out for the warmest day of the holiday today, The Love In My Heart and I thought that a beach day would be perfect for us both, and having looked at the options, we thought that Alnmouth would be a good option – it wasn't far from Amble, and the car park looked to be right next to the beach. We set off with shorts and sun cream, and all ready for the nice weather, and had got some crisps, cold drinks, cold meats and sandwiches all packed to have for a lunch too, so off we set, and once at Alnmouth, we followed the road to the car park and towards the beach, and £3 for all day parking was excellent value.

We got a parking space close to the beach and it was nice and easy to head down. The little concrete breakwaters were excellent spaces to set up the beach towels and our setup, so we were able to rest and relax there with the sun out and the clouds clearing too, so definitely for us both nice to chill out and relax. I had the iPod on and played some cracking tunes including the really good Penfriend album, so the track I Used To Know Everything is tune of the day. It did feel really nice sitting and relaxing in the sunshine and the two of us felt all calm.

I did have a walk North along the beach towards one corner full of rocks and outcrops that would lead onwards to Boulmer, before heading back and sharing lunch with The Love. It did feel nice to have some sort of picnic lunch together and we really did enjoy the peaceful calm setting – in fact, families were out and with their dogs too, and it did seem like a very family friendly beach and well used, which was good to see. I did also walk along the coast path the short distance into the centre of Alnmouth, admiring the views of the estuary, the painted coloured houses and the local pubs and historic buildings before stopping off at a local shop and getting a local beer each for myself and The Love too. It definitely went down well, and the brewery was in fact based in Acklington, not far from Amble.

The day went by so nicely that before we knew it, it was almost 5pm, having been on the beach since around 11.30am. I did feel a little sunburnt on the legs despite the factor 50 being applied (the arms and face were okay though) – but it was worth it for the such a nice chilled day and being by the sea. It also showed us both again just how beautiful the coast was, and that really did make us happy. We got back to the apartment and again admired the boats in the marina as well as the ducks, and packed a fair bit to save time for tomorrow – then got ourselves showered and changed for the evening meal tonight.

We were also eating local tonight and had booked The Old Boathouse by Amble harbour. I was lucky to get a booking for tonight despite me ringing them two weeks ago, and we were soon to find out why. The Love had a carafe of wine and I had a nice local Pennine Pale ale, and the starters came out first. The Love had a tomato dish with goats cheese which looked lovely, and it was refreshing for The Love, and I had the smoked haddock chowder, which was creamy and really full of haddock, bacon and spring onion too. The mains of the cod and chips were cooked superbly, and we both loved that. We did feel really full afterwards so no desserts for me, but it was a really nice end to the week as we walked back, admired the sunset and had a drink in the Radcliffe's Bar close to the apartment which was a lovely way to wind down. The week had gone too quickly but it had been a superb week, and so nice to explore somewhere different.

Wednesday 7th July – Bamburgh Castle and Seahouses

It was another trip along the coast today for myself and The Love In My Heart, as we were off on our second longest trip of the week, but this time along the coast road, which was the B1339 followed by the B1340 as we headed along to Beadnell and followed the coast towards Seahouses, before then seeing the sand dunes and the impressive Bamburgh Castle looming very large – and right by the sea too it has to be said. We took the road up the hill to the castle car park which was all good, and got ourselves a space before then heading up hill towards the castle entrance.

I must admit I liked this castle for different reasons too – the outside walls really did have good armaments and cannons, and the way that they faced the sea meant you had an excellent view too. You also then had a really nice West wing outer section complete with a small museum, ancient medieval village and former windmill, albeit with the sails now removed, so you could get an idea of how the castle grounds were used back in the day. It was very good to see, and more so in the state rooms, especially with its grand main hall and curved arch leading to another room too. It felt posh and it felt proper as you headed upstairs to other bedrooms and state rooms.

We got down to the basement and saw the servants quarters leading to the shop and even a small dungeon, which looked spooky. It was raining a bit outside and we noted also the former chapel complete with bell, and an outer wall which had an excellent view of the lower castle walls and indeed the sand dunes and beach. For me it was all lovely, and The Love also said that she had enjoyed it but for different reasons too. I really liked the feel and as we left the castle, and looked back at its impressive position, you could understand why the latest Indiana Jones movie had been filming here last month.

We then headed along to Seahouses and got a spot in the main car park. It did have a few very nice little shops complete with art, crafts and so on being available. We did note the number of fish and chip takeaways complete with the fact that multiple electric scooters were around too, blocking the narrow roads a bit. We walked down to the harbour and admired the boats heading out with day trips to the local Farne Islands nearby, a lot of which are nature reserves and house birds as well as seals and puffins – the cruises were very popular, it has to be said.

We stopped off at the Bamburgh Castle Inn for lunch, and I had a nice local pint of ale and also a cod goujons sandwich with chips which did the job nicely – The Love had the antipasti meat and cheese platter which looked very good. We did note the nice view of the harbour from the window and it was good to relax over lunch together. We then headed down via the harbour and the old tram used as a coffee and ice cream stand, and back up to the main road and to the Bunkers complex, which had crazy golf. It was £4 for the 18 holes each, and the course played really well. I got two holes in one, one of which was the Lindisfarne Castle hole, and a leter hole was also modelled on Bamburgh Castle too. Superb stuff.

The Love and I later on headed off on the B1340 and towards Alnwick, as she had seen a gift that she wanted to get earlier in the week and wanted to head over and get it, and made sense as the road would take us there anyway, crossing over the East Coast main line and then descending into Alnwick. We did have the disc parking pass which meant we could park up in the town centre, and thankfully when we went into the gift shop they still had what we were after, so it was one purchase later and back to the apartment, where we would later watch the England v Denmark Euro 2020 semi final too.

Before the football, I headed to the local Chinese takeaway, Golden Harbour, to get us both some tea. I had crispy shredded beef in schezuan sauce, and The Love had the chicken balls in sweet and sour sauce. We got some won ton to share and had fried rice, and the staff also gave us some prawn crackers too, so a definite feast to enjoy and be ready for the game ahead, which was going to be somewhat exciting but also nervous too. I had some nice plum porter beer at the ready too and we were all set with the Chinese meal being gorgeous and another place I can highly recommend.

The first half was nervy, and Damsgaard's superb free kick put Denmark ahead, deservedly so. England fought back though and for me it was good to see that there was some battle involved, and the ball from Harry Kane went to Bukuyo Saka and his slotted pass would have found Raheem Sterling to score, but Simon Kjaer bundled the ball into his own net for 1-1. And that was how it stayed until extra time, despite the fact that England should have had a penalty for a foul on Harry Kane during the second half. Raheem Sterling was fouled in the box for an admittedly soft penalty, but Kane had his pen saved by Kasper Schmeichel, only for the ball to come back to Kane to score. Fate? Hopefully. The bit of luck we needed was right there, and we held on to win 2-1, with Three Lions emnating around Wembley, so had to be tune of the day – it just felt like a really good day all round.

Tuesday 6th July – Walking In The Warkworth Rain

The weather did look pretty awful today and seeing the rain outside made us both feel like a lie in after such a nice meal last night, and after some nice breakfast, we were wondering if the rain would stop enough or not. The marina looked grey and misty, and the feel of the coast was more Autumn than Summer. That said, the sky did start to clear somewhat and we were able to look at heading out, but possibly going somewhere local so we didn't have far to go. As we'd passed through but not stopped, we thought that Warkworth, a mile or so from Amble, was a good call.

We did manage to park up by the River Coquet, which surrounds the centre of Warkworth, and walked along the river path to what was the old bridge, which you can still walk over and have a good view of the river. It did start to rain a bit more, but we did venture into a nice little shop close to the town square, and that was a nice place to browse. In fact The Love In My Heart did manage to get a couple of nice cards and there were plenty of items we could have bought in there if we fancied it. It was good to be out of the rain for a bit and we headed straight across the road afterwards.

And had a very nice drink in the Masons Arms pub. The entrance had a roped off barrier to stop everyone just walking in, and after checking in, the staff showed you to a table. It was nice and cosy inside and the local Alnwick Amber ale was lovely, with The Love having a glass of wine too. We did note later the beer garden at the back and could imagine on a nice bright day this being packed outside, especially with the view down to the river and the way that you could admire all of that. We did stop off close to Warkworth Castle on the way back and we'd be able to get some pictures of that as well.

We got back to the apartment and later on as the rain abated, we headed off along Amble harbour and then towards Amble Pier, and the view of the lighthouse. You couldn't walk to it due to it being fenced off, but the breakwater you could walk along which took you to the other side of a small beached area called Little Shore, which I could imagine had nice shallow waters to wade in and also the beach huts close to the Fish Shack restaurant were also noticed too. It did feel nice and even with the odd bit of rain you could see how the harbour and fishing port worked well.

We had some really nice pulled pork in some baked bread for tea along with some potato wedges, and settled in with a nice drink of the Cat in the Wall IPA that I'd got from Brewis Beer earlier in the week, so that was spot on. The rain had stopped and eased and The Love had the main telly on, and in the bedroom I settled in to watch the first semi final of Euro 2020 as Italy faced Spain. It was dramatic in the end as with the result being 1-1 after extra time it did go to penalties, and Italy did the job to win. Tune of the day had to be something Italian, so La Dolce Vita by Ryan Paris is said track – primarily because even though we had some rain, this reminded us of sunnier climes and also the fact we were still enjoying ourselves.

Monday 5th July – Alnwick Castle

We had booked tickets in advance to head to Alnwick Castle today, and it was something we both wanted to go and see – it had been used as a filming location for Downton Abbey, so The Love In My Heart appreciated that, and also Harry Potter, so as you can imagine that meant that the castle was very popular with families too. We also wanted to explore the town of Alnwick a bit too, so made sense to do that the same day. We had some nice bacon sandwiches for breakfast, and then once all up and ready, it was off on the road to Alnwick, and after not being able to locate a parking space, we used the castle and gardens car park, which was worth the £3 all day charge for less hassle to be honest.

We walked through the main path, past the entrance to the Alnwick Garden (which looked very nice but was a sepaate attraction to go round) and then as we turned the corner, the castle came into view. It was very much a case of a wow factor there, and as we entered and wandered around the outer bailey of the castle, it certainly did feel really nice, with information boards giving you information on filming locations within the castle and what film was made where – a really nice touch to be honest. We also then went into a couple of the towers and explored inside which had some good exhibits on about the weapons used at the time, including in the bailey's outer walls some of the cannons as well.

Once we'd explored that we joined the queue to cross into the inner courtyard and then onwards to the state rooms. No photography is allowed inside these rooms, but The Love recognised the rooms that were used as Brancaster Castle for Downton Abbey, and imagined how it would be in the series – the first time that filming was allowed in these rooms too. It really did feel rather nice inside and we were able to explore around using a one way system and also seeing a large piece of stone that was on loan from Whitby Abbey as well before then heading into the gift shop and to the bailey walls further, seeing the broomstick games reminiscent of Harry Potter.

We did also explore the military museum which was at one of the corners of the castle and in one of the towers, and this had a fascinating insight into the fusiliers, and what sporting achievement some of their alumni had made over the years too. I did also note the music being played from the marches in one of the rooms including the classic Blaydon Races (make that tune of the day) and that really added to the feel. We had a further walk around the courtyards before making the exit and into the town centre, which did feel historic. We stopped off at a café for some lunch and that was nice to sit outside, especially as it was pretty warm also.

Once we had explored some of the little shops in Alnwick town centre, we walked through one of the gates which was a tower and then over to a historic bookshop, set in the former train station – Barter Books. The Love I think was disappointed that it was all secondhand books, but I loved the way that the station building had been used, with the waiting rooms being a very nice café and the way that the fiction bookshelves all were arranged in a circular formation from a central desk – it really did feel pretty nice, and with a little model train wandering around the place as well.

We headed back to the car park and off back to the apartment later, and we were heading out for a meal tonight in Amble, at La Famiglia, a nice Italian which seemed to be really good. We were not disappointed. The staff were all friendly and lovely, the ambience was really good, and the food was delicious. I had the tomato and basil soup to start and The Love had the bruschetta, both spot on, and The Love's main of the chicken in cream sauce with potatoes really did look and taste spot on, as did my fetuccine carbonara. All of that plus a bottle of Birra Moretti for me and a glass of wine for The Love, for under £40? Absolutely superb value too – and a meal just as nice as we'd had in Ciao Roma in Edinburgh, but for much less. Definitely can recommend La Famiglia – and we sort of wished we'd booked for later in the week too!

Sunday 4th July – Craster In The Sea Fog

The weather didn't look convincing today – it certainly was dry at least but it did feel very misty even with the marina close by to us. We did have a full breakfast complete with sausages, egg, mushrooms and bacon, and that got the day off to a good start as we had a nice coffee and orange juice to go with all of that. We were noticing that if anything, the mist was turning into sea fog, but maybe it was a passing spell and would clear up later on, so we decided to head out in the car and head up the coast to Craster, with a walk along the coast path to Dunstanburgh Castle too.

We were back on the Northumberland Coast Road, and once we'd got past the turn off for Alnmouth, we then headed right along the B1339, past RAF Boulmer and onwards towards Howick, where we'd turn off for Craster and pass the entrance for Howick Hall Gardens before the road would turn left near the coast and eventually descend towards Craster, with the road diverting you into the main quarry car park, which was surprisingly busy considering that it still felt like there was fog and mist in the air. It was at least dry and we walked from the car park towards Craster village.

We noted the Jolly Fisherman pub and their fish and chip take out van, and also noted the road descending into the harbour, a small privately owned harbour at that. Of course the sea fog added to the feel as it looked, so we decided that we'd follow the coast path and walk along it for a while. There were also plenty of sheep out and about, including one ram at the top of one of the hills who looked majestic and definitely was being the boss, as the other sheep in the flock went about exploring the hills and the grass to graze on. Eventually through the sea fog we would see Dunstanburgh Castle and its ruins, and that certainly was pretty spooky considering the way that the walls were visible on the castle, just about.

We walked back along the coast path and we did see more sheep bounding around,and the fog was starting to lift a little as we eventually went back into Craster. So much so that we managed to get a table at the rear of the Jolly Fisherman, so we could see the harbour and have some nice drinks and lunch together too. The Love In My Heart had the plougman's which looked really good, plenty of variety and also a good feast, and I went for the burger, which was a big chunk of beef well done complete with chips and a nice relish, so that certainly filled the gap very nicely indeed. Craster was nice, albeit a bit small, and it would make sense as we did to take the walk to the castle also.

On the way back, we stopped off in Amble at a little industrial unit that was Brewis Beer, and their tap room. It was the first anniversary of the tap room too and it was nice that the staff were lovely. I had their Cat in the Wall IPA and liked it so much that I got a two pint growler bottle to take away with us to have during the week as well. The vibe was really nice and did feel relaxed, with the really good beer and the good music in the background being not too obtrusive, and a lot of locals seemed to be drinking here as well which said to me how good the place was. Definitely had to do this whilst here and we were glad that we did.

Once we got back to the apartment, the weather did clear slightly but still did feel a little on the foggy side, and we did admire all the ducks with their babies by the marina having a swim by the marina, camouflaging themselves in the seaweed and mud so that the heron nearby wasn't able to spot them. It certainly felt very nice and was good to have a bit of nature on the doorstep too. We did have some really nice chicken with some potatoes later for tea, and we were able to admire the harbour views during the evening too. It certainly felt relaxing, and tune of the day is the excellent Holiday by Pullover, a classic song about the seaside holiday and finding out who I am, in a caravan. And there were plenty of caravan parks alongside the coast too.

Saturday 3rd July – Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle

We had booked tickets for Lindisfarne Castle (as it was National Trust) on Holy Island, and so of course we knew that we had to take into account the safe crossings over the causeway to do so. I did remind The Love In My Heart that actually it was a full road causeway, not just a walk over one, and so we would be able to drive over and then walk into the village and go exploring. I definitely was looking forward to this as I'd always fancied going over if up that way, so we had a really nice breakfast to set things off before having little walk around Amble harbour, seeing the cute little shops in huts that was Amble Harbour Village, and seeing the boats moored in the harbour, some of which would set off for puffin cruises on the nearby Coquet Island.

We set off in the car and headed along the A1068 through Warkworth and then onwards along the coast road, with the coast visible on the right as we headed towards Alnwick and turning off for the road towards the A1. We'd be following the A1 North for some time, and this was the longest journey of the holiday for us, as we went all the way to Beal before then turning off on the road to Holy Island. Of course we wanted to time it so that we would cross the causeway road when safe to do so, but we got there a few minutes early, so we safely pulled up and I could admire the view over. There was a little bit of mist in the air and that added to the suspense feel of going over the causeway too. It did feel surreal when heading over!

We got to the car park at Chare Ends and then headed along the road to the village itself in Holy Island. It certainly was nice to have a little walk around, with good little shops, the place that makes Lindisfarne Mead, as well as Lindisfarne Priory and the church next door, which you could walk around and get views of the priory itself without the need to actually pay for the priory – good to know I think. It certainly was intriguing with the coast all around us, and we then headed back to one of the main streets and to the Ship Inn, where sensibly we had booked a table for lunch so that we wouldn't be having to scootle around to find somewhere.

This proved to be a wise move – I had the steak pie, which was more of an open pie with pastry on top but had plenty of steak in a lovely gravy, with some chips to match too. The Love also had a very nice dish too, a posh burger with some lovely cheese and bacon on top, and coupled with some nice drinks really was a good place to spend some lunch time together. The pub was popular with people with dogs and were heading out to the beer garden, although some rain was looming a little. So being inside was sensible really and we later headed off on the walk along the shore and towards Lindisfarne Castle.

The weather had got a little windier and felt like it was going to rain more as we saw the National Trust staff close to the entrance to Lindisfarne Castle. It was nice inside and there was an exhibition of some light and projection images of the island and castle reflected on,which was good. We also then after doing the castle tour headed to the entrance to the old lime kilns, which were underground and a welcome respite from the rain, before then heading to the gardens which were separate to the castle itself and had a nice vegetable patch all very well maintained. We both enjoyed that and took a walk along the shore back to the village, wit the rain easing and the castle looking somewhat mythical in the weather too.

It was an enjoyable visit and certainly for me it felt very dramatic being on the top of the castle and seeing the view around, but also really good to be on the island too. We headed over the causeway back to the mainland and took the A1 back towards Alnwick and then the A1068 back to Amble and home. We had some food in for tea, so we were going to have some pasta and meatballs with some garlic bread, and then share the bottle of red wine to go with it, all set and ready for tonight's Euro 2020 quarter final as Ukraine took on England in Rome. England won 4-0 and it was awesome to watch, certainly as the players really went for it after an early opener and showed utter class. Tune of the day is New Order's classic World in Motion, complete with John Barnes rap of course. That set the tone perfectly and we had a gorgeous sunset over Amble marina to admire too, so all well there.

Friday 2nd July – Off to Northumberland

It was an early start for me this morning as I headed off to East Croydon station, followed by the train to London St Pancras International, and then heading across to Euston and in good time for my train to Manchester Piccadilly. I had at least got a first class ticket for the trip up, and this did mean that I would be able to go into the first class lounge, where the very lovely staff served me a coffee and a croissant for a nice early start and that did get me up nicely. I was also able to relax and see the concourse getting busier as trains arrived into Euston, but I was heading the other way, so was quite pleased to be going against the masses really.

The train departed on time and did at least look all fine until just past Watford Junction, where the train had to go slow between there and Milton Keynes Central due to a bridge strike, which wasn't good. Once past all that, the onboard breakfast was served and it was nice to have a bacon roll and a coffee in order to make the start to the day even nicer. The train had been 15 minutes late but had made up a fair bit of time and was able to arrive in Manchester around 8 minutes late, which wasn't too bad. I knew that The Love In My Heart would be waiting for me on arrival, and this way we would be able to set straight off on holiday without upsetting Brian the cat, as it was stressful enough for The Love without me being there too.

Once picked up and luggage put into the boot, we headed off to the M62 towards Leeds, and the traffic was pretty busy as we headed over Summit and over the tops, and this did ease slightly as we left for the A1 then the A1(M) after that. We did though have lunch planned at the Black Sheep Brewery bistro in Masham, so came off the A1 and had a very nice lunch to start the break off. I had the steak and ale pie which was of course gorgeous, and The Love did have a very nice steak sandwich with plenty of chips too – and it really was nice to be relaxed and taking some time out as we headed through Bedale towards the A1(M) later on.

As we headed further North, with the excellent Arrivals and Departures album from The Icicles being played on the iPod (make Snowbird tune of the day due to the lyrics and sunny happy feel) we noted that past Scotch Corner, th e A1(M) appeared to be on a go slow, and a number of road works didn't help matters either as approaching Newcastle, it was stop start through a few junctions until we got past the end of the Metro Centre, and only then approaching Morpeth did it all appear to be easing off. We couldn't get into the apartment we'd rented until 6pm anyway, so we had allowed for some traffic. The A1 became single lane traffic but moved reasonably well, and made the turn off and through some country lanes for the town of Amble where we would be based.

We made our way through the town centre and towards the harbour, and just before there were the entrances to the apartments, with a dedicated parking space undercover (so the car wouldn't get wet) as well as a roller shutter door with all sorts inside should we need it. We did collect the keys and then entered the apartment – and wow, we really did do well with this one. The living and dining area was all open plan with a balcony overlooking Amble marina, and two very lovely bedrooms, the main master bedroom being en-suite also. We also had a welcome hamper complete with goodies, some milk and butter in the fridge, and the hamper had scones, jam, marmalade, a fresh loaf of bread, and a bottle of local ale as well as a bottle of red wine. That was really lovely and really did add a touch of class to everything.

Once we had unpacked the clothes and cases, and settled in, I headed off along towards the harbour and to the Harbour Fish Bar. The fact that there was a queue outside was reassuring, and seeing the portion sizes, I ordered a small fish and chips for The Love and a medium for me. Even so, I could have got away with the small, it was a big size fish and the chips were also lovely. It really did feel nice to be able to relax and we had also been to Morrisons to get some essentials too, so had plenty of wine and beer in as extras as well as some items for breakfasts and evening meals. We definitely felt very relaxed and it was nice just to appreciate the sunset over the marina and set the week off to an excellent start.

Thursday 1st July - The Last Day In

So it was to be the last day for me to be in work for a short while, as a nice holiday was around the corner. Admittedly it was something that myself and The Love In My Heart had been looking forward to, a lot, and it certainly felt nicer when the owner of the apartment we were staying in gave me a call this afternoon to check that everything was okay and that we were good to go. Of course it was natural that there were some good recommendations in there, some of which we noted to be quite useful and some we had already acted upon, so definitely good to know there were similar lines along which we thought - even the partner's name was the same as The Love, which was good.

It all seemed to be going well til around lunch time, and then all of a sudden everything seemed to want to kick in at once without as much as any say so prior. I did have to refuse one task (with my manager's support) because no way was I going to get that all up and running before the end of play - not least if I wanted to actually get things tested properly and make sure that the install and uninstall would work the way that it wanted to - because if you don't fully test, it'll only come to bite you later on of course.

I had pretty much packed the case in the main last night, so the only thing to do today was some final bits of washing and sorting out, and indeed getting the face coverings all washed and clean too (as they're still needed at present and for the foreseeable future, even when it moves to advisory I'll probably still wear them indoors in shops and on public transport anyway to protect people, because that's me being kind.) I have to say that for me it's just good that we're both able to get away somewhere this year, even if the weather might potentially be on the turn as well (which would be not so hot, but can't win them all.)

I also was able to get the iPod sorted out with plenty of tunes, and a lot of those would be ones which we both liked, some time to transfer over plenty from the new CDs I have to the PC, and then get them over to the iPod where needed with CopyTransManager doing the work well, because it is much more lightweight than iTunes and doesn't want you to sync everything for the hell of it. It gives you much more freedom to put on what you want when you want too (and it's a free product by the way!) and so the likes of the new Paul Weller and James albums went on there.

In fact I played Fat Pop Volume 1 through the separates rig at home anyway, and that sounded excellent it has to be said, boosted by the live broadcast with orchestra that The Love and me saw the other week. The title track Fat Pop has a really nice groove to it and some nice acoustics that really make it feel more of a pop instead of a rock tune, and certainly good fun, so tune of the day for me and that has to be one I'll go back to for sure. Nice to hear so much good music lately too as the James album is also excellent.