Dear Diary... July 2023

Sunday 30th July - Epic E-Prix

Today was all about Formula E and the second of the two London E-Prix being held at ExCeL London (yes, they do spell it mixed case like that!) In effect, the world drivers' championship had been decided yesterday with Jake Dennis' second place enough to mean it was the first British driver to win the Formula E world title. Nice. In fact that race was pretty mad, so more of the same today would be good. I had got myself a £79 inside grandstand ticket, as there was rain forecast later and it didn't look good. Also, this did mean that I could see how it works as an inside / outside track even more so, as last year I was outside in the grandstand by turn 16 where the attack mode activation was.

There were no train strikes but there were engineering works, so the plan to go to Shadwell and get the DLR there were thwarted (as would have been cheapest option.) However, Plan B did work, which was to get the train from East Croydon to Farringdon (which diverted around Streatham Common, Streatham and Herne Hill to Blackfriars, missing out London Bridge) and then at Farringdon heading down for the purple train and getting off at Custom House, and right by the ExCeL centre. I actually got one of the first trains out from East Croydon following the strike, so managed to get to where I needed to be by 10am, and it was already busy inside.

After getting a well earned coffee from Costa, I headed up to Grandstand 3 (quite close to the entrance) and watched the free practice 3 session. My seat was at the top row but this did mean I got a view of turn 3 opposite where I was sat, and could also see turns 1 and 2 and the main home pit straight also, so that was definitely a bonus. The venue presenters Nicola and Dina were superb, and kept everyone involved, where chatting and being lovely to everyone, and Dina even had an orange outfit which could easily have meant she could merge as a marshal (both of them also bigged up the marshals too which was nice to see.)

Free Practice went well, and headed to the Allianz E-Village to see what was there - lots actually. Food and drink stalls in addition to the ones in ExCeL, lots of simulator race games set up with the track, Antstream Arcade also having a number of arcade cabinets with lots of games on, an electric car figure of 8 skid pan type track, and a stage where DJs and later on Tinie Tempah would do a gig between qualifying and the race. Plenty of families around enjoying it too - you can pay just £20 to go to the e-Village (£10 for kids) and make a day of it with the race on the big screen, a cheaper affordable option with still lots to do.

I went back to the seat for qualifying, and that proved to be superb. You see, after the 22 drivers (in two groups of 11) go out and set a qualifying time in the allotted time, the fastest four out of each group go into the knockout stages - quarter finals, semi finals and final, with one hot lap only allowed, so you have to make it count. It works well because of the way that the racers go a good few seconds apart, and then as they warm down they're behind those starting the warm up lap, so no one gets in the way and action flows. There's pauses between the quarters, semis and final - and the final was dramatic. It was Mitch Evans against Nick Cassidy, and the latter of the two Kiwis won by one hundredth of a second over the lap. It was brilliant, and that qualifying format is superb - other motorsport formulas should take note.

After qualifying, I headed to one of the places inside ExCeL to get lunch and they were doing a good deal on sandwiches and salads etc, so managed to pick up a bargain there. The gig happened in the e-Village, I had a water bottle I could refill (and in fact you could pick up a cup to use all day and then hand it back to be re-used, thus enhancing the sustainability a lot more and the whole fact that Formula E has been net zero from day one. I also had to go to the Antstream Arcade stand and blast out Track and Field and smash the records on that - in fact I got to the hurdles second time around on the one credit, go me!

It was then back to the seat in way good time for the race, and I could see beyond turn 4 and outside ExCeL into the docklands - the rain looked almost horizontal and was definitely going to be a tad tricky. In fact by the time the scheduled start of 5pm came round, they tried to do a few laps behind the safety car but it was clear it was just a little too wet at present. Out came some serious roadsweepers on the outside of ExCeL with cheers from the crowd, they did what they could, and later on another two laps behind the safety car before red flagged again. Credit where it was due to Scot Elkins the race director though: he is always clear in his communications, and that definitely made us all aware of what was going on.

The sweepers went back out, the rain turned to a light drizzle, and at around 6.30ish, we had a race back on and green flag, with the crowd going mental. In fact they managed to get the whole race done, with some really slippery outside overtakes (a good one from Dan Ticktum to be fair) and really a balance between keeping the car the right way outside then coming inside for the super grippy indoor bit. In fact Sebastien Buemi got Sam Bird at turn 1, which I saw, and that along with Nick Cassidy going a lights to flag finish in front meant that Envision won the teams championship.

It was a good race in the end - maybe some more overtakes may have happened but I can understand drivers wanting to ensure they didn't hit the wall outside and were really pushing as hard as they could - I was super impressed by the close control and certainly for me it was also history - the first wet race for the new Gen 3 cars introduced at the start of the season too. It definitely was a long and epic but enjoyable day, and I will definitely need to try to get to another Formula E race in another location - possibly Berlin or Rome might be doable depending on timing. In the meantime, tune of the day is the intro title music used in Formula E this season, it's spot on and gets you excited to watch the race. Definitely keep that next year please!

Saturday 29th July - Morphing Around London

With this weekend being one spent at home, and having plenty of things planned, I decided that today was looking reasonably good weather wise and so it made perfect sense to be able to head into central London to do the Morph's Epic Art Adventure London trail. This effectively is similar to other sculpture parades I've seen before such as the Manchester Cow Parade, Bee in the City (my favourite one) and so on. This time, there are 23 small sculptures of the character Morph in buildings, and the main outdoor trail sees 56 large 6ft tall sculptures of Morph dotted mainly around parts of the South Bank and the City of London, with one lone one out in Paddington (so that obviously would be the last one to get.) For those of you who don't know what Morph is, this should help you - effectively Aardman's first main character well prior to Wallace and Gromit.

I set off and headed for the Overground from West Croydon, as that was thankfully running, but not many other trains were because of strike action. The plan worked - get to Whitechapel on the Overground and then change for Tower Hill to get the two by the Tower of London, starting from there. It was throwing it down at Whitechapel but was starting to ease off as I got the first two Morphs and then crossed over Tower Bridge. That made sense because the official trail start was here on the map, with the Morphs on the map numbered 1 to 56 (the two in Tower Hill are 54 and 55) and along the river here, plenty of them to enjoy including a Pearly King inspired one that looked the business.

I did have to head along the Hays Galeria shops and indeed inside the ground floor of London Bridge station to locate another Morph, and did have the mobile app so I could enter the code on each statue to say it had been collected. Unfortunately, it transpired that the info board and code on one of the Morphs by More London (called Morph Over, There's Room For Two!) - is wrong, and actually refers to the mini Morphs in the Guildhall Art Gallery. So the correct code for that large Morph is actually 3514 - so make sure you use that one when you see the Morph Over (it's basically a sofa like a book with Morph sat at the end.)

It was then over to Southwark and Cathedral and through the far end of Borough Market to see another of the Morphs there, and followed the way out past the Borough Yards and towards the nice pub that faces the river and one of my favourites, the Morph with an 80s t-shirt saying "Morph Says Relax" - that one was called Dance Off Morph and looked pretty ace. Lots more near the Tate London too (four in a row) and once I'd got the one close to Blackfriars station, it was a slight backtrack and over the Millennium Bridge, where four more Morphs were situated on the way to St Paul's, and another (although that number was out of sync!) by the Festival Gardens.

It was then via the side of St Paul's Cathedral and to Paternoster Square - a market was on so the three Morphs there had been moved to be close together, and good to see that the former First Dates restaurant is still going well. It was then across to New Change and the shopping centre, seeing two along the road and then to the Guildhall. Two are at the Southern and and in the square, and for the other two you have to go around a side road to get to the Northern end to see them. I did pop in the art gallery and saw the five mini Morphs, including one in a wheelchair in the middle (and as the charity Whizz Kidz are benefitting from this who support young wheelchair users, seemed perfectly apt and good to represent also.)

Once out of the Guildhall, it was along to Cannon Street, then via Leadenhall Market to St Mary Axe where the Gherkin is, and tracking back towards Fenchurch Street before getting to the two outside Liverpool Street station (one looked like it had been moved) and into Spitalfields Market. Because the market was in full flow, two of them were not that easy to locate, but got them in the end. As I knew the other was in Paddington, I decided to hire one of the Santander Cycles, and cycled from Spitalfields Market towards Holborn Viaduct, then onwards to Oxford Street and getting off in Soho Square by Tottenham Court Road purple train station, and took said train on to Paddington.

This actually turned out to be a genius move because the final Morph was on the concourse close to the Elizabeth Line entrance, meaning it was easier to spot. I got that one and it was all 56 of the large Morphs done, and around five miles of walking, three miles of cycling all told. I did decide to treat myself so headed towards the canal close to Paddington and got an outside table at one of the bars there. In fact before I did that I went in and did the "pour your own beer" thing at the bar section they have - it worked nicely and so was able to get myself a nice drinkable Summer beer and sit outside, enjoying the view and the scenery. Nice. Tune of the day in the meantime is the Adventures of Morph TV series theme - had that in my head all day, for obvious reasons!

Wednesday 26th July - On Your Bike!

So it was a nice busy day in the office today, and headed off on the X68 bus from near me to the office. It'll actually be the last time I get the bus with this number, as I'm working from home on the Thursday and Friday and then on the Monday I'll be going in - and it'll be renumbered to SL6. The reason for that is that effectively it'll become part of the "Superloop" group of services that effectively circulate outer London, with this being the anomaly that will connect with the proposed SL5 (Bromley to Croydon) and the renumbering of the X26 West Croydon to Heathrow service to become SL7. Sort of makes sense, I guess.

Anyway, I did manage to head out during the lunch break and thought that for the first time in a long while I'd hire the Santander bikes (as they are now, used to be Barclays originally.) I do miss the fact I used to have a key for operation but that stopped working some time ago (possibly I could re-associate it), and now it's effectively a flat fare of £1.65 per ride up to 30 minutes, instead of a max out of £2 per day provided you did all journeys 30 minutes and under. You can though now do a subscription, which might be worth me checking out sometime.

So after the docking station I was using was deciding to have a bit of a strop with accepting card payment (hmm, maybe using the mobile app might also be useful to here) I had the release code, and then got the bike and started pedalling. And it was surprising how quick I got back into the old routine to be honest, especially as I was heading around to the Royal Courts of Justice, left at Fetter Lane and heading towards High Holborn, then steering along towards Holborn and Tottenham Court Road before diverting down the back of Drury Lane to Aldwych, and docked the bike back. A success!

I think I'll definitely need to look at seeing if the key I still have can be associated with an online account, because then if I do, I can basically do pay as you go for now, give it more of a go and then do a subscription, which might prove useful. I thought that if it helps keep me a little fitter and enables me to cycle around as I needed (and might even give that a go this weekend) then that's good. I do wish they would extend the scheme out towards Croydon though, as I could then use it here and do local cycles - seems that Brixton is around the furthest I can see.

In any case, it was nice to kick back with a suitable cup of coffee (just needed some cake!) and to watch the final of The Great British Sewing Bee. They always have good tunes on during the show and having T Rex's Get It On for one of the challenges was a class move (tune of the day for that reason). The three finalists made some excellent outfits overall and the final challenge of the two in one dress, where you had to reveal a second one in some way to transform it from one item into another was a real spectacular way to think outside the box, and with very different approaches, they all managed well. I was pleased for the winner, as was The Love In My Heart, whom we both thought was a deserved one.

Sunday 23rd July - Roasting With Rain

To say it was raining today was an understatement. Even for Manchester, it did rain a heck of a lot today. The Love was having a well earned lie in after a long week at work and not getting much sleep due to The Cute Little One, so I headed into the front room to watch the Women's World Cup. I had watched England against Haiti yesterday and although Haiti played well, England didn't play that well and were a bit lucky to win 1-0 with a twice taken penalty due to their keeper moving off the line when it was first taken. I do remember though that England struggled to beat Austria 1-0 at the start of the Euros last year, and we know how that one turned out, so you never know.

First up when I got up was a pretty good match betweeen Netherlands and Portugal, with the Dutch side taking the lead from a corner after a quarter of an hour which did look offside, but when VAR looked at it they judged that Jill Roord wasn't interfering with play. Portugal did have a good go of it to be fair and actually the three Silvas in their team were the golden players (see what I did there), notably Jéssica Silva who was causing their defence all sorts of problems. It was a hard fought 1-0 win for the Netherlands but Portugal play like that in their next game and put their shooting boots on, and they will win more than they lose.

Then it was on with Jamaica against France, with the French appointing the white shirt wearing legend that is Herve Rénard, and of course for Jamaica, Manchester City striker Khadija "Bunny" Shaw playing for them. It was an intriguing match up and Shaw against Wendy Rénard was certainly a titanic battle between defence and attack with both players not giving nothing away. Jamaica did contain the French well and had some chances of their own, and Shaw was sent off late on for two bookings, but they did really well to get a 0-0 draw and certainly open up their chances of qualifying from the group stage with Panama up next.

The Love and I decided that it'd make sense later on to head out for some Sunday roast, and so after checking, I booked one of my favourite places, The Ashlea in Cheadle. It was good to go there although the weather was absolutely foul and The Love had to dodge a number of massive puddles where the drainage had clearly failed to take all the excess water from the road. She had the roast pork loin which looked very good and I then had the trio of roasts, so you get turkey, beef and pork as well as the rest of the vegetables and Yorkshire pudding. It was all very nice and we enjoyed that a lot.

Later on we went over to Track's tap room for a drink and The Love had their Arosa helles, always a solid choice, and I had their Gone Tomorrow amber ale, which was on cask and you got a proper old school pint pot too so that worked out really well, loved that a lot. We got back to Piccadilly and this time back after saying a fond farewell it was off to Sheffield and then London, and had the iPod playing some excellent tunes to keep me company on a very busy train out of Sheffield, with the title track of Exotic Monsters by Penfriend being suitably ace and therefore tune of the day.

Saturday 22nd July - Manchester Craft Beer Mission

Today was going to be a good day, as The Love In My Heart had managed to get us both tickets for the Manchester Craft Beer Festival at Depot Mayfield in the city centre, not far from Manchester Piccadilly station, and only had to pay the booking fee! Considering that the tickets were £55 each normally with the premise that once you're in you can have whatever beer you like, there is something in that, but we worked out you would have to drink a heck of a lot in a short space of session time to make that seem worthwhile. Would we have paid that price? Absolutely not. But we're not complaining for getting it very cheap, that's for sure.

The Cute Little One had stayed overnight and having had a little bit of a nightmare, she woke up and wanted lots of cuddles. In the end she snuggled in the bed with The Love next to her, and all being sprawled out starfish style. Brian the cat wanted his usual spot, so he was not best amused at seeing that. We got up and had some toast and a coffee, and The Cute Little One was happily watching the likes of The Lion King too. We did get her to try something on which I had brought with me as a little surprise - it was what I had got from Next - a Miffy green tea dress. It's super lovely and straight away she went "rabbit!" pointing to one of the pictures of Miffy. The Love was really pleased and so were their parents later. Awww.

We had also decided during the day to head to the cinema, to see Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One. We had watched most of the others together over the years at the cinema, and Vue looked sold out, so thought Odeon Great Northern (the former AMC) would do the job. I did remember it was cheaper on their app which I have, and it was (£5 instead of £8.50 in fact) but was I able to book via the app? Nope. In fact their whole website was having issues and I suspect this was down to a mass of people booking for Barbie. It did eventually settle down though so I reckoned it was site overload, and had the tickets ready by the time we got there.

As for the film itself, it was very good. No spoilers from me of course, but some of the locations were mentioned in the trailer, such as the bike stunt where you see Tom Cruise drive off and then freefall parachute down. There was also the train scene, part of which did look like the North Yorkshire Moors railway to me, potentially. And plenty of Venice along the way which was really good. I defintiely think that having this as a two parter and a much extended storyline may work well (like the final Harry Potter one for example) and definitely as ever Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg bring their A game on this one too.

After we had headed back home and to get ourselves changed for later, plus a nice feed for Brian the cat (he was super happy) we headed to Manchester Piccadilly and from there first of all to Freight Island to get some food. We thought it'd be a better move instead of what the food stalls were inside the festival which didn't seem convincing to either of us. We managed to get a spot out of the rain but outside (it was lashing down) and we ordered some nice burgers from Burgerism (their baconed one is the stuff of epic awesomeness) and we had a drink to go with it too before then making our way next door to the entrance to Mayfield Depot.

The depot basically are the underneath of the brick arches that on top of was Manchester Mayfield station,opposite Manchester Piccadilly now. Interestingly, it seemed quite a long way in and you showed your barcode and then collected your nice beer glass, which you would use to effectively get the beer from the stalls as you went round, and top up as you needed once you've drunk the one you had. Lots of stalls, lots of different breweries and all sorts of beer available for you too - anything from a low alcohol lager to a really strong imperial stout, and everything in between.

The Love did spot Fierce Beer were there, so for her the Cerveza that they do was a win - the staff there were super pleased she said its proper name rather than just say "the Mexican lager". I did have a rhubarb ale from there and that was a good starter. We later on spotted Green Duck from Stourbridge, and they were lovely - The Love had their pilsner and I had the bostin' mild (nice to see them use Midlands phrases there) and I would be back there for a porter later, which was really nice too. In fact, we definitely did enjoy having some different beers from local breweries - The Love had the Birmingham Lager from the Indian Brewery, which was different, and I had a blueberry and mango sour from Jarl - as well as us both having a different beer from Thornbridge, the Czech Mate (brewed in co-op with Budvar) and a lemon and sea salt sour which was spot on.

As the rain was coming down outside, we could tell where parts of the arches were still leaking (they're old brick arches after all) and noted some had tarpaulin linked to some tubes to try and catch some of the rain safely. It was wet outside where the toilets were (lovely portaloos, not) and thankfully we both only had to go once, The Love sensibly popping in at the station on the way home. We did find two stools and a little table (effectively made of a cask barrel) and so could chatter there whilst then each heading off to get a new beer.

As it turned out we didn't need to go too far for some of them as we were near Saltaire, so The Love tried their pilsner which was good, and they had already sold out of the triple choc stout or else I'd have had that. Next to them were some Belgian breweries including Super 8, who make a cherry fruit beer. Wow, that stuff was amazing, definitely one of my favourites of the night, and they also did a Belgian pilsner there which The Love also enjoyed. I also did try a nice saison beer from the Hackney Church brewery, with their big illuminated cross at the front of their stand.

As it turned out plenty of the places were selling out of their beer and some had done so earlier, so already Magic Rock and Pomona Island had put up sold out notices on their stands. We did head over to Fierce and I did try their Berry Big Moose, which was a raspberry and coconut imperial stout, a mere 12% - which is why I pretty much had that towards the end of the night. Music was playing too where they had the beer talks, and we both recognised and enjoyed Foo Fighters' classic Everlong, so that was tune of the day for us both. The Love ended with a Cerveza (she loves that) and I had managed to get the porter from Green Duck, and we headed back to Piccadilly and took the tram home, with the rain lashing down. It had been a fab night and so mega pleased that The Love managed to get us tickets!

Friday 21st July - Upgraded

It was a busy day at work today, primarily working on updating software packages and making them available in MECM for machines where needed, but also making sure I used the Intune app packaging tool to create an Intune package ready for upload and configuration into Intune too. I for one was really pleased that on the whole all the hard work I had done in making sure that the install and install instructions were documented for a number of applications really did pay off, meaning that I was able to effectively get things done quicker and better. Always good.

I did head out at lunch time to pick up something, which I had ordered from Next's clearance bit. It's always good to order it online because of the fact that you always get it wrapped and looks like it's from a warehouse, so not having people rifle through it in the shop itself. It's a short walk to the local Next for me and very straightforward to collect, so that was a doddle. In fact it was something I wanted to bring with me later on as it was a little surprise. It was really good to see also that despite the queues, the staff are always really lovely and friendly in there.

Later on I headed off to Kings Cross station, as I wasn't going direct to Manchester tonight (due to engineering works and trains taking ages anyway) and so it was on LNER to Leeds and then Transpennine Express to Manchester Piccadilly. The Love In My Heart was having The Cute Little One stay over too, so would be nice to see her in the morning. I did think about an upgrade to first class and so Seatfrog app was checked, and it turned out that the upgrade for a buy it now price was only around £2 more than the auction was, so thought I'd do that to guarantee a seat.

However, one thing Seatfrog seems to have introduced recently, no matter how you bid, is a "savings fee", so effectively this is around £2 and supposedly pays for maintenance of their platform and so on. But they've never charged it before, and indeed hasn't been well communicated either. So in hindsight, this may be the last time I use them for a while - I do prefer transparency over everything else and that isn't really open. Still, I'd already paid it and so it was on at Platform 0 for the 1833 to Bradford Forster Square via Leeds.

The staff on LNER were as lovely as ever, and before long I was having a Hop On Board ale and had ordered the beef stew that I'd had a few weeks back - that was lovely, and so was the frangipane apple tart, along with some coffee and a biscuit later, followed by some more Hop on Board. I did feel really comfortable and it was nice to kick back with some music including Roy Harper's The Game (Parts 1-5) so that has to be tune of the day for me, accompanying along the countryside as the train sped towards Leeds (cue "choo choo!" train signal and sounds from The Cute Little One, but she only does it for her Nana. Awww...)

Once at Leeds it was a hop over to Platform 15A for the 2115 to Manchester Piccadilly. I was accompanied to Huddersfield by a visually impaired passenger, who was lovely and chatty. I explained about the ticket office closures and she said that for her having people at the station and at the ticket office was vital, and the guards and station staff generally were lovely. In fact the guard on this train assisted her on at Leeds and off at Huddersfield and a member of station staff was there too at the other end. Makes a change to see assistance actually working properly to be honest. I was soon on the tram homeward and to The Love, and we snuggled up for a bit with a drink and a natter before heading for a well earned sleep.

Thursday 20th July - This Is My Mistake, Let Me Make It Good

I was packaging a number of applications today and was attempting to get some new versions sorted, as I do a periodic sweep of what we make available to user's machines and ensure we make a new version ready for upgrade if they need to do so. It's also part of a wider exercise I am doing to ensure we only really are using the ones that people are installing (there's hard facts either way with this of course) and that helps considerably when looking at a move and migration. The good thing is though that the work being done now I can easily replicate in another system and in fact my usual testing of packaging applications stands me in good stead here, well most of the time.

Apart from one today, where I soon realised a mistake and thankfully had only deployed it as available to a test group (again part of my thorough testing). I had got a new version of PowerBI from Microsoft, and was creating the package in ConfigMgr for the installer, along with detection method and so on. All seemed good, but when I then road tested it from Software Centre, the compliance rule failed despite the application appearing to be present. And a quick look later showed where I had gone AWOL.

Yes, I had pointed the package source files to the old version and not the new one, but because I had test installed the new one to get the compliance rule, that compliance rule was correct. But of course that would mean it'd fail as it wasn't showing the new version when tested. So of course it was an easy enough remedy: change the deployment type to look to the correct folder for the source files, redistribute the content of that deployment type, and then re-evaluate and test the deployment. This time - it worked, first go. That made me really happy and showed that there was a reason I do testing!

In the evening I decided to play some of my DVD-Audio discs that I have on my rig, primarily because it was just nice to wind down and to think of something else to be honest. I did start off with Queen's iconic A Night At The Opera album, which really does excel in its 5.1 advanced resolution remaster, lots of gorgeous space filled by a wall of sound, with The Prophet's Song sounding particularly wholesome, and Bohemian Rhapsody, obviously. I followed that one up with Metallica's self-titled album, what some call The Black Album because of its sleeve. Some of those tracks sound particularly good when played loud with the guitars emnanting around the speakers.

It was then on with the 1988 classic album from R.E.M. - and namely Green. It was one of the first CDs I ever bought back in the day and the albums got a 2-disc remaster issue (as lots of them did) with the CD as the first disc and a DVD-Audio version on the second disc. Playing that reveals so many lovely hidden depths of sound especially with the likes of Stand, and even the acoustic stuff with mandolin like Hairshirt. So many tracks emnate with me on that one and it's still my favourite album of theirs.

And it has one of my all time favourite songs of theirs, World Leader Pretend (and so make that tune of the day) which really does give you an insight into how the world might be if you were the leader, and how you'd learn from the mistakes, make them good, build a wall and be the one to knock it down. There's a lovely Americana country feel to parts of that song, especially the interlude before the final verse comes back in with "This is my world, and I am world leader pretend" being proclaimed. To me, it was the bridge between the IRS more indie years and the commercial Warner Bros era and showed the destiny for greatness.

Wednesday 19th July - Upgraded Feedback

I was in the office doing an upgrade today, basically upgrading Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager (MECM, or ConfigMgr as some of you would prefer it) to version 2303. In yet another rebrand, Microsoft went to change it again and this time call it Microsoft Configuration Manager (MCM) so to be honest, sticking with the short name of ConfigMgr works for most - and indeed, some still reminisce with the old name of SCCM despite that not being a thing realistically for several years. Thankfully, I had my colleague do a snapshot backup of the server and databases ready to go before I did the upgrade.

The upgrade itself went very well - normally these days the main part takes around 30-40 minutes with an allowance for another 20-30 minutes whilst the bootstrap installer starts all the site components you need to have running (definitely have sitecomp.log open when you do this!) and it does take a few minutes for the management point role to come onboard, so definitely don't declare it all good until you can see all green ticks in the site status and component views, and then you are all good. Nicely done.

In fact it proved really useful to utilise another feature which was to effectively just push the new client to a pre-production collection, to make sure it's all good. Part of the reason for that also is that due to a few projects ongoing at work we don't want to necessarily push out a client upgrade for now and hold that off, but ensure that the server back end at least is up to date, so that made perfect sense when you think about it. I definitely knew that I wanted to make sure that I tested everything, not least because I would be packaging a lot more applications for that and a new Intune instance later on.

What I did note during the day was the overwhelmingly positive feedback I've had from people since I tweeted my response last night with regards to the ticket office consultation, from actual staff in ticket office, disabled rights campaingers, and ordinary members of the public, a number of which retweeted it and basically said "if you want some reasons why, read the whole thing and there's lots for you there" which was really humbling. I just wrote it as I saw it, backed it all up with hard facts (as The Love In My Heart often says to me, "evidence" is always key in these situations) and to go from there.

I did also note a number of potential legal campaigns too - the Northern mayors including Andy Burnham, Steve Rotheram and Tracy Brabin all voiced their objection and commenced proceedings, and some disabled passengers have got together with an equality law firn, and their statement, notably from the lawyer, was particularly damning to say the least. To which I say, "Good!" to all of it. Remember, it's not about you, and just cos you're happy to be ripped off by Trainline with mobile tickets, and can easily get around, not everyone else can - and it might be you one day. So do think about that, and as for tune of the day - another railway related song, this time Train In Vain by The Clash, somewhat prophetic.

Tuesday 18th July - Complaint Composition

So after working from home today to get a few things sorted out including planning in advance of a system upgrade tomorrow, I spent some time also thinking about the forthcoming plan that the Department for Transport has to use the rail companies via their Rail Delivery Group (substitute the first R with an F and it'd be more like it to be honest) and close so many railway station ticket offices. To be honest, I had an inkling for a time this may be in the offing, but the truth is of course that it was a precondition of giving railway workers more money that they'd need to accept all of these so-called "Modernisation" conditions. Hmmm.

Anyway, I felt like I needed to do something, and to engage with the consultation - especially as there's only 21 days to respond and that date completes next week. I thought a lot about people I know, what would they do, how my Mum might not manage to navigate around tickets without a friendly face to help her out (and give her some confidence she's doing the right thing) and also what that might mean for people who need certain access requirements, and how it would affect them. As said in a recent video on the subject by Jen (on the Move) and Stu, it's not just about you, it's about everyone.

I'm very fortunate also in that I've got a number of online contacts on Twitter who are far more expert in using the railway as a disabled person, and their learned experiences and real life situations are examples of not just when things go right, but sadly when things go (badly) wrong too - and this includes Lady Tanni-Grey Thompson, you know, the legend of Paralympic athletics. So I hugely respect them and what they do, some even working with train companies to try and improve things and they're very knowledgable too. So if one of those people say something is wrong, they don't just say "it's wrong" but also back that up. And it made me think - a lot.

So what can I do? Object. And in the strongest way possible. And so I set to work on drafting a letter, which turned out to be almost eight pages, which I'd sent to the Department for Transport (namely the Transport Secretrary and Rail Minister) as well as Transport Focus so that their response can be considered. I did my own research and looked at the before and after scenarios with staffing, where some stations would have "Mobile" staff who may visit station once a day or once a week (yes really) for a small number of hours. There's also the fact that the measures are discriminatory, deliberately attempting to prevent Turn Up and Go (TUAG) which to be honest should be a human right for all to be able to use transport.

I also noted several companies deliberately hide the information, not have it available at stations, and if they did, not in all accessible formats (which incidentally they have to provide by law) - and for so many reasons with regards to preventing accessibility, that alone is enough for this to be stopped in its tracks, never mind everything else such as the lies peddled about no reduction in staffing, the fact that ticket machines don't offer 99% of tickets and basically rip you off (proven time and time again) and also of course the fact that there's a potential conflict of interest due to Transport Focus (handling the consultation) being sponsored by.. the Department for Transport. Yes, really.

So with that in mind, I thought that I would actually publish it on Twitter too, and made sure that when screen grabbing the relevant parts that they all had ALT text tags describing the text on each image for full accessibility as needed - and that took a little time because of the 1000 character limit in each ALT text tag allowed. But I wanted this to be right and practice what I was preaching, so glad I did, and published it around 11pm before ensuring a copy was sent in the post to both addresses. It may be me just as one person raising this, but if we all did it, a collective action for good is definitely a force to be reckoned with. So with that, tune of the day is Two Minutes By Train by The Caretaker Race, a long forgotten late 1980s indie band but had some cracking songs.

Sunday 16th July - Sunday Funday

It was nice to be out with The Love In My Heart and some friends today, and definitely felt like it was just what I needed due to some recent other events. Our friends had booked for a space in Freight Island close to Piccadilly station, and bear in mind that it'd be handy for me later to get the extended train back to London (three hours plus due to the engineering work going on in the Trent Valley) then that had to be something of note. I also had my little overnight record style bag, so that meant I could travel light and (sort of) attempt to look trendy on the move too - but maybe not.

So we took the tram to Piccadilly and walked across to Freight Island. We were early and the sun was still out (although rain was forecast later) and got an elevated spot overlooking the outside sections whilst we got ourselves a drink - and I had the Lucky Saint 0.5% lager as I wanted to save some of the real beer for later in the day. Our friends soon arrived and as they had booked a space inside, we decided we'd decline that and go outside, with the plastic greenhouse way too hot too, and so we managed to get a booth which had a window overlooking Mayfield Park, and that meant we could relax and natter with no noise.

In fact the rest of us got drinks and then we scanned the code on the booth table to bring up the menus. The Love and I went for Burgerism because they always do very decent burgers in there and always well worth the money - I normally go for the bacon one with cheese and bacon and get them to take all the salad bits off (easily doable when you order) and The Love goes for the cheeseburger, both with some very nice fries, that do have a little kick to them for whatever reason. Two of our friends went the same way with one ordering the vegan burger which is decent, and another went for a Latin street food stall that had some good stuff on. As I made my way over to collect, Nouvelle Vague's version of the Buzzocks classic Ever Fallen In Love came on, so tune of the day for definite.

The rain then decided to lash it down after getting food, so getting this covered booth in the outside was a superb idea - we remained dry but had fresh air and chatter, and once it stopped we headed off to get another drink, and I tried the Northern Monk Faith which had guava in it - and was a very pleasant one. One of our friends had a beer from Mobberley Brewery which was very tropical and really did taste spot on - must look out for that on my travels for definite to be honest.

After drinks, one of our friends headed off as they had to do something else later on, and the four of us that remained walked over to Track's tap room the other side of Piccadilly, on the trading estate close to Great Ancoats Street. The Love and I always enjoy it there and their selection was spot on as ever, I had their saison called Aether, which really does pack a punch, and did have the cask version of Sonoma, always lovely. The Love did have the Arosa helles, always a solid choice that one, and it was a good way to wind down the remainder of the afternoon.

The rain did stop enough for us to head back to Piccadilly where our friends got the tram one way and The Love came up with me to the train station to see me off with some hugs (aww) and then I made my way on the 1855 train - which did take the three hours as predicted. I was just glad I had the iPod charged and had the music blasting from that to keep me going as I would then be able to enjoy the scenery going by, albeit very slowly indeed once I was able to see the likes of the outskirts of Birmingham pass us by before Coventry and Rugby gave way to some speed.

Friday 14th July - Happy Hour Again

It was good to be able to plough through work and work from home today - I wanted to get a few things done including sorting the bedding out (needed a changeover) and also meant I could focus on an issue we had in one of our offices, where the air conditioning had failed spectacularly in one of the rooms meaning it was leaking water and potentially damaging some of the stock that we had. Needless to say that of course it wasn't an ideal scenario, and naturally too it was also a case of being around the support the staff there - providing them with asset information and also making sure that any of those machines damaged had been removed from any system as needed.

One positive thing about work is that we do get a slightly earlier finish on a Friday and that does mean we get more time to wind down for the weekend. Of course I don't take this as a given and did check in with my manager to ensure all was well at his end beforehand, and also making sure any documentation tasks that needed doing were also done and completed in a suitable fashion also - only fair that this is actually done too. I think for me it's a case of being professional and not extracting urine from that situation.

I did decide that it would be nice to effectively take advantage of he happy hour as promised by the local beer in the Cronx Tap - effectively between their opening hours of 1500 to 1800 Monday to Friday, any of their own beers is a mere £4 for a pint, which these days is cheap for Manchester prices, never mind London ones of course. It is always a nice vibe in there, the staff are lovely, and they look after their beer well. What is there not to like, to be honest with you.

In fact as the rain was incessant and coming down to some degree, it made sense once inside to stay in and take full advantage, and as such this meant I tried out their new Lemon Saison beer first of all - which is spot on. Nice kick of lemon and coriander in there, and definitely brewed in the proper Saison style too, so well worth getting a try of if you get chance. I also did later have their Entire porter which is an award winning dark ale and that very much hit the spot as the rain absolutely lashed it down outside.

It was good to be inside enjoying their beer and listening to some quality tunes as well throughout, including Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio - naturally of course I was singing along to the Weird Al Yankovic parody Amish Paradise (make that tune of the day) which includes the immortal lines of "churn butter once or twice, living in an Amish paradise" amongst others. Needless to say it was really good to be able to enjoy the relaxed vibe and then attempt to dodge some of the rain later on the way home, and a nice way to end the working week with some lovely beer too.

Wednesday 12th July - A Lovely Surprise

It had been a busy and hard week at work for both myself and The Love In My Heart after we had both had a wonderful holiday in North Devon last week. As I was checking over the pictures and uploading them to Flickr once I was happy with which ones I had decided on, it was definitely clear to see that we had had a number of lovely sunsets during the week, and that our apartment we stayed in was lovely too, but seemed to be around £300 more expensive for the same week next year (bear in mind that we had paid around £980 this year which wasn't cheap, but so well worth it.)

It was a nice surprise at lunch time when The Love messaged me to say that she could get tickets for the Manchester Craft Beer Festival for just the cost of the booking fee. Bear in mind that the tickets for the Saturday night are around £55, and that proved to be a good move. In fact the booking fee was less when she booked it (around £4 each) so in effect what that does mean is that for the Saturday night we'll effectively be able to get the beers for the evening for just that price. They do give you a glass to have one third pints in as well so the idea is to try lots of different beers without getting totally trashed.

It was also good that I was able to get on with things at work and document a number of processes related to one of our new instances too. In effect it will mean a slightly new way of packaging things and making sure that it is all followed correctly in terms of the way that it is done, so definitely for me it's good to do these things as you go - follow it all through, take all the sceeen shots that you need and then make sure that you have it all noted as to what startup and install switches you need, that sort of thing.

I did have the headphones on and spent some time listening to some tunes whilst working as well so it was good to be able to have that on too. It was also good that I blasted out Penfriend's album Exotic Monsters and the title track opener is just a really lovely piece of dark moody music and defnitely tune of the day for me - it has a real sense of mood too, as does the rest of the album (Seventeen's outro for example is a piece of wonderful magnificence all in its own once you hear it and realise you didn't expect it coming, but there it is...)

I also spent some time tonight watching The Great British Sewing Bee. Of course them having a section on fashion icons and having the pattern challenge being based on an iconic Audrey Hepburn dress met with my approval massively - and both Mia and Asmaa did it justice with some lovely outfits. In fact the final challenge where they had to make a smoking jacket showed them both doing superbly well and I do think the overall win will be between those two -and Lauren left after not the best week.

Saturday 8th July - On Our Way Home

We didn't really want to get up this morning or in fact leave our apartment in Westward Ho!, having had such a lovely holiday away together. However, we knew we had to leave by 10am and had pretty much packed most of the things in our cases anyway to be ready to head out. We emptied the bins, put the bedding and towels into their respective bags to be cleaned and taken away, and made sure we had everything before we finally shut the door one last time on the apartment. We had got a good deal for it really - £980 for the week was very good, and checking for next year later on, the same apartment for the same week was £300 more expensive!

The Love In My Heart and I headed off and before long we were back on the A39 over Torridge Bridge, very slowly, due to following a cycle club off out on their morning ride. We soon saw them divert off towards Instow though and so we were back up to full speed, following the A361 all the way to the M5, and stopping off at Taunton Deane services for a well earned breakfast for us both, which certainly was nice to have and kept us both going as we really wanted to get something down us. The services were very very busy which showed to me that a lot of people had the same idea to set off a bit earlier and then stop off for brekkie, as you do of course!

We then carried on along the M5 and although the traffic was a little busy as we headed towards the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre on the outskirts of Bristol, all seemed flowing and at the M5/M4 junction where there had been delays going we sailed through. Unfortunately I did spot a traffic collision on the other side of the road which meant one lane open and we could see around five miles of tailbacks heading South. Glad we weren't involved with that one, and soon we stopped off at Gloucester Services to see the farm shop (run by the same folks who run Tebay, but it's not as good as that one believe me.)

We did get a nice cold drink to have in the car each, and that helped us get a nice cool boost as we headed to the end of the M5 and the inevitable traffic jam waiting to get on to the M6. We did stop at Hilton Park services for a spot of lunch, and a meal deal from Marks and Spencer worked out best for us both, which we enjoyed before then going up the M6, coming off for the A556 towards the M56, and before we knew it, we were back at The Love's place. It had taken just around the same time as going, but this time we did three service station stops instead of one, so definitely felt like we had taken less actual travelling time overall, which was good. Tune of the day is definitely A Trip in Hulme by A Certain Ratio as we passed through there along Princess Parkway on the way back.

Of course Brian the cat was more than happy to see his Mummy and was purring contentedly as we arrived back, and loved his fuss and cuddles as you might well expect. For me at least it was good to see all was well and that Brian was content with him being fed, fussed and so on. The Love went to Asda to get some food and I watched the England under 21s win their European championship, beating Spain with a last minute penalty save thrown in. Result. As was of course the F1 qualifying at Silverstone with Lando Norris geting a superb second and almost getting pole, he was on fire and it was brilliant to see!

Friday 7th July - On The Beach

As today was scheduled to be the hottest day of the week, then we thought heading to the beach at low tide made sense, and we had bought enough to make ourselves a little picnic and to take the picnic basket with us, and enjoy the day. The Love In My Heart had also suggested to me that it would be sensible for me to take the walk around the Northam Burrows too and that'd be a good one for her to have some beach time whilst I did that. In fact, we did have breakfast but then decided it'd be sensible to head to the arcade and cash in all the winning tickets that I'd got vouchers for - I did win a good number at some games in the arcade! We had enough for a little present for The Cute Little One, so that's what we did.

Once having had a little walk and been back to the apartment to pick up the picnic basket, we headed to the car park for Northam Burrows and close to the entrance to the beach by the lifeguard hut - it was £6 all day and with the ticket you could also come and go as you wished, should you need to, which I thought was a great idea. We made our way over the steps and on to the beach, and got ourselves a spot with the beach towels and picnic basket to make ourselves comfortable. It definitely had some wind blowing as well but it was warm air and wind so of course that needed to be careful to ensure no sunburn!

We did settle for a while with us both sat together and enjoying the view and the sunshine, and I had the iPod on and blasting out some lovely tunes to get me mellowed out on the beach, including the rather excellent Let It Snow by Obey Robots (make that one tune of the day) and it was just nice to take things calm and relaxed. In fact we got out the lunch later and I enjoyed the ham and cheese sandwiches, the brie cheese bites (which The Love had warmed in the oven prior to us setting off) as well as the mixed meats and cheese board we had, and also some crisps and a cold drink. Nothing too massively fancy, but just nice to have some lunch together anyway.

Later on I headed along the beach and headed for a walk, crossing the pebble ridge near the visitors' centre at Northam Burrows, and following the path along to the coast, and following the red route around which took me to the sand dunes by the North Devon Golf Club course (the oldest golf course in England in fact) and then with a view over the burrows to Appledore, the path swept around towards the Pill (a stream that runs along the country park) and you followed that back to the tarmac road to lead you back to the ice cream van near the lifeguard hut. It was a three and a half mile walk and certainly felt that way in the warm weather that's for sure.

I went back to The Love, and she explained it was dog wars between some of the dog owners. You see, where that hut is marks the beach divide - the part to the South and back towards the village was no dogs allowed, and the North side is where the dog owners go. The Love noted that in an attempt to get further up that side of the beach, some folks had basically allowed the dogs to run free but of course then run into other dogs, and so the yapping began. One dog urinated on someone's picnic blanket (way out of order) and that meant two families kicking off. Dear me..

We spent another hour or so on the beach with us taking in the sun before it was the late afternoon and the tide had started to come back in after being way out at its furthest point. In fact later on by the time we headed out for a nice evening meal we did note that at this point the tide had come in already, and definitely at a fast rate too. The Love had a gorgeous dress on and I'd got jeans and a nice shirt, and we headed along the promenade and to The Pier House for a well earned meal together.

That was all lovely: The Love had some wine and me some Korev (because it was nice and also the Anthem had ran out) and so we both had a great main course: The Love's pork belly was melt in the mouth gorgeous, and some nice potatoes and greens to go with it, and I had the linguine carbonara, lots of pancetta, mushroms and pasta in a creamy sauce, all cooked to perfection. We then headed outside to the seating area there with another drink and enjoyed the most gorgeous red sunset as the sun went down on the day, and we both reflected on what a wonderful week it had been.

Thursday 6th July - Ilfracombe

One thing we had been noticing during the week is that close to where our apartment was, there was a bus stop with regular buses leaving from there. As it turned out, the bus was part of what used to be called the North Devon Wave route, now known as route 21, which takes you from Westward Ho! all the way to Ilfracombe via Bideford, Instow and Barnstaple. As such and with the current maximum bus fare being £2 each for a one way ticket, we thought it'd be sensible to use that bus instead of a longer drive (and then finding car parking which might prove to be a pain) and so once up and ready, we walked the very short distance to the stop to get the 0923 bus.

The bus ride was decent, sensibly as it was warm we didn't sit at the front upstairs but a few seats back, which was a good move. The bus headed via Northam first before going down to Bideford, over the old bridge and across to Instow before then heading through the likes of Fremington and right past Barnstaple train station (quite a few got off here to explore the Tarka Line) before then going into Barnstaple itself, and then out towards the Royal Marines base at Chivenor, then to Braunton, before heading up and then down towards the centre of Ilfracombe, with us getting off at the final stop of St James' Place. All in all, a pretty nice journey.

After a quick stop for a late breakfast and a coffee, we walked through the nice streets towards the harbour, and noted the low tide with the boats moored in the sand. We did also spot the Damien Hirst statue Verity which sits high at the end of the harbour, with its rather macabre face (you need to see it to see what I mean) and also the church on top of the hill. I did have a climb up there whilst The Love admired the view of the harbour, and it was very nice to see the Chapel of St Nicholas from the inside too - it really was tiny but definitely well worth the walk up to visit.

We did stop off at the harbourside later to have a drink at the Royal Britannia bar, and was able to get a table and seat by the harbour itself, and a lovely view. As I got served at the bar, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run was being played and that has to be tune of the day - certainly felt right for a number of reasons. I had a nice cold ale and The Love had a glass of wine, so definitely nice to relax there for a bit. We did then stop off along the road and admired the view of the Cheyne Beach and also Capstow Hill (we didn't walk up there but we both thought it would be a good view anyway!)

We did then head back up the road the bus came and after passing the Bath House, we found the entrance to the Tunnels Beaches. You do have to pay to get in here, but you do have some freshwater pools and bathing that is family safe, as well as a secluded beach. In fact there's normally two but the men's side was closed off for a wedding reception and peeking through the barrier, the bar and place looked really good. We headed through the tunnel down to the beach and it was lovely, a nice place to sit and relax for a while and it was especially nice to see so many families using it. I think if we had stayed here as our base, this would have been a well used beach for the day.

It was then off to the St James Tea Room on Britannia Row for lunch and a small cream tea. In fact The Love had the plougman's salad which was massive and even included a whole apple, and I had the ham and cheese toastie which was nice. We did though have the cream tea (well I did, one scone and jam and cream with a pot of tea) and that was nice. I did do the Devon way (cream first) just to see what it was like, and it was okay, but felt like if I had done the Cornish way (jam first, what I prefer) I'd have probably been sent back down the A39 and towards the Cornish border!

It was nice there and we did spot a crazy golf course nearby, so played that. It was 12 holes and £4.50 each, so not bad, but it really does need to be changed to be more astroturf-like as a surface instead of gravel paving, which does do some random things to the ball - and that did help me get a hole in one on the first. Still, it wasn't bad but I do think it may need some TLC in future. We then went to the pub opposite and sat in the upstairs open air beer garden where I could have a lovely dark beer from a local brewery too - which had a little bit of a fruit kick to it too. Gorgeous! That set the day off lovely to its end before heading on the 21 bus back to Westward Ho!, having had a really lovely day today.

Wednesday 5th July - Clovelly and Hartland Quay

One of the things that I'd wanted to do in North Devon was somewhere that both my Mum and my auntie had been to - Clovelly. It's a village literally built on a slope between cliffs where there are no cars and the main access downhill is via a narrow cobbled street where on a rainy day you really need grippy walking shoes to get around. Thankfully today the weather was set dry and fair and we both thought it'd be a good day to go - and with the admission being £8.50 each, not that bad really to see what was on offer. We could both imagine that during the main school holidays this would be busy though.

After breakfast we set off and The Love was soon on the A39 heading West and towards Cornwall (although we wouldn't quite cross the border!) - and once at the roundabout we turned right and followed the road downhill and to the visitors' centre car park, which was massive. We got a space and soon headed to the information centre and shop, and paid our admission. We did stop off here and watch a film about the village and its history as well as note the images of Clovelly then and now which really did give you some insight - especially the sleds which are still used today to transport your goods around the village from the top of the hill. In fact later on we saw this as we came back up.

We did also note the donkey sanctuary here with four adorable donkeys being well looked after in surroundings. In former times, donkeys were used to haul the sleds in the village, but that stopped many years ago (and the right decision too of course) and the connection with the village and donkeys remain, these days on a more conservational note and a nod to its history. It was then a walk downhill at the first part of the village, admiring the fountain and memorial to Queen Victoria before then turning left with a breathtaking view down to the sea from here too.

It was a nice walk downhill and we did stop off at the New Inn on the way down - they did have some of the local Clovelly Brewery ale so definitely had to try one of those - and it was pretty nice too. It was good to sit in their little beer garden at the back and admire the comfortable view of the way that the houses were built into the valley before then heading through to the tiny St Peter's Chapel and on to the Fisherman's Cottage which also doubled as a small museum. One of the things we had learned was that a lot of the houses had been renovated in the Victorian era so the C H and the date at the front depicted that renovation by Christine Hamlyn, and to this day that family still own the village.

We got towards the bottom of the High Street and followed the cobbles underneath one of the stone cottages and down to the harbour, where the lifeboat station and also the Red Lion Hotel was. We did manage to luck out here and get a picnic bench style seat which was right on the pebbles and close to the sea, and went in to order us both a drink. They had Mena Dhu stout, one of my faves, so of course I was having that! We did order food too and I did note the wooden cutlery, and with good reason - all the food is served in white take out containers and so you can carry it safely along the stairs and towards the seafront without seagulls getting at it. I had the ham, eggs and chips which were great, as was The Love's messy chips with lots of beef strips in a nice sauce.

We sat and admired the view from here, which was lovely, and spotted those taking the option of paying extra for a Land Rover to head back up to the visitor centre. None of that for us, we headed back up the hill and the High Street after a visit to the harbour, and it was a sense of accomplishment to get back up under our own steam (as it is a steep hill!) - in fact, we did spot three cats on the way back up, all adorable, and a family using one of their own sleds to carry down their shopping from the Asda not far from Bideford, so a worthwhile shopping trip after school to get some supplies for the weekend. That's one thing, living here must be nice but must keep you fit, and all the while in my head Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill sprang to mind (so tune of the day obviously.)

After that, we headed back in The Love's car and rejoined the A39 briefly before following the next exit road and off to Hartland, through the village, which seemed nice, and then onwards to Hartland Quay. The quayside was down towards the sea but at the entrance there was a small car park at the top, so The Love parked there and we walked down the footpath ourselves. It was a majestic view showing the South West Coast Path off, and indeed two walkers were ahead of us and heading down to the quay. It also had a hotel and pub there with a unique selling point: you ordered the beer from a hatch, noting down the table number, and the lovely staff would bring it out to you.

That worked out well as we had a nice bench where we could see the cliffs and rocks and also the edges of the quay itself and where the old launching of boats would have been. In fact there was also a nice display which showed how the place was recently used for filming of the period drama Rebecca (based on the Daphne du Maurier novel) and the transformation that took place. The hotel rooms looked nice and the walkers that had checked in had a bay window on the first floor with a view. I had the Dartmoor Legend ale here which was very nice, and The Love also had a Korev as we admired the sea and the blue sky - it was a lovely way to end the afternoon.

As we sat on the balcony later having got ourselves a Chinese takeaway from the Hong Kong Diner (and their chicken and mushrooms dish was very nice too it has to be said) we really reflected on a lovely day and one that had a nice surprise at the end with Hartland Quay being so lovely. We did think about going to the lighthouse at Hartland Point, but that seemed a bit more remote road wise, as dramatic as it may be to look at. Nonetheless, a really positive day and one that with the good weather really did make us feel very at ease and welcomed too - more of the same is lovely!

Tuesday 4th July - Isolation On Lundy

We had booked a day trip over to the island of Lundy, which is jointly maintained by the Landmark Trust and the National Trust together (so we actually got a discount from the boat crossing due to being members) - and so with an early start in mind, we got ourselves up and ready and headed off to Bideford, parked in the long stay part of the car park, and headed to the quayside with some rain lashing down to be ready for the trip over. It's worth noting that Lundy is itself a shortened form of Norse for Lund-ey, meaning Puffin Island, which makes sense for anyone who has explored the rocks and seen all the puffins on there. It's also why it's actually wrong to call it Lundy Island, by the way!

We did notice that a school day trip was also on the ship crossing too with a few teachers and around 25 children, who were all let on the boat first so that the captain could give them all a safety briefing. I didn't mind if it was dry, but it wasn't the driest day on land and would have been good to get everyone on and then set aside a space for those anyway. That said, we boarded the MS Oldenburg ship quickly, and we did note that there was a bar and a buffet counter as well as a shop, and plenty of indoor seating. We did note though that the sailing conditions were moderate...

And so it proved, the seas were a little on the rough side and the rocking up and down motion on the boat may not have been so ideal for some. In fact I did have a bacon sandwich and a coffee to keep me going as did The Love, but it definitely wasn't as smooth as it could be. In fact, it transpired that Saturday's crossing over had been worse and that it had made a fair number sick too. We were therefore glad to get off a couple of hours later and on to dry land, and hoped for a more calmer crossing on the way back.

It was following the main Lundy Road up the hill and the side of the cliffs, and keep heading upward until the road forked left (which we could have followed) and there was a path for island visitors, which took us past a large house and onwards towards the village, the centre of activity on Lundy. We noted the Marisco Tavern pub which also acted as a welcome for those staying on Lundy itself (and some of them had, they had checked in luggage when in Bideford) as well as the small general store for all your grocery needs and other little souvenirs of the island too. The stone buildings really did seem well built to protect against the elements, and we sat in the beer garden of the Marisco Tavern with a cold soft drink to admire the view.

We did go exploring too - along to the South of the island to the St Helen's Church and carrying on over to the former castle which was now a series of cottages to stay in. As we walked around the battlements we noted a picture window with someone admiring the view from inside - I bet that was a cosy and admirable place to stay to be honest. We did also from there see a view to the South Light lighthouse, and that did overlook the harbour and the Rat Island next to that.

After that we did a little bit of a long circular walk, following a path close to some farmland and arriving at the Old Light lighthouse. I did go inside and venture up two thirds of the stairs, but the last set were very steep and with the view below of the open centre, didn't feel convinced I'd be that safe and so made my way back down, but an impressive building nonetheless. We followed the path around the western coast of the island, noting the rocks and the cliff faces where people with binoculars and longer range zoom lenses were trying to spot the puffins on the rocks, and I definitely think I saw a few too.

Once at the Halfway Wall by Jenny's Cove, we followed the wall and back around to the main Lundy Road, the only real road of sorts on the island and one that really needs a 4x4 vehicle to get around safely. This did at least mark the route back to the village, and we did take in some of the former stone houses that appeared to be empty before spotting the small airfield (I assume this is where the helicopter in Winter lands too) and then down the hill past the barn and the campsite and back to the village itself. We did head into the Marisco Tavern for a simple light lunch: a jacket potato for The Love and a Cornish pasty for me, complete with a drink each - and the St Austell Anthem I'd had the other day was on form here too. So we had a drink in the most remote pub we've ever been in! In fact, talking of anthems, tune of the day has to be something island related, so Sailing Time by Seth Lakeman from the album A Pilgrim's Tale fits the bill well.

I did take a further walk along another path towards Old Light whilst The Love relaxed in the beer garden and just contemplated the view nicely, and diverted back via the camp site to see how that worked if you wanted to pitch a tent there. It seemed people were using that option but I must admit I'd love to stay in one of the stone cottages and walk the whole perimeter of the island (The Love tells me I need to do that one on my own!) and certainly from our point of view it was lovely to see how the island worked. In fact, it was just a nice leisurely stroll past the impressive Millcombe House on the way back down to the road to the sea, and as the tide was partially out, people were on the beach, and also at the bit of beach close to Rat Island at the southern tip.

Another surprise awaited us too as we arrived back at the small harbour for the return crossing, we had seen sheep, horses and mountain goats during the day, but also to see some seals swimming in the Bristol Channel and having a right good time of it playing together was simply magical, it really was. That made us warm and fuzzy inside with a big "awww" factor, and this time on the return leg on the ship, we sat outside, although we did find shelter within the top deck when it started to absolutely hammer it down. The sea conditions were slight and much calmer too, so we both felt better for that and arrived back in Bideford bang on time at 6pm, and we were both happy to see dry land and head back to Westward Ho! - it had been a good and long day, and definitely one I'll remember.

Monday 3rd July - Appledore and Bideford

It was a day of mixed weather so it seemed, and so staying locally and exploring would make more sense anyway. We also wanted to do a quick reccy before our boat trip tomorrow so heading into Bideford made some sense for that - and as both places were close by it did make some sense to go and explore. Once we'd had some lovely breakfast it was off and first off to Appledore, which is on the River Torridge Estuary (with Instow on the other side incidentally) and we soon found the large car park to park up and have a good little look around.

On the whole, we did like it - the harbour front with its pleasure boats and the nice view of the river was very good, even if it did start to rain, and we ventured along one of the old narrow streets in the village and found a rather lovely coffee shop, so we rested there with a coffee and really enjoyed the cosy atmosphere that the place had. I think too that as the rain continued to fall others had the same idea, making the place pretty busy. It did also seem that a lot of the pubs opened from 5pm and were more for evening visitors, so I guess also that's why a number of buses headed that way later in the day as well.

It was all good there and I certainly liked the little deli at the front, and the little art shops too, and yarnbombing was also a thing here - one of the postboxes, the pillars at one end of the harbour, and a local hall (St Mary's Hall) as well had all been decorated in that way, and did add to the appeal of the place. We did also follow along the narrow street that would lead to a pub with a crazy golf course (yes, really) but as the rain had been incessant, it might not have been fun to play, but still, worthy of note nonetheless though.

After that we left Appledore and headed from there on the A389 and down the hill towards Bideford itself, with the long car park close to the quayside being a large one and also not that expensive - in fact it is £5 all day which is handy for those getting a boat from the quay (as we would be doing tomorrow). As for the town centre, you could tell that the recession had hit somewhat with a number of places closed. Monday also seemed to be a day for some places closed anyway but we did take the steep walk up to the Pannier Market and indeed the nice row inside at the lower level called Butchers Row, which certainly was interesting.

We did stop at a really nice little café for lunch and the fish finger sandwich I had here was spot on - plenty of fish, and indeed a nice side of chips as well. We could also see to the quayside by the river too which was lovely, and we'd soon cross the River Torridge over the old bridge here and head to what was the former Bideford train station. Only parts of the platform and some tracks remain, and one of the old trains during some parts of the week were actually a café too, but not open today. It was still fascinating to see and did wonder what would happen if the branch ever got reinstated (the platform at Instow for example is still there too.)

It was turning out brighter in the late afternoon so back at Westward Ho! we did hit some of the arcades and the 2p falls and stuff, and tried to win a Peter Rabbit soft toy from the grabber machine, but no dice. We did however eat out tonight and it wasn't very far to head along to the Pig on the Beach, where the food was lovely as was the view. I had the steak and ale pie and it was a proper pie, with mash, gravy and vegetables, as it should be, and The Love had the lamb koftas which seemed plentiful had some nice garnish and some fries too. She tried their own pilsner and it was decent, and for me it was good to have an Exmoor ale and at least have something a bit more local. Good tunes being played throughout in there too including Good Enough by Dodgy, so has to be tune of the day.

Sunday 2nd July - Around Westward Ho!

The Love In My Heart had sensibly suggested last night that it would be a good idea to have a nice walk around Westward Ho! and the beach, and see what the place had to offer - it would also make sense to get our bearings a bit more and know where stuff is of course as well as work out what options we have for eating out if we fancied doing that without travelling so far. So it was up, ready, and for me even out with the shorts too, and we set off heading towards the sea, walking along the front past a bar and a couple of amusement arcades, and as you can well imagine, we'd be in there a few times with the likes of 2p falls and so on!

We did head down from near one of the arcades and on to the beach - the tide was out and this allowed us to walk along the beach for quite a way, enjoying the sand under our feet and seeing the tide gently start to come in a little. We did note a fair way down that there were steps over the pebbles and up and out, and followed this to where the lifeguard hut was, with also an ice cream van and a coffee stall too. We did also note the road that took us to the Northam Burrows visitors' centre, where we did have a coffee and relaxed in the sunshine outside as the weather really started to come good for us.

After that coffee, we walked back toward the lifeguard hut and followed the gravel path and road back towards the centre of Westward Ho!, stopping off once we'd got towards the sea wall and to somewhere I had noticed on the map - a crazy golf course. Well of course I was going to have a game of that, anyone who knows me will know I love it. In fact, the eighteen holes of the Pebble Ridge Treasure Island course were all good, and all pirate themed as you might expect. The Love did get a hole in one on the final hole and it was a very enjoyable course to play, and well priced at £6.50 each too. I can recommend that one highly if you're around the area.

We did then walk back towards the centre of Westward Ho! and stopped off at the Waterfront Inn, as they had a carvery Sunday lunch on. We sat outside and had a very good carvery too, including a selection of meats, and plenty of vegetables and gravy. I had a Proper Job and The Love had Korev - yes, Cornish beer in Devon. I know that might seem odd but as we did find out during the week it transpired that local Devon ales seemed more difficult to find in a number of places, and in fact St Austell were doing a good job of getting their beers in places too. It was nice to enjoy the lunch nonetheless and that set us up for the day.

We had a good walk along the seafront the other way, and at The Green plenty of vintage cars were all set up by the seafront in a nice display, with plenty of really nicely maintained classic vehicles being shown to the masses, and with proud owners too. In fact, there were some good Morgans, and even some obscure makes I hadn't heard so much of but were well maintained nonetheless. It really did set the scene nicely in the sunshine, and we then walked past the opening lines of the Rudyard Kipling poem "If" which were in stone along the promenade, very nice to see actually.

We ended up at The Pier House, with its commanding view over the rocks and to the South West Coast Path and a house supposedly haunted just up the way. It was a nice place to have a beer and to admire the view, and we thought it'd be a nice place too for a meal later in the week, so did bear that in mind as well as we sat and just reflected on what had been a lovely day all round. In fact we had got some nice bits from Tesco so in the evening we sat with a drink each on the balcony and admired the view, and also had some posh sandwiches and crisps with dips - as the carvery earlier had been massive. It was a lovely day, and the Bill Withers classic has to be tune of the day (cue long dayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy at the end of the chorus of course) for that reason.

Saturday 1st July - West To Westward Ho!

It was an early-ish rise for myself and The Love In My Heart this morning, not least because I had arrived last night on the train from London Euston and with the large case in tow, but also because it was going to be our week away on holiday, basing ourselves in Westward Ho! (note, the exclamation mark is very important here) and going to head around the North Devon coast for the week. We did have The Cute Little One staying overnight as her parents were at a gig, and so it was nice for me to wake up and have a little wave hello from her as she woke, and after having some breakfast together, she was full of the joys of the day and of course was watching The Lion King, as is her current favourite.

I did though put on some of the other Disney stuff as well that's on some of their Youtube channels, and one thing she does seem to like is a little series of shorts with Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, called Minnie's Bow-Toons. They are quite funny and it certainly seemed to make her happy anyway, so no complaints there to be honest. Before long her parents had come to collect her and she was so happy too: "My Daddy!" she would exclaim a la The Railway Children, and that was so nice to see too. Once they had departed, we made sure we had everything we needed within reason, and packed up The Love's car and be ready to set off for the drive down to Devon.

Of course, the M6 being the M6, and being its usual rubbish self, there did appear to be a number of roadworks - one claimed a 30 minute delay between junctions so we headed off at junction 14, took the A34 through Stafford and the A449 out (which a number of people also did) and we joined back at junction 13 - that did take 20 minutes but possibly still saved some time. The usual slowness occurred approaching joining the M5, and not long after it was off at Frankley Services for some lunch and a coffee - which really did help. In fact The Love got some fruit pastilles from M&S which really did give a nice sugar rush to keep us going also.

As we carried on down the M5, the junction with the M4 apparently was a massive delay, so we came off at junction 14 and took the A38, rejoining at junction 16. Again, a lot seemed to do this but it was supposedly a 30 minute delay otherwise and we took around that to travel the two junctions, so did save a little time. At this point I had the iPod plugged into the car and we did have some uplifting tunes on including one of The Love's faves, The Icicles (as she says, they do happy songs). Snowbird has to be tune of the day due to the lyric "oh bring me Summer, carefree sunny days, warm breeze across my face" and it did feel nicely getting warmer as we headed to the South West at least.

The rest of the M5 wasn't that bad and we soon made it to junction 27 for the A361 towards North Devon. It had a few climbs over some hills but seemed to be at least quietish on there, and the last few miles heading towards Barnstaple seemed to be having work going on to widen the whole thing, which seemed sensible. Thankfully we didn't need to go into Barnstaple itself and soon headed on the A39, over the Torridge Bridge and then right on the A389 before then turning along the B road that would take us down into Westward Ho! - negotiating the one way system and making it to the entrance to the apartment we were staying at. We had a dedicated parking space with gated access, and one of the maintenance people for the property met us there and handed the keys over.

And wow, what a lovely apartment it was too. We had a beautiful balcony from the front room with views over the green and the sea straight ahead, and all the mod cons in the kitchen including a dishwasher. There were comfy sofas, a nice big telly, a family bathroom and an en-suite in our double bedroom too, which had a rainfall shower as part of that. We did also have some milk in the fridge for a brew (sensibly The Love had bought some Azera on offer and so that was us sorted for coffee) - and if we really needed it, the place also had underfloor heating. That was a nice bonus more so for the colder seasons if you wanted to get away too.

Once we'd unpacked and settled in, I headed literally across to Atlantic Bay Fish and Chips. The fact there was a queue showed you how popular it was, and with good reason. The fish and chips we had were absolutely spot on, nice white fish, crispy batter, really good chips and well seasoned too with salt and vinegar. Not the cheapest, but definitely well worth the money, and we'd see queues there most nights of the week which told us all we needed to know. It was nice too just heading over to the local Tesco Express, getting a few bits for breakfast and for an evening meal one night, and being able to relax on the balcony as we experienced a really gorgeous sunset to start things off so well.