Dear Diary... June 2023

Monday 26th June – Flexibility

It was back to the office today and definitely it felt a bit quieter than it normally would, even for a Monday. However, there was a good reason for this – there had been a large event last week which our workplace had hosted, and a lot of the staff had attended it as well as many external companies, and so as you can well imagine, many long hours too. That did mean of course that plenty would be having some time in lieu or even flying back later than planned depending on if they could get out of the airports nearby and head home, so it made sense that not everyone would be around today.

I did get chance to catch up with one of the team members from our service team who had been there last week – she find it a pretty intense experience but one to definitely gain more from and to actually see how things worked for a bigger event too. She’s also in the middle of a move to Worcester too, so with the flexible working in place (and thankfully with GWR’s trains from there not being that expensive to get to Paddington) the plan is to have two days in the office and stay with her parents overnight, then head back to Worcester and work remotely for the rest of the week.

In a way, that does lead me nicely to the whole thing about the flexibility side of working. Many companies, assumedly some where they are paying masses in rent to corporate overlord landlords, are really wanting people to be back in the offices 5 days a week. However, some of those are now finding it hard to recruit because no one necessarily wants to do that anymore if office based – having that choice is a good thing. For companies who have sensibly adopted a hybrid model of say half and half, they are recruiting well and this does allow for people to work effectively.

For me, the lure of the office does have a social element as I can talk to people face to face, which is good, but also there is a sense of belonging too. I also do appreciate, especially on warmer days, the lovely aircon, which really does help me keep cool, calm, and collected. We do however note that on some days when offices are busier there’s requests to Facilities to turn up or down the temperature because it is too cold or too hot – which I have dubbed the aircon wars. I mean, should people be grateful to be in an office with a working aircon system? Definitely. Should they also stop moaning? That might be more debatable, there’s some nesh people out there after all.

It is good to have the balance, and for example for me if working from home I can always nip out to the shops at lunch time and collect any parcels done via click and collect, so say if I wanted to go to the Next Outlet to get an order, I can do that as often by the time I’ve got back on the X68 bus, it’s shut, and there isn’t a Next near the office for example. So, it’s the best of both worlds, still able to work well and to get on with it, but also be really getting a good work and life balance. Definitely for me if I was to get a different job in future, I will definitely be looking for some of that.

I headed home on said X68 bus and someone complained bitterly to the driver at West Norwood because they weren’t being let off til then, and they didn’t know what they were doing. Oops. To be fair at Waterloo, the drivers always make an announcement that the next bus stop for this bus is West Norwood and there will be no stops before then. Too many have their headphones in and don’t realise the fact that X means express, and even the front of the bus clearly says “first stop West Norwood”. I felt sorry for the driver, she didn’t deserve that abuse one bit for doing her job. In the meantime, tune of the day is Magic Bus by The Who (although of those of a Manc persuasion, said buses in Manchester are often called Tragic Bus!)

Sunday 25th June – Dinosaur Planet

It was a relatively early start for us all, as Brian the cat had been a little poorly overnight (just a little bit of liquid sick) and The Cute Little One had woken up around 8am, which was pretty good as she did have a solid sleep overnight. Of course, she was full of happiness when she did wake up, and was happily watching some children’s TV as both myself and The Love had a shower and got ourselves ready to head out. In fact, we were going to have some breakfast out as well as play some crazy golf together, and then do lunch later which would be nice. I think too it meant that we would make the most of the time which is always good.

The Cute Little One had a sun hat and glasses on, and I have to say looked super adorable as she was ready to head out. She even waved to Brian the cat as we left too. Before long we had left the centre of Manchester behind and were heading along the A580 East Lancashire Road and over to Bents Garden Centre, which these days is not just that – it has various eateries, a lake to walk around, play areas for children, crazy golf, all sorts. We knew that their breakfasts were good and so we got an outside table, and ordered the breakfast.

It was rather lovely when it arrived, with massive slices of bread for the toast, which The Cute Little One enjoyed along with her fruit juice. The Love had the bacon barm which was massive, and my sausage barm had three whole sausages, thick too, in the middle of mine. It was very nice indeed and just the thing to build up the energy before then partaking in some crazy golf action on their course, which is half dinosaur themed and half pirate themed, with 18 holes for £7.50 for adults, not the cheapest, but did look very well maintained.

Some the dinosaurs made some noise and these were a little bit scary for The Cute Little One, and we got around half way around before she started to get upset and cry for her Mummy. That’s when we knew that she would be too upset, so The Love took her to the outside sitting area away from them and let me complete the round. I did get two holes in one during the eighteen holes and scored 42 overall, so didn’t do too bad as a first attempt on that one. We did though also note that near where the crazy golf was, there was a bit sandpit which was also covered over so to keep the area shaded for the children.

The Cute Little One was in her element here, making sandcastles with her pink spade, and allowing a couple of boys her age to join in and help her build and then rebuild, with some nice play and sharing going on which was good to see. In fact, they all were happy to share and you could see how happy this made all three of them. One other youngster was intending to try and be a bit forceful but his parents saw what he was up to and moved him away from the situation before anything happened. It was just lovely to see The Cute Little One so happy though it has to be said.

We then headed back towards the centre of Manchester and via Salford Quays, stopping off at Media City so that we could walk over to the statues of Pudsey Bear from Children in Need and Upsy Daisy from In The Night Garden. Needless to say, The Cute Little One was very happy indeed, and ended up with a big grin and jumping the steps down from near the bridge and back towards the BBC with so many smiles. I must admit it was good too that she was intrigued by some of the offices and noted the different Pudsey Bears in there including one made of Lego, because everything after all is awesome, right?

Later on we headed over to The Gateway pub, but we did stop in the car when parked up for a few minutes as the rain had arrived and was lashing it down. Once it stopped enough, we got inside and got a table for us. In fact The Love and I both had fish and chips, she has hers with mushy peas, me garden and The Cute Little One had the children’s fish and chips which also had baked beans, which she lapped up! In fact they also do the Pip organic water with fruit juices in, and she loved that a lot and was super happy when I got her another one also.

I did feel sad as we got to Manchester Piccadilly station as I was taking the 1815 train back to London, but it was so super sweet to see The Cute Little one say to me “Warren get the train!” and wave me off with her cuteness being so lovely. I must admit that it’s really humbling that The Cute Little One’s parents always include me when they talk about the cool Nana (that’s The Love of course) and it does make me feel more accepted too which is lovely. The train took its time heading back to Euston, and that allowed me time to pause and reflect and listen to music - including Not The Quiet Type by Obey Robots - definitely tune of the day for me.

Saturday 24th June – Hakuna Matata

It was a nice day today, still quite warm weather wise but The Love In My Heart and I did have a lovely visitor for the whole weekend – The Cute Little One! Her parents were off doing a long working job today and then off to Dublin tomorrow for an overnight stopover to see a gig, and so it made more sense for The Love to spend some quality time with The Cute Little One. That made me happy too, as she always has a big cheeky smile on her face and normally, she is full of the joys of Spring and these days, very talkative, which I don’t see as a bad thing to be honest. Her parents dropped her off around 1pm and so we formed some plans for the rest of the day.

We decided to take the buggy with us and head along the local canal to the city centre, it’s something we do often anyway and initially being able to see the canal and water was good, but then The Cute Little One did remark that, in her words, the ducks had gone to sleep as they weren’t there. Some of the cobbled parts of the path near a couple of the locks were a little challenging, but we made it and soon we were heading along towards New Islington Basin and being able to admire the views of the canal side there with some boats moored up.

We did see some Canadian Geese at this point and normally they are quite fine with you feeding them. One however decided that it was time to claim territory and advanced towards The Love and The Cute Little One with a quite menacing look, which was scary, and despite her “go away!” shouts, the goose wasn’t giving up. It was a run back to the safety of the buggy and onwards, and before long we decided to stop at Flawd for a well-earned drink for everyone, and it was nice overlooking the canal and in the shade (primarily so The Cute Little One and I weren’t getting sunburnt mid-afternoon.)

It was then over to Ancoats and a nice little walk to Cutting Room Square, where we had been in the local Co-Op and at her insistence, The Cute Little One had a strawberry Cornetto, all to herself! She absolutely was loving life and The Love and I had a cool drink and was able to chatter between the three of us. It was really nice. Unlike the fact that the trams were on engineering work this weekend so the plan to get the tram back didn’t work – we had to walk to the bus stop, see one bus not stop because it was full, and then get the next one which was busy and just enough room for the buggy.

Back at The Love’s place, and making some tea, The Cute Little One settled in and watched The Lion King on Blu-Ray. She loves that film, and it’s fascinating to see her watch the bits and even get a little scared at some of the parts, but then happily bound around the room as the characters Timon and Pumbaa sing their little ditty Hakuna matata, which is based on a Swahili phrase (in case you didn’t know) and that has to be tune of the day – to see her happy face dancing away is just ice meltingly good. I think too that one day when she gets older, I think she’d love to see that on stage. There was also still time for Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood before she headed off to bed.

I had arranged an online chat with some friends tonight, and planned before we knew we’d be having The Cute Little One. The Love was watching Succession on Netflix (as she’s hooked on that now!) and it was good to chat to friends about all sorts, including music editors of choice for the Commodore 64 and how some composers got themselves started on Electrosound, which although looking primitive back then was used by a number of well-known composers, even in games, before moving on to bigger and better things. Fascinating stuff.

Thursday 22nd June - Shopaholic On A Thursday

It's another muggy day and this time I'm working at home today, primarily so I can get things ready for the weekend and heading up to Manchester, but also so that I can potentially have a bit more of a lie in. I've not been sleeping so well with the conditions and getting up at 6am to be up and ready to head to the office is all well and good of course, but at the same time that does mean that it's also a bit of a bind in terms of taking it ou on you when the sleep isn't at its best either. The extra hour and a half asleep this morning really did me good and I did feel refreshed and awake.

A good job too, as there had been approvals for some applications and so I needed to get to work to package some of them for one of the sections of the business. The good thing is that I already had an idea as to how some of them may work from a packaging perspective, and as such it meant I could do some creation of them on both Mac and Windows at the same time. One of the apps even had a MSI installer for Windows, along wiht a .pkg for Mac, so nice and straightforward to do and to be able to get them done fairly reliably and quickly certainly gave me some time back which was good.

I was also able to spend some time at lunch heading out to Next and to pick up an order I'd done online, and that was easy enough to sort. It also meant I could head into WH Smith and get some cards for two forthcoming birthdays and post one of them off today in order to get there in good time. I still have a really nice little card with barcode that I got a few months ago which gives me 25% off cards, and that does mount up nicely for some very handy savings over time as well which is a positive to be able to do, that is for sure.

After work I emptied the bins and then headed out over to TK Maxx on one of the retail parks not far away. On the way to getting the tram though I did note some filming going on in what was the old BT office block and phone exchange not far away - in fact I can see it from the window of the flat. It transpires that it's a new thing being filmed for Amazon, and with Idris Elba as the starring role. That definitely would be of interest for many people so it'll be interesting to see how that pans out later once it's shown on (probably) Prime Video - as to which bits of the centre I can spot.

Anyway, I managed to get the bits I needed later on, mainly some new underwear, and some trainer socks for holiday so I can wear something that can hide inside the Vans for walking around in - more so if wearing shorts for example. I did see a nice shirt but was it in my size - no. Shame really as I did like it and at least I did get a nice shirt from the Joules outlet last weekend and did order myself a F1 t-shirt last night which was also pretty cheap, so definitely have done well there. It's always good to refresh the wardrobe and do clear out and do charity donations regularly to keep things nicely ticking over.

I also spent a bit of time listening to the two CD compilation that is Manchester - A City United In Music. CD2 especially has so many little hidden gems as well as the likes of New Order, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays. There's the original single release of M People's How Can I Love You More which is still a tune and therefore tune of the day as well as some punk and new wave oddities such as the self titled Gerry and the Holograms, Edward Fox by Smack complete with spoken word verses, and Salford Jets blasting out Who You Looking At with Mike Sweeney (yes, that one!) on vocals. Definitely eclectic and well worth getting.

Wednesday 21st June - The Longest Day

Well technically, not longer than any other day, but the day when supposedly the sun rises earliest and sets latest, apparently. I was in the office for the third day on the bounce with a cunning plan to escape all the humidity and bask in the lovely cool aircon. It's always interesting to see during the day in the office how many people will ask for the air con to be adjusted because it's too cold for them. To be honest and with the heat being what it is, I'd be grateful for having such luxuries in the first place to be honest. My view is that if it's cool in the office you can concentrate and get things done, and certainly that was on the agenda for today.

So with that in mind, it was time to check through some data and stats and cross check them against what was being deployed recently, to make sure that everything was in order. We're undergoing some change at the moment and part of that means we need to basically redeploy one piece of software so it talks to another server, whilst keeping another group talking to the existing one. We have the vendor's useful info in place and indeed all the right tools which have worked under testing, but it's always good to monitor these things on a regular basis and make sure all is well.

It was quite nice to be busy to be honest, and had our Cyber Security manager in too, so we were able to get on with things and work out some other plans of action as well to see what could be done going forward as there's future transitions to consider. One thing we both did note was that if we're getting data from one source, and that source may not be correct, then clearly the thing here is to see how that source can be corrected. I've got some thoughts on that but may need to run it by some people later this week depending on what happens.

After some tea later and a chatter with The Love In My Heart, it was time to settle in and watch the latest episode of The Great British Sewing Bee. I must admit I've been loving this series quite a bit as there's been some quirky contestants but also some really original ideas. It was Art Week this week, so for the transformation they took existing pieces of art created by students and re-arrange them to be outfits with a bit of daring in. I have to say that Mia, Lauren and Asmaa excelled here, and they really did have the wow factor for both of them. Add in some Sophie Ellis-Bextor in the background with Me and My Imagination for tune of the day - spot on catchy choons!

The made to measure went a bit more avantgarde with the promise of surrealist art, and some of the pieces were ace - The Love In My Heart and I loved Mia's cloud dress, and the leather and lace rock inspiration from Fauve won Garment of the Week (which was a surprise to be honest) - I also liked the cobra on the dress that Asmaa made. Tony W went for the drama with the red outfit and certainly did look very goth bride in red, but the earlier mishaps meant that he was the next to go home. He had done well to get so far though and did make some excellent things, which shows the standards for this year.

Saturday 17th June - South Coast Explorer

It was off on a day out today and using the Southern DaySave ticket - this all day ticket allows unlimited off peak travel across the whole of the Southern network. It's handy for me because I can then escape to the South Coast without necessarily needing a ticket in advance, and I can buy the DaySave 3 days before the day I wish to travel (it'd be nice if they offered it on the day to be spontaneous, but still.) I also think that it's deliberately not well publicised because otherwise a lot of offpeak travellers may consider using it for flexibility and the number of trips you can potentially do.

So it was off to East Croydon and the initial plan was to head to Hove, and then down there to the crazy golf course on the sea front (or double back from Hove to Brighton and do similar). However, the 0804 train was going to terminate at Gatwick. Meh. So instead I decided to take the 0810 to Eastbourne and Hastings, with the plan being to head along the seafront at Eastbourne. I did note though that since my last visit there, there was a new indoor crazy golf course on the pier, so that might be worth a shout anyway. I could have also swapped trains at Lewes along the way for Brighton, but a relatively new crazy golf course interested me so I stayed on the train and got to Easbourne.

After walking through the town centre and noticing they now had a Wimpy in the town centre, it was along close to the pier and to the beach café which was open for a nice coffee to start the day. I had a view of the pier from my table on the decking at the front and could see the sea and all the seagulls close to the pier, so that was definitely very nice indeed. After the coffee, it was off to Orb Mini Golf on the pier. It wasn't cheap, at £8 for 9 holes but it definitely was an experience: neon artwork, very 1980s retro styled, and nine very good holes which were a fair challenge. And a bonus hole where you basically did crazy golf versions of Plinko to see if you got a free game. Nice.

I did walk back through and along the seafront at Eastbourne for a while and that was lovely, and then headed off for the 1055 train to Brighton. It was actually in Gatwick Express livery, so not confusing for anyone at all, oh no. The train stopped at most of the intermediate stations including Glynde and Berwick on the way, and arrived i Brighton on time but due to timetabling, the train to Hove left at the same time. I had a brainwave though and effectively used the fact a train was delayed to carry on the journey: so it was the 1147 to Haywards Heath, and I got off at Preston Park and switched for the delayed 1150 to Littlehampton. This saved me a half hour wait at Brighton and meant I'd get to Littlehampton earlier. Nice all round, and lovely aircon blasting out too.

The train headed along and a plane headed over the train close to Shoreham-by-Sea at their small airport before then heading down by the River Arun and into Littlehampton, and all on time. It was around lunchtime now and so I decided to stop in the Wimpy there and have table service, going proper old school and having the full on proper Wimpy experience. And it was very good - a spot on bacon and cheese quarter pounder with the things I would like removed, some spot on chips and some 7-Up to go with it. It was really nice and reminded me of how much I used to like the days of when Wimpy had the Manchester Arndale one - I miss it!

With that done, it was along to the seafront (after seeing that there appeared to be some open water swimming by the mouth of the river and close to the lifeboat station) and two more crazy golf courses. First of all was Sharksville, which was elevated above one of the amusement parks and £4 for 9 holes. It's still pretty well maintained and no holes in one here, but definitely a good and fair challenge to hit a decent score. I had a few 2s so thought I was doing reasonably okay here, and then headed along the promenade, with the unique swirly bench artworks and also the nice little café and bar as you head along.

The next stop was Buccaneer Bay for some more crazy golf, this time £5.25 for 9 holes (why not make it a fiver I wonder?) - and I've played this one before, long holes in the more adventure style, but definitely some tricky ones including the second where you line up the first shot to hit over a steep bridge, so realistically getting a 3 here is a very good score. In fact on the long fourth I got it in 2 shots, and the seventh where you hit onto a boat and through holes, I landed the hole to put the ball in good position, and circled around the hole before going in for a hole in one. Get in! I'll have that all day long.

I stopped off to get a cold drink of water for the next train and boarded the 1505 departure to Bognor Regis - effectively it's a little shuttle service via Ford and Barnham, and means you don't need to walk or get bus between the two - granted you can cross over the River Arun by road or footbridge, but I'd of course paid for the train journeys already, and it had aircon! Once I got to the station, I walked down towards the pier and indeed had also spotted the crazy golf course there and it was in as an immaculate condition as ever. Did I play that course? Well, what do you thnk?

So it was £6 for 18 holes, which is superb value, and it's a proper old school course with the windmill, the lighthouse to steer under, the rotating waterwheel where you have to time the hit, and a helter skelter, where you hit upwards inside and then the ball comes out and goes down the helter skelter towards the hole. It was the final hole and overall I scored 40, one hole in one and fourteen twos amongst that score, and one of the best scores I've done for a while. The course record is 31, so didn't do too badly right? In fact there were a number of tanks and armed vehicles by the pier with a free gig in the open air park close by with some good tunes, especially a nice version of Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon, so the original of that is tune of the day.

I headed into an amusement arcade close by, and wowzers, they had pinball! They also did have Dancing Stage Euromix if I wanted to go old school, but this appeared to be a relatively new machine, called High Roller Casino and made by Stern. It played really well with some good options for jackpots, multibals, and well themed throughout. In fact I scored a good enough high score to earn a replay (hence another credit) and then my score matched at the end for another free credit too. Absolutely winning full stop there, so can't complain one bit and definitely was one that I enjoyed, especially with the free credits!

I then got the train and the 1705 from Bognor Regis this time getting off at Barnham, changing there for the 1727 to Portsmouth Harbour. I wanted to do some outlet shopping and knew that Gunwharf Quay was close by, and so wanted to venture to there. It proved to be busy, both with shoppers and with those looking fab heading off to the waterfront bars for a night out - a very interesting contrast. I did actually get something after checking in with The Love In My Heart - a shirt from Joules that was my size, short sleeved and actually was a dark blue number with a nice print on, so definitely well worth it for that. I admired the Spinnaker tower and got myself a meal deal from the Co-Op close to the train station before heading homewards.

Unfortunately, this is where Southern did a Southern and there were delays. A level crossing had failed close to Billingshurst, and as such trains along that route including mine were delayed. In fact our train stopped at Amberley and the guard did allow people off to stretch their legs if they wanted, although the aircon was nicer on board. Eventually we got moved, and off to Horsham to couple with the other train from Bognor Regis. Then due to delays the train was to be terminated early at East Croydon (so it could be reversed back out to head back to Barnham) and thankfully that was okay for me, and headed off home and arrived back around 10pm. It had been a long day but also a good one too.

Friday 16th June - Down In The Cronx

It had been a busy week for me at work generally and it did make sense to work from home today despite the fact it might prove to be a little warm. I did of course know that the flat is cooler in the morning so the cunning plan was to get the windows open and get some cooler air in, and get the bladeless tower fan on and getting the air circulated around, meaning it'd be cooler a little later. That plan of course did sort of work and it was good to be able to progress things throughout the day as well.

I did note that the Cronx Tap, which is a new tap room for the local Cronx Brewery, got their licencing through today which means that they can open as scheduled tonight for their first official night after doing a small test last weekend. Now I've had their beers and they're always decent (especially the Entire porter) and so it was a little incentive for me to finish work and to then be able to head over to the High Street and onwards to the Tap. It was also good to note that the place promised some lovely aircon and that would be a nice welcome cooling sensation after the heat of the day.

I went in and the two staff were very chatty and friendly, and proud of what they had done, a long ground floor with plenty of nice seating and lighting, and a stair case upstairs to an upstairs area that looked out over the bar - probably sensible that also had aircon with it being an enclosed room. It was all looking lovely, and I ordered a pint of their rather nice Koop Island,which is a tropical pale and definitely has a great little kick of pineapple which really does hit the spot.

There were plenty of some nice relaxed vibe tunes too including the excellent I'm Not In Love from 10CC, The One I Love by REM (not a love song as some of you may think) and also Sweet Harmony from The Beloved which I hadn't heard from some time and that's tune of the day for me as that really did add to the mood well. I even indulged myself in a half pint of the excellent Entire porter later on and sat by the window and admired the view outside, which was really good.

I got back home later (not that far to walk) and watched the England game against Malta away in the Euro 2024 qualifiers. It was a professional job from the England team as the movement from the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold did well unpicked the Maltese defence. A cross from Bukato Saka was turned into the net by a Malta defender for an own goal before Alexander-Arnold shot from distance into the top corner. Liquid football that, and a penalty from Harry Kane made it 3-0 at half time, with Callum Wilson adding a penalty late on for an easy 4-0 win and job very well done.

Tuesday 13th June – Levelling the Inspection Land

I was working at home today as I needed to be present for a quick inspection check from the landlord. By all accounts there was actually a good reason for this – it’s so for example that they can ensure that places are well looked after (no issues with me then as I am always tidy) and there is apparently talk of me getting a gift voucher for my troubles too which might be nice to have. I had already kept things nice anyway but did a quick sweep with the dry cloth on the SpeedMop and just kept things shipshape.

Following yesterday, one thing I wanted to do today was to play the Levellers’ classic album Levelling the Land, as I know it’s been one of my old favourites but also one which someone I know loves to bits. So it was on with the CD and of course blasting out One Way nice and loud from the speakers (naturally I did this post-inspection!) and that is tune of the day no question. The halcyon days of being in 42nd Street in Manchester on a Saturday night and Jon the DJ (a trained industrial chemist by trade if I remember) would always play this and indeed another song from the same album, The Riverboat Song.

As much as I love One Way and that is a friend’s favourite, if someone did say to me to pick a track from this, it’d have to be Liberty Song, as that has a great intro with lots of violins and a chorus that you can all join in and pogo along to. I’m pretty sure that Jeremy from the band would do his utmost to go the most mental when this was on, and I’ve seen the Levellers a few times in my time to know this to be the case. In fact one night in Manchester was where She Makes War was also supporting, so a massive win for that (and later on Mark Chadwick from the band would collaborate with Laura on two SMW tracks - Time To Be Unkind and Please Don’t)

The other track I really like here is Sell Out, primarily because of the use of the bass guitar, especially with the iconic intro riff and the instrumental part later on as it builds with extra guitars and strings being added before Mark Chadwick comes in .You can well imagine festivals up and down the country building up to that moment on the track especially. Some of you might say “but what about 15 years?” – and there’s a very good answer to that one. The original album doesn’t have it on and was only added on subsequent re-releases, and being someone who admires their music, I have the first CD pressing.

It’s hard to believe also that this album was released in 1991. I was nineteen at the time (and yes I am old!) and of course at the right time to have tracks from this as a background theme to parts of my life also – and well why not. It was the first album where Simon Friend featured on the band and the additional input and song writing really improved it from A Weapon Called The Word (which still has its moments such as World Freak Show) and many years later, the band are still going strong, which says a lot about how much they are tight as a unit too. Name other bands with that longevity!

Monday 12th June – Back Down To Earth

A couple of things have hit me pretty hard today, and any feelings I might have had of being celebratory based on the weekend definitely have vanished. A reality has definitely hit. Suffice to say that it’s involving people I care about and one of them who hasn’t been that well for a while did tell me that there are some tests he’s having in hospital at the moment. The results may not be the best and I’ve just got everything crossed for him to be honest What I did think about today is that why does the crap stuff happen to good people who don’t deserve yet more thrown at them.

It seems to me at least always the way – in that there’s so many good and kind people out there who just seem for whatever reason to be dealt with a hand in life that’s harder for so many reasons, whether that be with a career, personal life, love, illness and all that sort of thing. It just frustrates me immensely where I know there are others who are the most heartless people out there who just seem to be the ones getting away with anything and not having to face the same as the rest of us – maybe share the bad and good luck around in equal measure so everyone gets some of each? I’m a firm believer in fate to a degree, but I do sometimes question that when I can see that there’s so many other things not quite right.

The second thing is even more personal and that has left me in a small state of shock to be honest, even though I did think that the happening may have been on the horizon. Please don’t worry, I’m still madly in love with The Love In My Heart and that definitely hasn’t changed one bit. Naturally, I did sort of withdraw a bit on the way home on the bus and just looked out of the window thinking about things. It’s often difficult to put into words just how much sometimes things can change, and you just have to really try and put it all into perspective.

As such, I sought some solace from The Love later and shared the news with her. She was positive and very very supportive and another reason why I adore her to bits – as it was a case of listening to each other and comparing our days – her workplace doesn’t have air conditioning and with the thunder and lightning around in Manchester, it was very muggy and warm and not the ideal conditions. You’d think in her line of work she would actually have all that but no. I did kick back later and just take in the happenings of the last 24 hours or so, and felt sad.

I must admit that sometimes it’s hard to put words into perspective, but I think that without these sort of days, you may not enjoy the good days as much as possible, so that’s good to note. With that in mind, tune of the day is the rather thoughtful Velvet Days by Kristin Hersh, full of strings and yet feels intimate and uplifting at the same time which is rather good all round. It does at least fill me with some hope that there will be better days ahead, let’s hope so!

Sunday 11th June – Bundles Of Joy

The Love In My Heart and woke up to very muggy conditions outside, and with Brian the cat wanting plenty of fuss and cuddles, even though he appeared to have been hairball sick overnight. The Love did feed him some hairball treats in order to make sure any remnants were either digested or removed just in case, and then we had some breakfast before I headed for a shower and that did feel refreshing but also warm as The Love had had her system serviced and that did mean some hot water was at last flowing nicely to get me all cleaned up.

The Cute Little One had arrived with her parents later on and as I was packing some things into the case in the spare room she came in to get her colouring books, saw me and said “Hi Warren!” and came to give me a hug, which was so lovely. It was so nice to see her of course and once her parents had headed off for a gig they were going to tonight, The Love and I thought it’d be sensible to take her to the park and play on the swings and the slides for a bit, and work off some energy before heading out later.

The park was very warm though with only one set of swings in any form of shade, and she definitely enjoyed her little self on those. I did note that some of the other slides and climbing frames were really warm to the touch, and so needed to be a little careful. That said The Cute Little One did both slides and then looked to her Nana and said that it was hot, aww bless. We decided though to keep things in the shade and so more swing time before we headed back to The Love’s place which was in the shade, and she had a good watch of The Lion King as well as Daniel Tiger’s Neigbourhood (the closing theme of which is tune of the day as it’s based on the original one from Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood in the US)

Later on the three of us headed to Manchester Piccadilly station and met up with The Love’s niece who was heading up from London for a work placement. Her train was delayed slightly but not as much as mine would be later on, and it was lovely to see her. The four of us then headed out of the city centre as it was rammed with people heading off to the Parklife Festival in Heaton Park, and off to The Gateway pub in East Didsbury, as it has a nice outside seating area, although it was attempting to rain along the way. We did avoid that and got a nice outside table.

There’s always a good kids’ menu for The Cute Little One, and she had her crayons and colouring books whilst I did the order for us all. The Love had the boneless chicken basket, her niece had the half chicken with spicy sauce and rice, and I did the steak and kidney pudding and went old school. The Cute Little One had a ham and cheese pizza and was loving it, every time I asked her was it nice she nodded with a big smile on her face which was lovely to see. She was also full of giggles with her little fruit snack and the organic juice, so was well fed along with the rest of us.

The time went by far too quickly to be honest and it was soon time to drop me back off at Piccadilly, which looked rammed, and so I got The Love to drop me off a little earlier so she could turn right at a road and avoid the traffic ahead. I got to the platform and the train was delayed coming in. In fact I had a lot of delays tonight: a tree on the line cut off the electric around Piccadilly so that the incoming train was late, and then it was super rammed on board and I got a seat, but had to be declassified. I had some aircon but those souls in Coach E, man they were roasting in there and was so glad I wasn’t in there to be honest. The train had to go slow from Rugeley to Rugby due to a speed restriction and I arrived in Euston almost an hour and a half late. Not the best journey, and that’s an understatement.

Saturday 10th June – Champions of Europe

It was nice to have got into Manchester last night and snuggle up to The Love In My Heart and Brian the cat as the night fell over the Etihad skies. Today of course was a potentially good football moment for Manchester City as they took on Inter Milan in the Champions League final later. City had been to the final in 2011, narrowly losing 1-0 to Chelsea in a tight final in Porto. This time around it was hoped that with additional squad resources, and Erling Haaland up front, we’d be able to do the business, hopefully.

The Love and I headed off up to see her sister and husband this afternoon. It was nice being in the back garden as there was some shade and so wasn’t going to necessarily burn straight away and was able to have a cold drink and some ice cream and chatter about football a bit too. It was just a good way to spend the early afternoon and not be as nervous as I might have been otherwise, as I knew that I would be tense later seeing the game – and as that has to be free to air it would be on BT Sport’s Youtube channel, so ready to get myself all set up in the spare room later.

After a nice early afternoon, we called in at Media City in Salford Quays on the way back, and after parking up in a nice cool shaded car park, we headed over to Seven Bro7ers Beerhouse there, and they had outside benches. Now, if this was the city centre, it’d be no glasses outside. Here though, different story. The Love had their helles lager which is really nice, and I did have their red spiced ale, more of a Winter one but really nice and a bargain at a mere £4 a pint too, and later I did try a guest peach melba sour, which was wonderfully refreshing as it turned out.

Back at The Love’s place, we had some snacks and then some lovely steak and chips for tea whilst I got set up in the spare room, and sure enough it was time for the final. City were designated the home team but both teams had their standard home kits on, and Edin Dzeko lined up for them, a former City favourite, and still got a good reception from the City fans – we don’t forget what he did for us and we were hoping he wouldn’t score tonight but play well for them, as he deserved this moment here himself.

It was a tense first half affair with Inter closing City down very well and keeping tight to players, and Bernardo Silva had a curled shot just wide, and one ball went to Erling Haaland but their keeper saved well. At the other end it was mainly defensive scares from us playing the wrong ball from the back, but it was tight and 0-0 at half time to be fair was the right scoreline for me. I just hoped things would be better second half and I felt more nervous and sick to the stomach to be honest.

The second half saw City press further and a couple of free kicks went close but nothing else doing. Then Bernardo Silva got in down the right hand side and he crossed the ball into the box, there was an appeal for handball but the ball went to Rodri close to the edge of the 18 yard box. Simlilar to his equaliser against Aston Villa last year he slotted it into the bottom right hand corner. YESSSSSSSSS! Get in! It was a cool calm quality finish and the City fans behind that goal went understandably mental, as did I. It was a well taken goal.

It wasn’t easy after that though, Inter had a header which ironically hit their own striker Romelu Lukaku on the way towards goal, and this was straight after they had hit the bar. And with minutes left, a cross into Lukaku meant he should have scored, but Ederson was there to clear with Ruben Dias then sending it out of play. The five minutes of stoppage time felt like an eternity and as Bernardo Silva cleared the corner, the final whistly went. We had done it! We were the champions (cue Queen’s iconic We Are The Champions being tune of the day) and as Ilkay Gundogan lifted the trophy, I felt massively proud for sticking with the blues over the years and never giving up. So for all those like me who have been lifelong Blues, this was for us.

Friday 9th June – First Class Frolics

After a long week at work it was nice to be able to head up to Manchester to see The Love In My Heart for the weekend, and it was super nice being in the office with the air conditioning cranked up nicely and being nice and cool as I worked my way through a number of reports and other weekly tasks to complete the week off well. I did already have one first class leg booked tonight as I was going via Doncaster to Manchester, and as such that meant for the latter part, and because it was £1 dearer than standard when I booked in advance, it was a no brainer.

And then I had a thought. What if I could upgrade on the LNER part from Kings Cross to Doncaster, wouldn’t that be ace right? And so I decided to check in via Seatfrog (who I normally use for this) and lo and behold as I was heading off from work on the 91 bus to Kings Cross, I did note that the auction wasn’t too expensive. I bid with a minute left and wasn’t outbid, and so the first class upgrade was mine, and it’d be their dish menu too, so hopefully something nice for me on the journey, and an added train geek bonus, it would set off from Platform 0! Excellent.

It was a really lovely first part of the journey, and for a number of reasons. Not least the staff. They were friendly, polite and also very warm and welcoming to everyone, and that included the train manager who kept everyone informed of some signalling issues between Kings Cross and Stevenage and what that may mean for onward connections. He even tried to see if a train would delay leaving Grantham for passengers to get a connection there, what a top bloke. The staff in first class served me a nice Hop on Board ale, and it was soon time to select the food that I would like – and had various lovely choices.

In the end I went for the beef stew which had some beef, carrots and mushrooms in a lovely stew with some new potatoes on the side – all fresh, all cooked to order and rather delicious. I also had a frangipane apple tart for dessert which was rather gorgeous, and that really did hit the spot well. I was also offered some coffee and a nice little pack of biscuits, some more beer (in fact two cans as the member of staff said it was weekend and you might as well relax!) and some sparkling water also. Absolutely superb service and well worth the upgrade, and if you get chance to do first class on LNER, you should definitely do so.

I made sure I kept a can of the Hop on Board ale with me as I knew that on the other train there’d be no food and drink. That said, it was really nice and comfortable and I had the small first class portion all to myself all the way to Manchester, so was super nice and quiet along the way. I had of course the iPod on and as I’d got some new CDs in midweek thanks to Music Magpie, I played a fair bit of the Chvrches album Love Is Dead, and Never Say Die still sounds as good as ever when I first heard it, so definitely tune of the day for me. And never say die to those upgrades either!

Sunday 4th June – Albert’s Beer Festival

In order to head out for the day and to avoid the masses heading towards the Etihad for tonight’s Coldplay gig, I wanted to do something nice for myself and The Love In My Heart. With that in mind, I did note that the Albert Club in West Didsbury in Manchester were organising a beer festival this weekend, and with the weather looking good and indeed with the prospect of a live band and indeed some family orientated fun, I thought it’d be quite a nice relaxing day, so got tickets during the week for admission – which are discounted if you are a member of said club.

We had had a lovely breakfast and headed off to the tram stop to first of all get the tram into the city centre and then get off at Deansgate-Castlefield to change trams for the Didsbury line, which meant heading through Chorlton on the way to West Didsbury tram stop. It wasn’t far to walk from there to Old Lansdowne Road and soon we were in sight of The Albert Club, which has a bowling green and a number of tennis courts too – the membership for the tennis especially isn’t that cheap, but they do look well maintained and looked after in terms of courts, and the bowling green (where they allowed families on today) did look in tip top condition.

Once we showed our ticket reference, we noted that the bar, tuck shop (sweets and crisps for the kids) and indeed the food tent were all there, with the food being pizzas and also hot dogs with standard or loaded fries. We also noted that the clubhouse terrace had tables and room for us, so we snagged a table and went back to the bar. Lots of beer choices for me and I would try some of the local ales including the Burton Road Simcoe Pale, which was very nice indeed. The Love went for the Poretti lager which she’d had before and quite liked, and there were four cask ales and around 15 kegs on, which had varied on different days and a lot of local breweries present too – First Chop, Mobberley, Redwillow and so on.

We did notice that a band was rehearsing ready for playing later, and the band was called Le Funk (obvious nod to Le Freak by Chic, right?) and there was three males, a drummer, bass and lead guitarist, with a female singer whose husband and son were there for moral support too. Once they got going later, they were pretty decent, playing a number of classic tracks in their own style from the 60s right through to the current era. If it had been Name That Tune (or at least get the song from the intro) I’d have done pretty well, and they did sound spot on with the choice of the way that they played, so that was good.

We did venture over to the food tent where the hot dog and chips was a mere £5 – and so got that for each of us as that sounded like a good deal to me. The pizzas were £8 and a decent size, large enough to have on your own if you wanted and freshly done in the oven as well, so definitely well worth it – and the chips we had were fried fresh too which definitely was a plus. After the food we did then move from the terrace on to the bowling green, where The Love caught some more sun and I could sit near her but in the shade (as I do burn easily sadly).

Definitely for me it was just a relaxed and chilled atmosphere, The Love really enjoyed it all and I enjoyed the music on offer too – with the sun out, a great beer selection and tunes, what more did you need really? In fact, I was really impressed with the vibe, definitely something we’ll come back to next year if it’s on, I think. As for tune of the day there were plenty of good versions from Le Funk, but what stood out for me especially was them doing the Northern Soul original version of Tainted Love by Gloria Jones, and keeping it in that vibe with some funky bass added. And as The Love does adore that song (notably also the Soft Cell version) we both approved.

We did get delayed on the tram back later, primarily due to some points failure near Cornbrook where we actually saw the staff in orange jackets manually have to adjust them as trams came along (not so good) and of course with the masses piling off to Coldplay, it was busy leaving the city centre as you can imagine. We got back, relaxed by watching the Spanish Grand Prix (although let’s be honest, it’s a boring and foregone conclusion these days, really not good to watch it all) and then had a nice drink before heading for sleep after a lovely weekend together.

Saturday 3rd June – Up For The Cup

The Love In My Heart and I got up early: for two different reasons, The Love was off to see her granddaughter for a bit and wanted to also see some of her relatives, and I’d already planned to head into the city centre in Manchester to maybe spend some of my gift cards I got for my birthday on something new. We had some breakfast, and I took the tram into the centre, stopping off at Tim Horton’s for a well earned coffee, primarily because I could, but also because of the fact I did note breakfast meal deals in a similar price to McDonalds’s being available, and pretty popular it has to be said. Might have to try that next time out.

I did go into TK Maxx and did potentially see a check shirt I liked. I wasn’t sure on the way it was cut in terms of fit, and so thought it best to take one of each size into the changing rooms and then determine what I thought. And unfortunately, none of them were right: one felt way too small, the other fitted fine in one area but just seemed to be more like a slim fit around the back and wasn’t what I thought it’d be. Best to have given that a go now instead of ordering it and finding that it wasn’t quite to my liking if I had ordered it online, so there was that.

I also went into Fopp and decided that it’d be a good idea to get a couple of new album releases that I had thought about for my birthday but didn’t get – so the two purchases including Jethro Tull’s new release Rokflote, as well as Natalie Merchant’s new one Keep Your Courage. I did think about seeing Natalie on tour but the ticket prices were way overpriced, and so decided that it would be best to buy the album and listen to it and enjoy it, which I’ll do once I am back home. I did remember I had her debut album Tigerlily on the iPod, and to this day Seven Years is just so emotionally beautiful.

I got back as The Love arrived back and later on was the FA Cup final – the first Manchester derby final. I remember going to the 2011 semi final as City beat United 1-0 with a Yaya Touré goal and that was a glorious day. I wasn’t able to get to Wembley for today due to the massive demand, but The Love decided she would head out and sunbathe a bit at the front, and I would watch the game in peace. That worked out well because I could go mental if City scored and I was hoping that City would do the business today.

I didn’t have long to wait. Once Abide With Me and the National Anthem was done, the game kicked off and City scored – in 12 seconds! The ball was sent forward, headed on by Erling Haaland, and a United defender then headed it straight into the path of Ilkay Gundogan, who superbly volleyed home into the top corner. Wow, wow, wow. Amazing stuff that. City kept on going and were unlucky with a couple of chances. Unfortunately a stray arm from Jack Grealish did mean that under the VAR replay and rules, it was going to be a penalty to United for handball. Bruno Fernandes hit home cool as you like and going into half time it was 1-1.

The second half started and City were playing well straight from the kick off. A few minutes in, City had a free kick and Kevin de Bruyne floated the ball to the edge of the box where Ilkay Gundogan slotted it home from outside the box, and it was a great finish, so 2-1 to City. We played well throughout and although United were better once Garnacho came on and had a shot around the post, City held firm, and the game did peter out nicely in our favour. It was a bit tense near the end but it was joy at the final whistle as City had done it – we won the cup and the second part of a possible treble had been achieved. As for tune of the day it’s an easy one, primarily Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere, due a to current City chant, singing I’ll follow you everywhere during the chorus.

Thursday 1st June – Avoiding The Strikes

As you may know, here in the UK we have two train strikes back to back, with the RMT union striking on the 2nd June and the ASLEF union striking on the 3rd June. What this did mean was that I would need to re-arrange the train heading to Manchester and instead go on the Thursday night to reach The Love In My Heart. Friday was not an option due to the very limited number of trains running. In addition I needed to be at home today as I was having some work done on the flat, and needed to be present for the workmen to be here.

Effectively, it was to do some wood flooring repairs, and they had arrived armed with what they needed, some mallets and also some filling tools as needed – the plan would be to ensure there were no gaps in the flooring by getting the floors slotted together in place with some gentle coaxing, and then ensuring that they would be glued into place ready to keep their position afterwards. It did take them around three hours of hard graft and I did need to move on occasion to keep out of the way whilst working, but it did work out well.

I had lunch and admired the hard graft, thinking that it was good to see that things were in shape as I worked through the day and did my best to get as much as I could sorted. I was working from The Love’s tomorrow, so knew I could keep things on schedule where possible, and that was at least something. As such, I wanted to get to Euston as soon as I could after work and make sure I got on the train up to Manchester. I was aiming for the 1913 which is the one I normally get on the Friday night, and so after work had the case packed and ready and heading off to Euston.

Of course Euston was busy, with a lot of people thinking the same way in that it would be rather good to avoid the carnage, and so knowing I would need an unreserved carriage, checked when the 1853 train was due to announce its platform and was super ready. I got to Coach C and got my old favourite seat of C26, so that was me happy and sorted as you can well imagine. As the train left Euston, no seats at all were available and was standing room only to at least Rugby. I was just pleased to kick back and relax.

The Love In My Heart came to collect me from Piccadilly and as we headed to her place, we could hear the noise from the Etihad Stadium as Coldplay were playing the second of their four nights there. I did know that they did a cover version of a Mancunian classic but of course that made me pine for the original, so had to listen to that earlier, namely Sit Down by James, and the original Rough Trade single release at that, not the reissue in 1991 (which did massively well for them as you an imagine) so that one is tune of the day.