Last Post of 2004

I thought I’d just make a quick post to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year. 🙂

I’m full of a cold at the moment, so I’m not really looking forward to going out tonight. I’d much rather be tucked up in bed with a whisky, but I’d better make the effort seeing as it’s New Year’s eve. 😕

We’re only off up to the King’s Arms though. It’s a ticket-only affair this year, to keep the numbers down because it was a bit hectic last year. I suppose we’ll end up, as usual, stood in the Bull’s Head car park around midnight, watching the firework displays all around Oldham. It’s a great vantage point, if the weather is clear we’ll be able to see all over Shaw, Royton, Middleton and Rochdale. 😯

I’m not going to make any resolutions this year, except to spend more time with people who matter to me and less time with people who don’t. Hopefully in 2005 I’ll also be able to catch up with those of you who read this blog from foreign shores.

Happy New Year everyone!

Edit: The King’s Arms was absolutely packed – so much for it being a ticket-only event. Every inch of floor space was filled, with no chance of a seat or even being able to stand without being jostled by the crowd. Even at 9 o’clock, it was noisy and hot and impossible to have a conversation without shouting. With me being unwell, we decided to sack it off. We would’ve gone over to the quieter Bull’s Head but, for the first time in years, it was closed so we just came home and watched the telly. The fireworks at midnight were amazing: we stood on the doorstep and watched them going off in all directions.

Merry Christmas

It was a white Christmas – officially the first one in 25 years according to the TV, although I’m sure we’ve had a couple of them in the ten years we’ve lived up at Grains Bar. 🙄

After visiting Sara’s mum in the morning to exchange gifts, we spent the rest of Christmas Day at Ian and Louise’s, with Sara’s dad.

The food was excellent – a nice twist on the traditional Christmas dinner, well done Ian. The champagne kept flowing and the whole day was very relaxed: no rushing about, no Queen’s speech, no problem when someone told the same story for a fourth time or fell asleep in the chair. We really had a nice day. 😀

I’m off to see United shortly. Then we’ll probably pop up to the King’s Arms tonight. I’m going to enjoy this week off work.

Karting

Last night a few of us from work went Karting. One of the contractors we use had exclusively booked the Daytona indoor karting circuit at Trafford Park and invited each of his largest customers to bring a team along.

We arrived early and went up to the viewing gallery to see what it was about. There were about a dozen karts whizzing around the track – it turned out to be the Stoke City football club first team on their Christmas Do. It looked fantastic. 😀

We got changed into our regulation fireproof jump suits – I asked for the biggest size, of course, but it was still a bit on the small side and didn’t even have a zipper. Not to worry, I’d manage. We then had to sit through a quick safety briefing where they explain all rules – i.e. no bumping, no using brake and accelerator together, obey the marshalls, etc – and they tell you what the different coloured flags and lights mean. Then it was down to the pits, grab a helmet and out onto the track for a few practice laps.

Wow, those little karts are really quick once you get going. When you get used to the track you can throw yourself into virtually every corner, catching the back end when it slides out. Five or six practice laps then back into the pits so your team mate can have a go, then straight to the race itself: an hour’s endurance, with as many driver changes as you like. 😮

They lined up the karts on the grid and I happened to be put in pole position. I waited an age for everyone to line up behind then… I missed the green light. By the time I’d noticed, about 6 cars had gone by. I floored it along the back straight and thought I’d outbreak them at the first hairpin bend, but the yellow flags were already out – there was a pile up ahead. Remembering the safety briefing I slowed down to half racing speed and didn’t try overtaking. It seems us newbies were the only ones who paid attention to the rules – another four cars flashed past me! 👿

It was obvious that some people had done this many times before – they even brought their own suits and helmets! As they disappeared into the distance, I knew we were out of the running for the top prizes so it was just a matter of beating the others from the college. I lost control a few times trying to push a bit too hard to catch up, but everyone had a few spins. I got a warning from the marshalls – I haven’t a clue what I did wrong – but they didn’t make me come in for a penalty stop.

We had decided beforehand that we would do ten minutes each and then come into the pits to change drivers, so twenty-odd laps later I pulled into the pits in a lowly 10th position (out of 14 cars) but I was still ahead of the other two college teams. I jumped out of the car – well, fell out really, it’s very tricky when you’ve got long legs – and Andy took over. 😯

Andy kept up the pace and we maintained 10th spot right up until a few laps before he was due to come in to swap drivers again. Misreading the noticeboard, he half-decided to come into the pits and half-decided to stay out: result, he ran into the pit wall and had to wait for the marshalls to free his trapped car. Jon and Nick zoomed past as he sat there helpless. 🙁

Not wanting to lose even more time by changing drivers, we decided to change our strategy so Andy stayed out on the track for another 10 minutes, leaving me to do our last stint. Fired up for a last push, I flew out of the pits and down the long straight, only to be clipped by some clown who thought he could squeeze his Kart down the inside. I was spun fully around and found myself facing oncoming traffic at the very fastest part of the circuit! 😯

I could see the accident coming: three cars, side by side, heading straight for me at full speed. The two on the outside would be able to swerve around me easily enough, but the one in the middle had absolutely nowhere to go. I braced myself for the impact. :wacko:

That hurt. And later, once I wasn’t pumped full of adrenaline, it would really, really hurt. 😥

But for now, all that mattered was that I’d been bounced around 180 degrees and I could get on with the race! Foot to the floor and we were off again. I couldn’t catch up with Jon and Nick but at least I managed to stay ahead of Pete and Wayne, who seemed to be having their fair share of accidents too. We finished in 12th place, some 14 laps behind the eventual winner. 😳

It was only when I tried wriggling out of my boiler suit that I realised how sore my shoulders were following my crash; I could barely move my arms. [Edit: I’ve been in agony today at work. I can’t complain too much though: Pete has a couple of suspected cracked ribs as a result of his crash.] 🙄

Injuries aside, we all thoroughly enjoyed it and plan to do it again in a couple of months when we’ve healed. Thanks to Steve and Mark for organising it all, it was a great evening. 🙂

Manchester United 5 – 2 Crystal Palace

Thanks to Sky TV, this was our first 5:15pm kick-off. It just didn’t feel right. 😕

With Ruud van Nistelrooy out injured and both Heinze and Ronaldo being given time off for Christmas, I worried which of the “reserves” would get a run out. Quinton Fortune was preferred at left back (eventually replaced by O’Shea), Fletcher played on the right of midfield. Neither excelled. 🙄

The scoreline was probably about right in the end. We hammered Palace for most of the game but poor defending allowed them to equalise twice. 😐

In summary, with video clips where possible: Rooney missed an early penalty, Scholes scored twice, Smith and O’Shea grabbed the others.

Eric Cantona was guest of honour tonight, prompting continuous singing of the 12 Days Of Cantona, Let’s Drink a Drink and What A Friend We Have In Jesus. It all seemed very appropriate considering Palace were today’s opposition. 😉

Budapest Citybreak

We’ve just got back from a short break to Budapest, Hungary. 😎

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to go: a new budget airline, Jet2.com, has just started flying from Manchester to various European destinations. They were advertising fares to Budapest for just £21 including taxes, which was too good an offer to miss. I’ve got to say that I was very impressed with Jet2. Check-in was quick and easy – we managed to get exit seats for both legs without having to pay extra. Comfy leather seats, reasonably priced refreshments and, unlike some other budget carriers we’ve used, they took off on time and even managed to slash 20 minutes of the scheduled journey time both ways.

As expected, Budapest in December was very, very cold. It wasn’t actually snowing when we arrived but it was -2° with a biting wind. I hadn’t really done much homework prior to this trip so, seeing as it was dark when we arrived, we decided not to mess around with the train/bus/metro. Our choices were either the airport’s own minibus service at 2100ft (£5.50) per head or a taxi at 5200ft (£14). We went for the taxi option, which whisked us straight to our hotel, the Radisson Beke, in the city centre. 😕

After checking in, we set about exploring the surrounding area, had a couple of drinks and found somewhere to eat. It was quite late and many of the restaraunts were closing up, so we ended up in “the Bombay Palace” where we had the set menu for 3000ft (£8.50) each. Surprisingly enough, it was excellent, prompting me to write “Ding Dang Doo” in their comments book afterwards. 😀

Next morning we were up early and out, shunning the Radisson’s £11 per head breakfast in favour of a McDonald’s just along the road. Budapest, incidentally, has more McDonalds and Burger Kings than any other place I’ve ever visited – there seems to be one every 800 yards.

We didn’t really have a plan of action, so we picked up a tourist map showing all the places of interest and wandered around all day. Like Prague, Budapest has some amazing architecture but it has a completely different feel to the place. It’s much less westernised and not yet geared up to the hordes of tourists that Prague receives. Unfortunately most of the city is covered with graffiti too, which is a shame.

We pottered around the Pest side of the city all morning, taking in sights such as the grand Parliament Building, Basilica and Opera House, pausing occasionally for coffee and a warm-up. Then we hiked up to Heroes Square and the Millenium Monument, which was impressive in much the same way as Red Square is in Moscow, but it was a bit disappointing when you’ve walked an hour in the freezing cold only to find a vast empty square with a few statues.

In the afternoon we took the metro back into town and then up to Vaci Utca, the touristy shopping area. It was nothing special, we thought, and we hadn’t come to Budapest to visit shopping malls. We stubled upon the Christmas Market – about 20 wooden sheds selling fur hats, scarves, gloves, candles, decorations and suchlike – and then we headed for the banks of the Danube to see Margaret Island and the famous bridges, but we ended up hopping from one coffee stop to another, just to keep warm.

I would post pictures of all these things, but I accidentally left the camera in the hotel room. Here’s someone else’s photo gallery showing most of the sights. 😳

As darkness fell, I hoped that we might find a nice cosy bar which, by chance, would be showing the Fulham vs United game. After trying the usual suspects, e.g. Irish Bars, we eventually found a modern looking bar called Box Utca who said it would be on, so we settled down for the evening. It’s got to be said that Box Utca’s menu wasn’t the greatest: my “stripes of pork in a sweet-sour sauce” turned out to be spare ribs when they arrived. Other delicacies, which we didn’t try, included “Braised pig knuckles in a brown sauce”. :sick:

Tired from pounding the streets all day, we headed back to the hotel before the game even kicked off. Having seen Chelsea and Arsenal draw the day before, United needed to take advantage of the situation. I pessimistically predicted a 1-1 draw and was proved right. 👿

On Tuesday morning we were up early and, reinforced with another hearty McD’s breakfast, started to make our way back to the airport. We took the metro to the end of the line at Kobanya-Kispest and then boarded a public bus to the airport. I couldn’t figure out where you were supposed to buy the 200ft (60pence) tickets, so we didn’t bother paying – I don’t think anyone did. The bus route takes you through the poorest suburbs of Budapest. It’s really very grim.

The flight back was uneventful but for some minor turbulence. It was raining and gloomy when we arrived in Manchester. We picked up the car – undamaged this time – from a different airport parking service.

Update: BCP Airparks, the incompetent parking company we used last time, have finally paid Honda for the repairs to my car. I’m not yet done with them though: I intend to take up their complaints procedure against their rude and ineffective customer services department who seem to have ignored my claim for compensation and think settling the garage bill is the end of the matter. It isn’t.

Boozy Do

Yesterday was the I.T. department’s Christmas boozy do.

Walkabout in Oldham was this year’s chosen venue and it turned out to be much better than expected. We started at 12:30 and stayed there all day really, finishing off with a quick one in the Hark To Topper and a donner kebab. 🙂

I woke up this morning with a very bad head. Looking back at what I had, I’m not surprised: Guinness, Cheeky Vimtos, V.B., Toohey’s, Ayingerbrau and numerous whiskey & sodas. :sick:

Manchester United 3 – 0 Southampton

Today’s silly bets were:

  • Gabriel Heinze to score first. £2 at 28/1.
  • Paul Scholes to score first and United to win 3-1. £6 at 45/1.

A very poor Southampton side came to Old Trafford looking for a draw. United applied constant pressure throught the first half but couldn’t make the breakthrough. 🙄

Scholes broke the deadlock early in the second half with a scrappy header. Rooney, who had an excellent game, fired in the second. Ronaldo, having missed a few easy chances, netted the third. 😆

Five minutes to play and the bet was still on! I silently urged Southampton to break forward and grab a consolation, but it wasn’t to be. 😕

A good all-round performance today but no real ground was made in the league as Chelsea and Arsenal both won their own games comfortably.:neutral:

Comment Spam

It looks like www.torkington.org recently fell victim to the WordPress comment spam attacks that other sites have suffered from over the past few months. 😡

I’ve just deleted over 2000 bogus comments, mainly from stupid online casinos. I’ve tightened up the comment posting settings. 😕

I guess I’ll have to upgrade to the latest version of WordPress sooner or later. 😯

Webcam meltdown

My webcam has packed in. It obviously didn’t like being left on for days on end, uploading pictures of the back garden. Although it still works it has gone really fuzzy and it won’t focus on nearby images at all. I’ve stopped uploading pictures for the time being. 🙄