December 2006
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Bethlehem with bling

As I’ve finally made the effort to figure out how to post YouTube videos on here, what could be better than a little festive music.

Ladies and Gentlemen
Please welcome
Performing “Christmas in Las Vegas”
From his new album “Silent Nightclub”
Which HMV told me was in stock
But won’t deliever in time for Christmas
And it’s now too late to order from anywhere else
The legendary
Richard Cheese
(ripple of applause)

New Year Sales

New Year sucks. Christmas is over (well, actually that’s not such a a bad thing). You’ve run out of turkey recipes, and still have half a bird left. It’s starting to smell a bit, too. You can, if you wish, queue for hours in the freezing cold to stand a small chance of picking up a genuine bargain in the sales. Although I’m sure it won’t be as bad as the insanity and violence of the PlayStation 3 queues in America last month. This year, I’m spending midnight at New Year’s Eve on a plane. I know I won’t care.

Oh, and all new for 2007 – the price of poker is going up again. All around the country this time, too.

Grosvenor Casinos have announced a new schedule of “session charges”. Whilst they’ve had the sense to tier the fees so you pay less for a cheaper tournament, the attempt to justify it as the “true reflection of running costs of cardrooms” is unconvincing. I’m quite pleased that I managed to delete the word “bullshit” just then, very disciplined of me.

It’s a £2 charge on a £5 tournament, but £5 on £20. Does one game really cost two and a half times as much to run as the other?

It’s actually great for the game that the major casinos are finally starting to treat it as a game in its own right, and not simply something in the same league as £5 in free slot play or a complimentary drink. If they have to charge a little extra to do justice to their tournaments and keep the guys upstairs happy, then so be it. But c’mon, call a spade a spade. Call a service charge a rake (unless you’re not allowed to). And acknowledge this session fee what it is – a way for casinos to begin making money from poker directly, rather just using it to try to bring in pit game suckers.

I’ve seen better Christmas hats…

This is the Christmas window display in the Apple store on Regent Street, where I spent much too long drooling over £300 headphones last night.  Boy they’re good.  Coldplay was on in the store, so I stuck on a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort 3s, turned on noise reduction and bam… no more background drivel.

I’m afraid I don’t really get the tree-on-a-stick.  Maybe having just a snowman isn’t enough to say "It’s Christmas, buy more stuff".  And isn’t that Tommy Cooper’s hat?

Ball Games

Because for once we arrive in Vegas on a Saturday (T minus 5, by the way) we’ll be able to spend Sunday camped out in a sportsbook watching ten NFL games simultaneously.  I’ve also somehow managed to convince Claire that this is a great way to spend Christmas Eve.  The obvious choice of venue is the Las Vegas Hilton Superbook.  It’s huge, self-proclaimed World’s Largest, of course, and more impressively boasts the "largest sports ticker in Nevada".  I’m quite fond of scrolling LED signs.  It’s also enclosed by several banks of video poker machines that have pretty good paytables (or at least did the last time we were there) in case having multiple giant screens just isn’t enough to make up for not being able to spin through the commercials on Sky+.

It’s several years since we sat in a Vegas sportsbook to watch anything of note.  In 2002, we were on a two week romp along the West Coast.  Las Vegas was the last stop and, in retrospect, it would have made a better place to start.  Two jetlagged English folk didn’t find a whole lot to do, waknig up at 4am in San Francisco.  The venue we’d chosen for Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Playoffs between the LA Lakers and Sacramento Kings was Monte Carlo.  We’d arrived early enough to grab a good seat and brought a huge pizza for sustinence, which impressed those sitting next to us, although you could tell they wish they’d thought of it too.  The atmosphere was amazing and the game was pretty damn good too.  19 changes of lead, 16 ties (obviously I had to look this up, nobody’s going to believe I remembered it) and an eventual overtime win for the Lakers.

My memories of exactly where we went on that holiday are sketchy, I think there were 8 hotels in 15 nights.  However, in a "do you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot" kind of way, I do remember quite clearly a dingy motel room in Torrence, California which we’d chosen because of it’s proximity to the Del Amo Fashion Center – the mall where the money swap goes down from several different points of view in Jackie Brown.  That Days Inn was, oddly, also home to the first Indian restaurant we’d seen in the USA.  I’d turned on the TV to catch the last quarter of a previous Lakers/Kings game in that series, which featured possibly the single coolest moment in sports I ever saw.

OK, I know you didn’t click the link, so here goes.  The Lakers are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series and by two points in the game.  Seconds to go.  Superstar Kobe drives in to try to take the game to overtime… no good.  Superstar Shaq has a crack… denied.  The ball falls into the hands of Robert Horry standing behind the 3-point arc who apparently doesn’t know the meaning of the word pressure.  He launches and nails it as the buzzer sounds, and the Lakers win 100-99.

Since then, we’ve always seemed to be in Vegas at the wrong time to catch any sport worth watching on TV (yeah, it’s usually baseball season) or flown on two Sundays when there’s football to be missed.  Now we’re going to be in town for Week 16, when almost all the games are going to matter.

I’m ready for some parlay card action, and probably another large pizza.

What not to wear

More information just in from Mansion:

Clothing: To help you pack, Fox Sports Net requests that men wear business attire–collared shirts, jackets, ties optional; women—smart business attire–suits, dresses. Note: no white clothing, no logos for the telecast.  The dinner Friday night is held at one of the top restaurants in Caesars Palace or the Forum Shops, please wear appropriate business or resort attire.

It’s over seven years since I had to wear a suit to work, but I still have quite a collection of downright horrible ties.  Given that I very much doubt they’d consider any of my non-plain shirts to be business attire (let’s be realistic – they’re not) a tie looks like my best chance to wear something ghastly on TV.  I used to be a master at picking the tie that clashed most with any given shirt.  Can’t wait to see if I’ve still got what it takes.

I’m not completely sure what they mean by "resort attire".  I have a couple of t-shirts from Caesars, and – seriously – also a dressing gown.  If it was a toga, and I was a little more attractive, it might be OK.

In answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that I can remember from like twenty years ago, table tennis is apparently no longer the only sport that you can’t play dressed in white.

Front page: Me and Freddie Starr!!

The guys from the Sentinel apparently spent all day yesterday trying to get hold of Claire for a quote, causing much embarassment in the classroom. "Miss, your phone’s vibrating". Repeatedly.

She never got chance to talk to them but it looks like they’ve run the story anyway. I’m right there, above a story about the panto. for the full story.

I think it was a wise decision not to show my full face in either photo.

They took a picture too, the fools…

Apparently I’m going to be featured in The Sentinel tomorrow. Possibly even on pages one and two, the photographer said! Surely something more interesting will happen in the meantime… even in Stoke.

This is thanks (I think… having second thoughts now!) to Mike who asked me if he could write and submit the story as part of his journalism course requirements. I’m not even sure if he’s getting credit for the story any more.

No doubt I’ll write more once I’ve had chance to read it.  I’m down in London tomorrow though so I’ll have to rely on the online copy.

For anyone that ends up here as a result though (I don’t know if they’ll actually print my blog address – it was worth a try!) and wants to know more about Poker Dome, click on the banner below. Then click on it again. One click not good enough. It’s a security feature, or something.

Ladders ’bout to fall

Hotels in Las Vegas tend to skip the 13th floor.  As far as I’m aware, they just pretend like it doesn’t exist, numbering the floors 11, 12, 14, 15, etc.  It might be possible to grab a crowbar and jam open the doors at just the right moment to get there but (a) that was the 71/2 floor in Being John Malkovich, so it may only apply to floor numbers ending in a fraction and (b) why the hell would you want to tempt fate like that anyway?

I worked out that I’ve been to Las Vegas twelve times in the past seven years.  You don’t actually want to know how long it took to figure this out, from passport stamps, email history and – where everything else failed – a mountain of old credit card statements.  But I’m glad I made the effort. 

It’s eleven days  (not that I have a countdown using oversized playing cards or anything…) to trip number fourteen.

Yes, fourteen.


And just to prove I’m not insane, I took a ten question multiple choice test:

You’re not 100% superstitious, but there are certain things that you’d rather avoid…just in case! … Overall, you likely realize deep down that superstitions are mostly not true, but the ones you follow have become old habit. It makes you uncomfortable to break them, so it’s simply easier to keep – especially since many of them are tightly woven into our cultural fabric. … As long as your superstitions are not controlling your life in any way, there’s probably no harm in them.


Show me the way to go home

I can’t really be bothered to rant about this any more.  But just look at this trail of misinformation leading to a four hour wait in and around Watford Junction station on a very cold Sunday afternoon – although it could have been a lot worse…

All because of a bit of wind.

On the train from Stoke on Friday evening, there is an announcement.

… Due to engineering works there will be no trains from London to the Midlands before 2pm Sunday.

Our return ticket was for 12:50 Sunday.  Once I’m off the train I call Virgin Trains Aftersales.  Their Indian call centre knows nothing about the state of UK railways.

… There are no problems with that train, sir.

Saturday lunchtime I call the Virgin Traveller club.  Nobody told them either.

My system says that train is still running.

Saturday evening I check the National Rail Enquiries web site.

There is no information.

Perhaps we imagined it.  Sunday morning, I try National Rail Enquiries again.

… Take a Silverlink train to Northampton, then a Virgin train to Stoke.

Not too bad, just have to leave a bit earlier.  We’re there at 11.30 and the man at the station gate tells us the way to go.

… There are no trains to Northampton.  Take the train to Milton Keynes, then a coach to Northampton, then the train to Stoke.

Worst route ever?  We decide it’s better to wait a couple of hours for a direct train sometime after 2pm.  A lady in a Virgin Trains jacket on the platform is sympathetic to our plight.

… Don’t go to Milton Keynes.  We haven’t ordered the coaches yet.  Wait until 3pm, there’ll be a direct train and it won’t be busy.

Honest at least, glad we decided to wait!  She also recommend a very good cafe just up the road.  Credit where credit’s due.

The joyous news finally arrives.

The Mancehster train has left Euston.  It’s already full and standing room only.

Thankfully the trend of everything we were told being wrong continued, and we did actually get a seat.

Oh, we were in London to see any random show that they had half price tickets for.  Ended up being Blue Man Group.  They are still the coolest thing on earth.  Fact.

Don’t mince words, mince people?

An announcement I heard on the Tube yesterday:

"There are currently severe delays on the Central line, due to a man under a train at Bethnall Green."

They wisely changed the description of the problem to a "severe customer incident" later on, which answered the question of whether or not the man was actually meant to be there (hey, he could have been fixing the brakes or something…) but I still need more information.  I just can’t find any though!