Vegas. NYE 2014


Little bit later than expected, but heres the 3rd consecutive NYE report from me in Vegas. First off, it was a lot warmer than last year, which was great. Looking at the states now, looks like we timed it well.

We flew from London in premium with Virgin, which was a great experience thats needs to be repeated. Good service, good food and a bit of space. Arriving in Vegas refreshed we picked up a 2013 Impala which we had for the first 4 days. This made a massive difference in getting about and visiting places we usually wouldn’t of bothered with and saved a fortune in Taxis. First point of note. In and out isn’t open Xmas day (or at leased the one between the strip and the Orleans isn’t !). That night was pretty quite outside a trip to Palms ( http://www.palms.com not in a rush to get back !)

After another good night kip we hit the sales at the North Outlet Centre where i got all my xmas pressies and Mrs Mrben got some nice goodies as well. The trip back was interesting, as the ramp on to the I15 was shut and we had to take a detour into the bits of vegas people don’t see on the Travel channel. Driving down streets where everyone is sitting on the kerb, and the people standing up are nearly all pushing shopping trolleys and you don’t know where you are, sharpens the senses somewhat.

Anyway we popped in to the Hardrock Hotel (http://www.hardrockhotel.com) on the way back and it looks good enough to visit again. The layout is good and the music was fantastic, just a shame it was empty. More of a summer venue from what i understand.

The following day, was the big day out, with a trip to the Hoover Dam. First time i’d been there, and it was amazing. We did the full tour, and it was worth every penny. We went 60 stories down(!) in a lift and through some rough hewn tunnels to see the turbine room which is just massive. One of the many intersting things regarding the Dam was the fact it straddles the state line between Arizona and Nevada which also has a one hour time difference, which must be a pain if you live on one side and work on the other, which you can get to in 10 minutes due to the recent addition of the memorial bridge which speeds up the crossing no end for the non tourists. I’ve tried to get the scale of both in the photos but they are just huge, trust me. Having spend all day there we had a quiet night but on the way home visited the Pinball hall of fame. Now this is my type of place. One massive room full of pinball tables and old school arcade games. We spent a great 2 hours and a whole $5 and had a great time. A must do on any gamers Vegas visit. A quick visit my first IHOP for pancakes and we headed off. That evening we visited the Orleans, which had been on my list of off strip casinos to visit for many years. This place is as good as most strip casinos and was very busy as they also (for now) host the Vegas Ice Hockey Team. We also went that evening to another first for me, The Boiling Crab Restaurant. The food was good, but that was not the most memorable part of the journey, if fact the journey itself was. The states and the UK drive on different sides of the road, and that usually isn’t an issue . Unless the sat nav tells you to turn left and see a gap in the reservation of the 8 lane road. And you go for it, and then see the 2 lanes you are in both have arrows on pointing in the opposite direction to my direction of travel. Anyway, death averted as nobody came the other way, and i sped off back to the right side of the road.

Next day we had to give the car back, so we visited one more place, post lunch at the ever impressive Lemongrass, the National Atomic testing museum. As you may know, Nevada played a big role in the development of the Nuclear Arms race and this place covered all the history really well, with real bombs, etc on display.

With the car back at the airport, the gambling and fun began. That evening I had a nice craps run and put $500 back in the kitty. Next day I undertook my one and only Poker session, at the MGM.  met up with Rob who I knew from allvegaspoker and his great blog. This was very appropriate as I got broken twice when holding the dreaded pocket kings. These are a staple of his blog, take a look. Dinner was back in the Aria for Five 50, their new pizza place. Massive pizzas, massive taste, terrible service, 4/5.

We were expecting friends on the Sunday, but due to a no show we headed down the strip to the shops at Caesars. They have the worlds biggest quality watch shop, and how I got out of there without spending all my pension was a miracle.

Monday was a food day, with the buffet at Mandalay Bay for breakfast and Buppo Di Beppo for lunch. Full. Full stop !

Next up was NYE. Nice day in the Casino with a $750 small jackpot from a wheel of Fortune machine. Good start to 2014 ! NYE on the strip was probably our best ever with a great position for the fireworks. Not as busy as usual (335k people on the strip down from 350k!).

Home next day, and a well earned kip on the plane nearly all the way home. For the record, Mrs Mrben came home with a whole 8 bucks less than she went with. All the more for next time. Enjoy the photos !

Philippines and Singapore, Nov / Dec 2013


This is a photo heavy entry so I’ll let them do most of the talking. The trip to Manila was a long one, as i was alone (Mrs Mrben had travelled ahead) via Singapore. It was my first trip on Singapore Airlines and they were fantastic. A true 5 star airline. Once we arrived in Manila it was the usual chaos: traffic, busy, flat out all day and night. We stayed in an Air BnB apartment with a driver, and the difference that makes is phenomimal.  After a few days we went to our favourite little island, Boracay and and as usual everything was fantastic. The beach is still the best. We stayed at Joneys as usual and if anything its got better (http://www.jonysbeachresortboracay.com/)

At a quid a cocktail in the happy 3 hours every evening, the nights flew by. One evening we ventured up beach to Fridays (http://www.fridaysboracay.com/), the oldest hotel on the island and had a meal on the beach to die for. Which we nearly did on the way back as we took the beach route only to find the tide coming in right up to the buildings and not abating. A bit hairy in places, but we both feel a bit wiser for the experience. The trip highlight was taking the sunset cruise on the small 2 passenger catamarans. Some amazing photo experiences, and all was good. Until on the way back to shore we caught a big wave that soaked us. No issue. Apart from I had all my photo gear in my bag on my shoulder and didn’t have the shower cover on. Oops. Anyway we got away with no damage. Thanks Lowe Pro.

Next stop via Manila was Singapore. What a place. Just WOW. So clean, so easy to get about and full of friendly people. My view may be been skewed by the fact we stayed in the Marina Bays Sands (http://www.marinabaysands.com). Probably the most amazing hotel I have stayed in on the planet. Great views from the room, great views of the botanical gardens and then the infinity pool on the 57th floor, across the width of all three towers. Just WOW.

Another highlight was a crazy evening in Clarke Quay. Always helps with costs if your friend manages 3 bars down there ! Tied up with dinner in Raffles and The Fullerton respectively brought down a graceful end to a fantastic holiday.

Las Vegas Sep 2013


This was our first trip to Vegas this year and was long awaited as our first trip away since Easter. As usual we were flying Virgin, and they have reconfigured their planes a little. Due to their ultra expensive pricing for Upper Class, I imagine there has been a downturn in uptake, so they have taken Upper Class out of the top deck and replaced it with Prem Econ and Econ. However the Econ has more space than downstairs which is much appreciated by me !

So we settled down for our 10 hour flight, and it was noticeable we were being flanked by some Weekend Millionaires. This was borne out as the flight went on, as they got pissed, started arguing and if not for some very direct words from a stewardess might of got the flight prematurely landed. That aside, flight was great and we landed on time, and due to our position on the plane, were whisked through security in record time. Bags collected it was off to our usual haunt, The Excalibur, where once again we are graciously looked after by our host. We had a nice hamper of choccies etc in the room as we arrived ,which were just as graciously devoured!

Part of our deal was $100 in freeplay. Between the two of use we spun this around to nearly $200 cash, so good start to the week. Unlike previous trips, night one was a quiet one, and early bed. This is an unusual tactic for us but seem to handle the jet lag, so will be tried again.

Saturday was upon us in the morning. Quick trip to the pool for Mrs mrben09, quick trip to the poker table for me. 77 doesn’t beat jj, so that was me early doors. We retired to Tacos and Tequilas in the Luxor for lunch, and had some great Mexican grub which kept me going for the rest of the day. That afternoon , my wife’s cousin was coming in from Seattle,  so we decided for evening we should go upstrip, as Floyd Mayweather was doing his thing across the road, and it was going to be crazy down our end of the strip. So for the evening we met in Javier’s for cocktails and then went to the Mandarin Oriental Sky bar just outside for some more cocktails. This bar is on the 23rd floor and has floor to ceiling windows covering the whole strip as a view. Post drinks we hit the ever favourite Lemongrass in the Aria for dinner. Fantastic as always and remarkably cheap considering the surroundings. We left just as telecasts for the fight were finishing and the casino floor was packed to the gills. I had already paid for my Poker Tournament the next day so we retreated to the Bellagio and the YellowTail restaurant for a few drinks and a catch up. Suitably refreshed we headed across the road and a bit of a gamble up in Harrahs. We have never spent a lot of time here, but will be doing in the future. It may not match Aria and Bellagio for swank but the staff more than made up for it. Quick waitress service and friendly dealers made for a top night (and winning a few quid always helps). We also took a quick trip through the Quad (previously the Imperial Palace). This is still a work in progress but definitely an improvement on the old dark IP.

Sunday was my day. I have been a member of AllVegasPoker.com for some time but due to living some distance away, I’ve never been in any of their sponsored tournaments. Today changed that and I entered into AVP XIX at the Aria Poker room. Post registration and picking up my freebie t-shirt and other goodies I met some people that i have conversed with online for some time. There are photos of me at their facebook page from here, but i wont be linking them. As usual with the Aria the tournie was well run, and I got to the first break without to many dramas. I shared my table with 2 AVP employees, and was quite amused to watch the CTO completely suck out on the Marketing Manager to much abuse and incredulity. The first price for just over 8k, so i needed to get some hands and post break the antes were biting and I needed to make a move. The move turned out to be a disaster. I was dealt 10 10 in mid position. I called a raise, and two of us saw the flop. the flop was 9 jq so i shoved with the chance of a open ended straight. My opponent tabled a jq and won the hand. So out in about 2 hours but a decent time non the less. Before i met the girls (who were in the middle of a  4hr (!)  buffet in the Cosmopolitan, I hit the Blackjack table for a quick $200 win. Although everyone at the table was nice, i noticed they thought i was a little odd. Why was confirmed once I left the table and realised i still had my AVP name badge on while playing. Oops.

We ended up the evening at Harrahs again and won a few quid.

Monday was a 9.00 start at the Excal crap shoot poker tournie with Michael from Australia who i had met the day before at the Aria. He bombed early just before leaving to start his 2 day trip home and I held on, to finished 3rd and triple+  my buy in . Good start to the day. We then did our usual pilgramage ti the North Outlet stores and hit the shops. Some good golf gear was picked up a new suit amongst other things. In a non holiday move we had a Genius appointment with Apple in the Fashion show mall early evening . Using the usual “it’s only up the street” approach we set off on our walk. 1 hr 20 minutes later in 99 deg heat we were at our destination and knackered! But we got a replacement Iphone 5, so all good. Dinner was in ZoozaCrackers in the Wynn. I didn’t have the burger but it look amazing, but the nachos did well enough for me.

Tuesday we cashed in the first of our myvegas (facebook promotion) and had a free brekkie at the MGM buffet. Not as big a selection as I thought the worlds biggest hotel would have, but all good nonetheless. Being in the MGM meant I had to play the 11.00 am tournament at the MGM poker room. The current location for the room is shocking and no wonder takings are down. However the staff are professional as ever. Unlike my poker, I was out quite early, having got no hands or worth, and losing a straight on straight (10 vs J) pushed me passed caring and I shoved until i could leave ! We had a late lunch in our secret hideaway off the strip, Kapit Bahay. This simple Filipino restaurant never fails and once again the beef steak and pancit were tasty as ever. So much so we went Friday as well.

Wednesday was a long day. Lunch was in Buca di Beppo in the Excalibur. The large portions kept us going until the evening, where we used another voucher for a large saving in Plant Dailies in Plant Hollywood. This is just by the escalators up to some other restaurants and the nightclubs. This meant we were delayed by about a million people trying to get photos of Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck who were there promoting their new film Runner Runner. From there we went to see Vegas the Show . This is a variety show charting the history of Vegas as a resort destination from the mobsters up to current day featuring hits from Sinatra, Tom jones, Elvis and Elton John. Well worth the price.

Post show we headed home and hit the tables. We lost a few quid but that was on the cards as we had hardly spend anything in the previous 4 days. Thats when we met Betty, Rita and Biscuit (false names, as you may of guessed). 2 50’s style ladies and one completely normal lad, all hailing from Essex. They were great fun, and we stayed at the roulette table until 6 in the morning. Everyone won and the crack was great. Biscuit could not lose and ended the evening with a $25 drop on the 00. This comes in to great cheers and $875 to Biscuit. During this early morning gambling session we also met Alan from the Hangover (maybe). I say maybe as he hardly said 2 words for the hour or two he was with us but the photos show he could of been.

Thursday was a late start as you could imagine, so we cashed in another myvegas token for the Aria Buffet. Way better than the MGM and definitely one to be done again. This led us the relaxing part of the holiday and we stayed pretty local for the rest of the week. I played the Luxor tournie Friday morning to no avail, but got a few decent runs on the craps tables to get the money flowing back my way for the trip home. We ended our trip on Friday evening in Michael Minas pub 1842 in the MGM for a really nice meal with some local beers. I lodged the Dirty Dog (not nice, had it last trip) in favour of the Anchor Steam from Cali. not bad for a American beer, and a vast improvement on the DD.

Our flight was delayed on Saturday but at least Virgin let me know via text, so fair play. We had a very late checkout from the Excal, so it was like another days holiday, and the craps table was good to me again.

All photos taken by me on this trip were with the Nokia 925, and for a mobile they came out well. The others are from a 4S.

The Who, Wembley Arena July 8 2013


The last time I saw The Who was 1985 at some football ground near my venue for tonight at an event called Live Aid (does anyone remember this !).

So we have all moved on and The Who have become one of those bands that they can do an entire tour where they just play one album. The album in question was the second “Rock Opera” written by Pete Townsend, the legend that has spawned a film and influenced more than one generation (including me !), Quadrophenia. The story of a young man and his passage through his late teens where he learns that Monday to Friday are still an arse no matter how good the weekends are. Anywhere !

We open and close as you would expect with Love Reign Over Me. Both are elongated versions to take into account the well put together visual trail of news events from WW2 to 1963 and ending with 1963 up to now. The real band these days only number two but with some serious players in the extended band (including Pete’s brother, Simon Townsend) the original West London band, fire through the set like teenagers. The main highlight for me was always going to be 5:15. They didn’t let me down even including a bass solo from John “The Ox” Entwhistle. Using some clever tech they managed to have a solo from John on on of the huge screens, and fed the sound perfectly. Crowd goes wild ! A bit of digging found the solo here. Keith Moon wasn’t left out as he had plenty of footage on the big screen (which was a Vespa headlight and indicators).

Post the refrain of LROM, we get the classics, Baba, Pinball Wizard, and Who Are You et al. No My Generation though, maybe dying before you get old isn’t as bold a statement when you are 70 !

All in all, exactly what you would expect from a band who have been playing these tracks for over 40 years. The energy in Roger Daltrey alone has puts me to shame. Great tracks , great night.

4/5 MrBens.

Hard Rock Calling 2013


This years Hard Rock “festival” has moved to the new venue of the Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford, or to give it its casual name, The Olympic Park. This event is part of the reopening events for the park.

Travel was a doddle and although not quite at Olympic levels, stewards were on hand to direct punters across the river to the venue. It was nice to see the place again and brought back great memories for me of my visit last year (see here).

The layout was a bit odd if im honest, stages 2 and 3 were no where near the main stage which made stage hopping a bit of a chore, so we stayed mainly in the main arena. The other key issue was that of queues, the beer queues were longer than the loos, which is a rarity  and something i hope the organisers take on board for future events. The afternoon was spent with a couple of ciders and introduced to me Twin Atlantic, who I have to say impressed me, with their semi new wave powerpop, which i always been a sucker for. Next up was Miles Kane. Now, here is a guy who doesn’t read weather reports, as his tight suit in the blistering heat made perfectly obvious ! But his set was spot on with his mix of 60’s style rock, and Artic Monkey moderism made the afternoon end with a bang and a few tunes spinning around my head.

Talking of moderism, next up was the man himself Mr Paul Weller. Despite his ageing years, he rocked it out as usual. nice to see Steve Craddock back on stage as well, (his second show of the day as he did a solo stint in one of the tents as well). Some classics were played and dreams were made for the young lads in front of me when he finished off with Town Called Malice. I didn’t have the heart to tell them the Jam did it better! My favourite of the day, was his cover of Start !. I say cover as it had been rearranged a little, and if I may say so even improved on what was the second number one for The Jam. For those that are interested here’s the highlights of the setlist:

Sunflower

Wake up the Nation

From the Floorboards up

Fast car slow traffic

Sea Spray

Ever changing moods

Kling I Klang

Baby come on

Peacock suit

That’s entertainment

Start

Changing man

Town called Malice

So, that’s three Jam and one TSC and some classic Weller. A whole lot to beat.

Kasabian were up last, and to be fair are a bit of an “OK” band to me. They put on a good show (and came onto the old Grandstand theme tune) but the work had been already been done if you ask me. The set was pretty spectacular though (Weller didn’t even have a backdrop !).

Some piccies:

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The full Saturday line up.
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The new West Ham Stadium (and the wife !)
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Main Arena- Note ; Astro Turf makes no mud !
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All going off for Kasabian from the back of the arena
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A Hard Rock hot air balloon ?
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Miles Kane getting heat exhaustion.
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Weller and his 2 drummers is the new Adam Ant.

Mrben09 goes professional (ish) !


Just in case you dont reach the end of this slightly self indulgent announcement, check these out

The Summats can be found here. http://www.thesummats.com/ Buy this song. Now available on Itunes. Buy it. At least take a listen.

Fractured Calm can be found here. https://soundcloud.com/fracturedcalm

This blog has been with me for a couple of years now. The main purpose of starting this was twofold. One was to improve my writing and comms skills and two to document some of my (and mrs mrben09) lives for when I’m old and frail !

This has in general taken two forms. Banging on about West Ham and publishing (too strong ?) some of my photos. It has spun out into travel and tech in places (both of which through my job, I’m lucky to experience on a regular basis).

So in short, my writing has got better, my photos have definitely got better and more structured, and this has started to open up new avenues, one of which has moved to a slightly different level this week.

Just before Xmas I did some photos for a friend. One of which now hangs on her wall, pride of place in her house . This got me thinking, that on an amateur level i could maybe pursue this further. It also proved to me that maybe there was a creative side of me that has been hidden for too long, behind tech and science and an inability to draw a straight line.

OK, enough, where is this leading us ? Well, a friend of mine who i covered in one of the music posts, is in a band, and they were getting ready to release a new track to the itunesphere, and for the crack i said, “I’ll do your cover”. He said “why not” and i thought, “uh-oh what have i done”. So my initial idea was a photo, but once i heard the back story of the song and the title I had that all too rare flash of inspiration, and went for a graphic theme instead.

Now, its very minimal, and was relatively quick to do, but it just seemed to fit. I thought it OK (alright, a little bit more than that, but no Sgt Peppers !). I showed Mrs Mrben09, she liked it. I showed Fractured Calm, the producer of said track, and he liked it. I showed 1/4 of The Summats and he loved it. So I handed it over and I believe the reaction has been very good all round.

So there you go, once the track sells millions and The Summats retire to Monserrat , you can say ” Oh that, with the cover by Mrben09, he was the Peter Blake of his generation !”

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Available in all good Record Stores (and some bad ones)

The Summats can be found here. http://www.thesummats.com/ Buy this song. Now available on Itunes. Buy it. At least take a listen.

Fractured Calm can be found here. https://soundcloud.com/fracturedcalm