X Factor Ends Yet Another Series

I watched the final of the UK X Factor on Saturday night! It was reasonably good entertainment but I prefer the early auditions when you get all the really bad singers – its a good laugh. When the show gets past the early rounds it becomes just a karoake competition mostly but there are one or two good singers and Alexandra turned out to be a fairly good winner. In the final she sang a duet with Beyonce but for me that was a mistake as Beyonce showed up Alexandra with a diva of a performance.

I’m glad the series has finished but I must admit that I will miss Cheryl Cole. The show has made her a real star now and I’m afraid that Danni Mynogue gave a performance that didn’t contribute anything as far as I was concerned and I will be suprised if she is on the next series. Simon Cowell did his normal thing of telling the truth to the contestants in the way that only he can but he looked a bit bored to me by the end. He was probably thinking ahead to the money he will make from having a Christmas number 1.

Finally, here is my message to all you aspiring pop idols – start singing in the shower, sing in the car, sing whenever you can, take singing lessons and then form a band and sing real songs – rock songs !

Manchester congestion charge driven out of town

I don’t live in Manchester but it was interesting to hear that the residents of Manchester had voted against a charge for using their cars in the city. There were two charging zones proposed. Within the M60 outer ring road and an inner city charging zone. The deal was, as far as I am aware, that a charge would be introduced and in return investment would be made in public transport.

That to me means that all car drivers will be taxed and that some of the money would be used to improve trains and trams etc. In other words, it’s another stealth tax from a government that loves to tax everything that we do and have. Even pensioners hard earned savings are being taxed. Why should pensioners pay tax again when they have already paid tax when they earnt the money in the first place! Anyway that’s another grump of mine.

There is no doubt that our major towns and cities are grinding to a halt because of too many cars, therefore something needs to be done to solve the problem. I live in Leeds and the problem with peak time gridlock has been with us for many years and very little seems to be done to help improve the situation. The roads from the suburbs and surrounding areas of Leeds that lead into Leeds city centre are just a long queue of cars moving at just a few miles an hour.

If you consider the issue there seems to be two types of road user. Firstly, there is the commuter that travels from relatively short distances to the city centre and then there is the person who travels either from one town or city to another or someone who is constantly on the road.

The problem to solve first is the commuter. The majority of commuters would use public transport rather than their cars if good, clean, fast and regular public transport was available. Leeds dumped its Super Tram system because it was too expensive and the government refused to put money in. That is a scandal. London gets billions of pounds and Leeds gets little. The London Cross Rail project is going to cost £15 Billion and Leeds gets a new bus lane! That is just not right. (Bus lanes as they are at the moment don’t work by the way).

Here is my solution and it’s a lot cheaper than building expensive tram systems. Its called the bus!…Busses are great and relatively cheap but they need to have proper bus only lanes built. Most bus lanes in Leeds stretch for a few hundred yards before mixing with all the traffic again. The bus lanes need to be 10 miles long! There also needs to be huge car parks built so that commuters can use park and ride schemes.

That’s the cheap option. If money wasn’t really an option I think every big city in the UK should have an underground system and also we need to build more roads. Wider motorways, better ring roads and better roads into city centres. Personally I would rather have better roads and public transport than two new aircraft carriers and a war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that’s just my opinion!

The top searches on Google

At the end of every year the search engine Google publishes its list of the most searched for search terms. And, as always the list throws up some very interesting facts about what’s happening in the world and how people are thinking.

In terms of worldwide searches this is the top 10 searches in Google in 2008.

1. sarah palin
2. beijing 2008
3.facebook login
4. tuenti
5. heath ledger
6. obama
7.nasza klasa
8.wer kennt wen
9.euro 2008
10. jonas brothers

What’s interesting about the above list is that Sarah Palin, the Alaskan governor, who was John Mcain’s running mate in the 2008 US elections, came above the eventual winner Barak Obama. Maybe that’s because nobody had heard of her and we all wanted to know more.

At number 4 on the list is the word “tuenti” ! I had to look up the word on Google to find out what it meant as I had never heard of it. Tuenti is the Madrid based Spanish equivalent of Facebook !

At number 7 and 8 are phrases I have never heard of and out of all the top 10 global searches I can say that I didn’t search once for any of these.

Below are the results of the searches done in the UK

Fastest Rising in the UK

1. iplayer
2. facebook
3. iphone
4. youtube
5. yahoo mail
6. large hadron collider
7. obama
8. friv
9. jogos
10. wiki

A few surprises in the UK’s fastest rising search phrases. I have never heard of “friv”, which apparently is an online games website and jogos looks like a Spanish website for games cheats. Apart from that, we are showing how we like science as at number 7 the hadron collider was in the list.

Most Popular

1. facebook
2. bbc
3. youtube
4. ebay
5. games
6. news
7. hotmail
8. bebo
9. yahoo
10. jobs

Politicians (Most Popular)

1. gordon brown
2. david cameron
3. barack obama
4. tony blair
5. sarah palin
6. john mccain
7. george osborne
8. alistair darling
9. boris johnson
10. nicolas sarkozy

Recipes (Fastest Rising)

1. cupcake
2. meatballs
3. rocky road
4. crumble topping
5. eaton mess
6.pork belly
7. rhubarb fool
8. lemon posset
9. honey comb
10. beer batter

The top 10 recipe searches is a bit of an odd one. Cupcakes !…who on earth would want to make cupcakes ? I have no idea what rocky road is or lemon posset. Why is it that people aren’t searching for recipes for beef curry or Yorkshire puddings or beef stroganoff and other gourmet food !

Hottest tickets (Fastest Rising)

1. oasis
2. leonard cohen
3. ac/dc
4. the ashes
5. steve coogan
6. sos
7. oliver
8. gladiators
9. tina turner
10. nickleback

Oasis at number 1 for the most searched for band is a surprise too. I thought that Oasis were past their best, but obviously I am behind the times.

Is this a cure for being lonely in a hotel room ?

I saw this bit of news in the Sunday Times and I thought it was an interesting way of getting some free publicity for the company involved.

58% of business travellers said their partner or loved-one was the thing they missed most when away from home, a survey has revealed. (I wonder what the other 42% missed most?) In response, Hotels.com has launched a new service – Picture Pillows – that enables business travellers to send in a photo of a loved one for Hotels.com to turn into a bespoke pillow case.

The new service means that business men and women will be able to drift off to sleep next to their loved one or even their children when they are away from home.

This is what it could look like –

picture pillow

Hotels.com’s new service is being trialled in the run up to Christmas and the first 100 travellers to email a picture of their loved one will receive their personalised pillow case.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea, although in my case I would prefer a picture pillow of Charlize Theron or Liz Hurley !

A visit to Scarborough, North Yorkshire

I visited Scarborough last Sunday. Scarborough is a seaside resort on the coast of North Yorkshire. It is said that Scarborough is Britain’s first seaside resort and that visitors started going to Scarborough over 360 years ago. It was a cold day and there was quite a bit of snow on the ground, but despite the freezing weather there were still quite a few surfers out. It was probably warmer in the water than it was on land!

I love Scarborough in the winter as in the summer it can get very busy. The resort takes on a different look when its cold, damp and windy, but you can wonder along the beach, months after the donkey rides have finished, and as the wind batters you as it comes off the North Sea you feel windswept and refreshed and it’s a welcome change from the grime of a city.

Scarborough has two good beaches, North Bay and South Bay and there is a rocky headland between the two bays with a spectacular castle on it, which is well worth a visit.

Scarborough, in many ways is your typical English seaside resort with amusement arcades, fish and chip shops and beachfront huts selling seafood, hot dogs and candy floss, but Scarborough also has a spectacular promenade called the Marine Drive where in winter during high seas and windy weather the waves crash over the sea wall.

I took a couple of photos on my mobile phone. They are not very good photos but I think they demonstrate how grey and wintery it was on the day I visited!

 

Beef Curry Recipe – this is the best !

You can’t beat a home made curry. I don’t mean a curry out of a jar but a curry made from the proper spices. Here is a recipe which I think is brilliant and I can recommend that you try it. If you have a slow cooker then great because using a slow cooker really brings out all the flavours and cooking the meat slowly makes it much more tender as well.

The Ingredients are for 4 people:

2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoon of curry powder
2 teaspoon of cumin
2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon of salt
1 chopped onion
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon of oil
700g of stewing beef, cubed
1 sliced red pepper
150ml of beef stock
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
A dash of Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 cooking apples, cored and roughly chopped
25g of sultanas
25g of cashew nuts

How to make the Beef Curry:

Mix the flour, curry powder, cumin, turmeric, ginger and salt.

In a large frying pan, gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil until softened but not brown.

Roll the beef in the seasoned flour and brown on all sides in the pan. Stir in the remaining flour. Add all the remaining ingredients except the nuts. Transfer everything to the slow cooker, including the beef stock, and cook on the low setting for at least 6 hours.

You will find that the beef is really tender and that the flavours are much more intense because everything has been cooked really slowly. You can serve with boiled rice and mango chutney for a fantastic beef curry meal. If you don’t have a slow cooker you can use a casserole dish and leave it in the oven on a very low setting for about 3 to 4 hours.

Before serving stir in the nuts.

Las Vegas – is there more to it than bright lights ?

I asked my wife if she wanted to go to Las Vegas to celebrate our 25th Wedding Aniversary and she said “Yes”. I didn’t know that much about the place, even though I am a Travel agent, so I don’t know why I suggested Las Vegas, so I started planning the trip. I like big and brash cities, but I wanted to know more about Las Vegas and I wanted to know if there was more to the city than just bright lights. The only way to know was to go myself. I booked flights from Manchester with BMI and United via Chicago. I booked 7 nights at the Luxor Hotel because I liked the shape of it. I pre-booked a flight from Las Vegas, on a small 20 seater aircraft, to the Grand Canyon. And, finally, I booked two seats for Celine Dion at Caesars Palace. It was November and we arrived very late in Vegas because our flight was delayed, but the next day, still feeling the effects of the nine hour time difference we set off exploring the city.

I can only describe Las Vegas as a feast for your eyes. There are neon lights, wide roads, big lavish hotels with thousands of rooms, restaurants every few yards, huge casinos, a half size Eiffel Tower, a replica of Venice complete with gondalas, shopping malls like I could never imagine, theme parks within hotels, call girls handing out their business cards on every corner and lots and lots of people.

The photograph below is a picture of the famous Las Vegas strip facing north.

 

Every hotel in Las Vegas has a casino and they are huge. People seem to play all night and even when we were heading off for breakfast there were people playing on the “slots”. I can see how gambling becomes addictive. I started off winning, and then got too confident and ended up losing.

This is a photograph of the casino inside the Luxor Hotel.

 

Las Vegas has some truly magnificent hotels. Many of them are “themed” hotels. New York New York is based on the city of New york of course, the Luxor is built in the shape of a pyramid and everything inside has an Egyptian theme. Caesars Palace is built in Roman style. The shopping mall attached to Caesars Palace is called “The Forum Shops” and is magnificent. The Paris hotel has a half size Eiffel Tower and The Venetian is Italian in style and has a replica of the Grand Canal. Just to give you an idea how huge these hotels are here is a run down of what the Venetian features – more than 4,000 all-suite luxury hotel rooms, 1.9 million square meteres of meeting space with 270 function rooms, 19 restaurants, over 80 shops in the Grand Canal Shoppes, a health spa, Madame Tussaud’s, a theatre with 1,760 seats and a 120,000 square foot casino. Finally, don’t forget the Venetian canals where you can take a gondala ride.

 

One of the most magificent hotels that you will see anywhere in the world is The Bellagio. This is the hotel where the George Clooney and Brad Pitt film Oceans Eleven was filmed. At the front of this huge hotel is where you will find the famous Bellagio fountain and light show which happens once an hour. This is a photograph I took of the Bellagio Hotel at night.

 

We stayed at the Luxor hotel whilst we were in Las Vegas. It is situated at the bottom end of “The Strip” and it is quite a walk upto where the main action is although you can catch a taxi and the monorail stops outside the Luxor which will take you two blocks up. You then need to cross the road to catch the main monorail which runs up the main part of Las Vegas Strip.

 

There is no doubt that Las Vegas is a destination I would highly recommend. It is not all about gambling, far from it. Las Vegas has turned itself into an entertainment capital and an “adult theme park”. Las Vegas is all bright lights, but as my photograph below shows it is also a gateway to one or two of the US’s “must see” places, including the Grand Canyon. It takes about an hour to fly to the rim of the Grand Canyon and when I arrived I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. It really is one of the natural wonders of the world and was the highlight of my holiday to Las Vegas.

What every man wants for Christmas – My Top 10.

Ladies ! Are you stuck for what to buy your husband or partner for Christmas? Do you want to keep him happy or even win him back ! Here are a few ideas for you, from a mans point of view, that will keep him happy for ages and maybe even he will be so happy as to help with the housework as well !

So, here goes, here is my list in no particular order. Some are expensive but some are not.

1. A new flat screen TV. Men love watching a good film and of course sport on TV. So, what better to watch his favourite TV programmes on the latest wide screen TV. The good thing about this Christmas gift is that it is a double whammy, because as all women know, men love new technology and gadgets. Men will love unpacking the box and setting it up and they will spend ages deciding where the best place for the speakers is. After all that exitement it is then time to watch the TV. Action films especially look much better on a big television and if you turn the volume up it is like being at the cinema. Having this new “toy” will stop him going to the pub with his mates and he will become more romantic towards you as a result. The is the number one ideal gift.

2. Already have a big flat screen TV ? The answer is then to buy a Blue-Ray DVD player. These high definition DVD players are brilliant. The improvement in quality over traditional DVD players is incredible. Films come to life and the detail and clarity of the picture is infinate. Combine this DVD player with a cinema surround sound Hi-Fi speaker system and you will make his face light up with joy, and he will do the same everytime he sees his wonderful “little cinema system” sitting in the corner of the room.

3. A subscription to Sky Sports. As all women know, most men love watching sport on TV. We can get emotionally involved in any sport on TV regardless of whether it is our team and even if we have never seen the sport before. The reason for this is that all men secretly want to be sporting superstars, but because most men start drinking instead and also because they were discovering girls just at the age boys should be spending all the time training to be a sporting superstar, then most men failed to fulfil their dream. However, the “sportman” inside every man still lays dormant. So, if you can’t play sport the next best thing is to watch it on TV. Don’t forget as well, that it has been in mens genes since the stone age that we are competitive. Back then, we had to run for our lives from the dinasoars whilst we were out finding food. Since then we have always been good runners !

4. Golf Club Memebership.. Are you looking for some time to yourself ? Maybe you ladies want time to go shopping or take a visit to the beauty salon, but have always felt guilty that your husband is at home and you can’t justify spending the money. Well, what could be better than a golf club membership. Prices vary but on average I would say they cost about £600 a year plus possibly a joining fee. Bear in mind that playing a round of golf takes about 4 hours plus the time in the bar afterwards. This time in the bar is spent discussing every hole and where they went wrong, so it can be some time before they leave the bar ! You can allow, therefore, nearly a full day out for your husband or partner including the travelling time, which means that you will have plenty of time to wander around the shops.

5. Can’t afford the golf club membership ? How about a few golf lessons ? Most men spend more time telling their mates that next time they will play better and that they have discovered where they are going wrong. In practise though it is not possible to improve at golf without taking a few lessons. You can improve by playing more, but if a golf player can’t figure out where they are going wrong the only way you can improve is by having golf lessons. After only six lessons you can become a better player.

6. A case of wine I think this is a really good christmas present. Most men love a good beer but drinking wine makes them more intelligent. Well…it makes them look more intelligent !
6 reds and 6 whites is what is needed. If he doesn’t drink red wine then it is about time he did and its good for the heart meaning your beloved will live longer.

7. Another great gadget at number 7 on my list. Are you fed up with seeing all those old videos in a huge pile in your living room? Well, how about a VCR to PC machine ? This machine will convert all his old videos to DVD. It could be all your old wedding videos, holiday videos or even the kids Disney classics. It is a simple to use device which converts everything to digital format so that you can either store everything on a PC or burn them onto a blank DVD. This will keep your man busy for hours !

8. A Beer Machine This is every mans dream come true – beer for less than 50 pence a pint. Simply pour in the powder mix, add water and yeast and then wait for 7 to 10 days for it to ferment. This machine will even fit in your fridge and it will keep him and his mates happy for ages. Makes perfect beer for help in watching sport on TV !

9. T-shirts Men love t-shirts. It is because they are so versatile. In summer men love wearing t-shirts and in winter men love wearing t-shirts too. Some very tough men can wear t-shirts in winter without even a jacket but most men wear a t-shirt in winter underneath a thicker shirt. It is important that at least two buttons on the normal shirt are undone so that the t-shirt can be seen underneath. This, most men believe makes then look more rugged and manly !

10. A Nano-Copter. This is the worlds smallest and lightest radio-controlled helicopter. It can soar up to 10 metres and is great fun. Men love their toys and after gadgets something like this mini helicopter is brilliant and it will keep them amused for hours. It can be used inside or outside and it will amaze old men and boys alike. Any man would be proud to have this given to him at Christmas. This type of present makes us men wish that we had been fighter pilots in the RAF and makes us think that because we can fly a toy radio controlled helicopter then we must be able to fly a real one !

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Kerala – Gods Own Country

Kerala is located in the south west tip of India. It is south of Goa. You fly into Trivandrum if you are going on a holiday to Kerala. The Indian state of Kerala has the highest literacy rate in the whole of India. I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks in Kerala in November 2007. The people are poor and some live in very poor conditions but there is no doubting that the people are friendly. The cost of living is very low by Western standards. A two course meal with drinks in a restaurant for 2 people costs about £6. Kerala is a large state and because the roads are very busy getting anywhere fast is very difficult. Allow about 4 hours to travel 100 miles ! I stayed at the Leela Kempinsky in Kovalam, which is a fantastic hotel but there are plenty to choose from. A good way to get around is by rickshaw or tuc tucs. I took this picture, below, of several outside the Leela. They charge about £1 per mile and will wait for you for several hours whilst you go shopping or have a meal if you want them to, and for no extra charge.

 

Every afternoon, after school, the local school children went down to the beach. One thing I noticed is that the kids are very well dressed in immaculate school uniforms. Their mothers must have cursed though, as they all seemed to wade into the sea in their uniforms !

 

Whilst in Kerala we visited an elephant sanctuary. You can have a ride on one if you want. I didn’t bother as they looked a bit uncomfortable to say the least. It’s not unusual to see an elephant being walked along a road in Kerala. Here is a photo of me next to an elephant!

 

We went on an overnight cruise on a houseboat on the Kerala backwaters. We had three crew members looking after just the two of us. Whilst cruising past houses on the waters edge we saw many Indian women washing clothes, bathing and washing their hair. I even saw several people brushing their teeth using the river water. I guess it can’t do them any harm or they wouldn’t do it.

 

This is a picture I took of a typical Kerala houseboat. We stayed overnight on one of these. If you go to Kerala you must go on a backwater cruise. They operate from several places but the main place is Cochin.

And finally, this is a picture of me relaxing on our cruise boat on the Kerala backwaters. Three crewmen looked after us and I felt like a VIP ! We had a driver, a cook and a thrid crewman (not sure what he did)

 

Barack Obama and the descent of the US into the third world.

I was glad to see that Barack Obama has won the US Presidential race. There wasn’t really much of a choice though in my opinion ! The United States seems to be very good at choosing candidates that in any other country wouldn’t stand a chance of being elected. John McCain was too old and looked like he had been on a course of botox injections and Barack Obama was the inexperienced politician who was good at talking and making promises.

In the end the US voted for “change”, which is fine but I’m not exactly sure what real changes he will make. I was interested to see Obama holding a meeting with his advisors and then holding a brief press conference. He looked very nervous and I got the distinct impression that now he has done the easy bit and won he is now thinking… “this is a bummer…what the hell have I let myself in for..I can’t believe they actually believed me”.

But someone needs to grab the reins before its too late. My feeling is that the USA has reached its peak and is now going backwards. There is too much poverty and inequality and it may be impossible for anybody to stop the rot. Lets hope that for their sake and the whole world that Barack Obama can keep his promises.

As far the Republican party is concerned I think they need to give home affairs priority and also please lets not have Sarah Palin running for president in four years time. Anybody who thinks that Africa is one country….and spends her spare time with a shotgun… shouldn’t really be put in charge of the most powerful country in the world !