Friday, December 21, 2007

Bon Nadal

This year, for the first time, I am going to spend Christmas in Sitges. Usually I like to spend Christmas in countries that have never heard of it, or are actively against it. For me, Christmas is the perfect time to sample the festive joys of a mini-Jihad so I usually head for Saudi Arabia. Plus everyone has told me that Christmas in Sitges is dreadful.

A normal Christmas

"There's no one here. There's nothing to do. Everywhere is closed". Fabulous. Music to my ears. And, if not music, then the screechy, nightmare reedy instrument that Catalans like to call music.

Already the streets are emptying and everyone that used to live here has now moved into their new home on the A7 or Easyjet queue at El Prat. The claims that there will be nothing to do in Sitges are rubbish anyway. I've got lots to do - for a start, there's poker tonight and then tomorrow I'm going to run a illegal Fight Club in my living-room between Pebble the kitten and Squish the hamster.

Anyone who says pets are not just for Christmas is talking rubbish. Pebble and Squish are definitely only for Christmas - and may not even last that long if tomorrow's Fight Club turns nasty.

We are giving Squish some odds as he's a lot smaller than Pebble and also he's only a hamster. Plus Pebble is not a normal kitten. Pebble is a vicious, rabid killer kitten of the kind only found in Sitges alleyways and only picked up and taken home if you're a 12-year-old ex-pat kid with blinkered parents. By the time Pebble has grown to adult size, he'll have a muzzle and a gun licence. So it's not looking awfully good for Squish.

After Fight Club, there's going to be a few days of intensive TV viewing and then the holiday highlight: Christmas Lunch at Monroes.

Monroe's is a fantastic Sitges restaurant run by my good friends Ben and Paul. Ben and Paul are a gay couple who look like builders and like to dress up in frocks. Hence Drag Queen Bingo, Drag Queen Curry Night and - now - Drag Queen Christmas Lunch. Paul is in charge of food and Ben is in charge of innuendo and lowering the tone. There will be ceaseless jokes about sausages, stuffing and the like, plus a Christmas quiz, lashings of rioja and some Christmas puddings imported from M&S.

Ben Ashton - Maitre D' at Monroes

To make this event even more interesting, I have invited along some highly conservative Argentinian friends who have never had an English Christmas lunch and certainly not one delivered by a cruiserweight in ballgown, wig and inflatable tits. The whole prospect of Christmas lunch at Monroe's is making me drool with anticipation.

So Bon Nadal to everyone - and have a wonderful Christmas whereever you are.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Prague as it used to look....

Prague as it looks now

During my first few days in Prague, I thought it was just a nice atrium, a couple of bars, a small bistro restaurant and a football-sized tournament room full of poker players. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover however that only a 10-minute walk away from the Hilton (or €5,000 cab ride) is an absolutely beautiful city!!! I slightly blame the Hilton for this as the only sights they mentioned to me were the Business Centre and Spa - both absolutely lovely but pretty light on medieval splendour.

However, on the last day of EPT Prague, I managed to escape the Hilton into the sub-zero temperatures - wind chill factor replicating Dalston in mid-Feb - and into the city with my good friend Benjamin Gallen aka Christopher Robin. First stop was the Charles Bridge and luckily Christopher Robin had brought his guidebook so was able to tell me precisely nothing of interest except that for many years it was Prague's only bridge and that also we should have come three hours earlier to avoid the crowds. Plus there are lots of statues of saints on the bridge which I could have worked out for myself. We were both sorely tempted by the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments but time was tight so we pressed on.

On the other side of the bridge, we put on our breathing apparatus and started scaling the mountain to check out St. Vitus Cathedral and Prague Castle. Once near the summit, I insisted we stop for a plastic cup of hot wine and we gazed out over the city. Everyone who says Prague is rubbish (no one) is talking tosh; it's gorgeous. Once fully-poisoned by the absolutely disgusting wine, we marched on. It was Changing of the Guard at the Palace and Christopher Robin was worried we'd miss the highlight - the daily execution of a political prisoner. I asked CR when his guide book had been published but he couldn't hear me for mortar fire.

After watching several prisoners and a couple of tourists get mowed down by smartly-dressed militia, we did a whistle-stop tour of the cathedral interior. All the usual Gothic arch nonsense, Japanese tourists and a dodgy organ player but also some rather fabulous stained-glass windows.

We headed down the other side of the hill and back into the main city. We were both really looking forward to seeing the famed Prague open-air Christmas Market in the Old Town Square. Not only would we then be able to tick off Area 7 in the guidebook, but also we'd be able to buy expensive, badly-made knick-knacks for unimportant relatives. As it turns out, the Prague Christmas Market was even worse than most Christmas Markets and we decided even unimportant relatives deserved better. The only highlight was I got a stall-trader to teach me "I love you" in Czech (milui té).

Tyn Cathedral is in the square however and is pretty impressive - very much like a grubby, grayscale version of the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas. In fact, that is slightly the problem with going to Las Vegas - it ruins all the excitement about going anywhere else. Christopher Robin told me he's not going to bother with the real Venice now he's stayed at the Venetian and I feel much the same way about Luxor versus the Cairo pyramids. Christopher Robin's guidebook had very little to say about Tyn Cathedral/Excalibur except that the genius astronomer Tycho Brahe is buried there. Tycho is famous for a) losing part of his nose in a duel; b) trying to work out whether it's the Ptolemaic system or Copernican system which gives the most accurate astronomical observations; c) dying of a strained bladder after failing to ask the King if he could leave dinner to go to the loo. Apparently "I don't want to die like Tycho" is a well-known expression in France.

Christopher Robin also told me an interesting fact about the Aladdin casino which is that the heavy-duty-Islamic theming of the original is not exactly flavour of the month in the US right now so the whole place has been turned into Planet Hollywood. This fact came out of CR's head, rather than his Prague guidebook, and sadly the Czechs have neglected to build an Aladdin replica in their otherwise perfect city.

Anyway. Enough about Vegas. We were running out of time and had only ticked off Areas 2, 3 and 7 at this point so rushed down Paris street to the old Jewish quarter. Here we paid exhorbitant Jewish prices (I am Jewish so I can say this) to visit the Old-New Synagogue, one of the oldest in Europe and built in the Gothic style. It's still an active place of worship so Christopher Robin (not Jewish) had to put a kapel on his head which wouldn't stay on, even for two seconds. Me and the failed Jew then had a quick chat with the lovely old ladies at the door who said Prague now has a 5,000-strong Jewish community - mainly descendants of the original 50,000-strong community - who have returned to the City since the fall of Communism. They invited us to attend that evening's services but as these all clashed with the final table action back at the Hilton, we had to decline. Christopher Robin (a mine of information) then told me another interesting fact which is that all French poker players are Jewish. Presumably not highly orthodox ones as they were all still playing late on Friday night - including tournament winner Arnaud Mattern.

Sadly, the synagogue was the last stop on our tour of Prague but even two hours was better than nothing and I can't wait to go back. If you want to hear more, check out Siktilt's great video tour - click the Prague link under Day 1b.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Hottest Poker Chick Over 40" Award

To say I am thrilled to win this year's Hottest Poker Chick Over 40 award is something of an underestimate. Shortly after taking hold of the 60 pound bronze-cast Ace of Spades trophy, I was also given the Happiest Recipient Ever award on account of the two-foot grin I had permanently stuck on my face for the next four hours until I fell off my chair at the Aviation Club bar and had to be wheeled home.

Unfortunately owing to time restrictions I wasn't able to give the two-hour speech that I really wanted to. So Here It Is in blog form.

First off, thanks to the organisers of the European Poker Awards, especially Nic Szeremeta. Paris was tres tres gorgeous and - together with my media coaching team Hass and Rury from Siktilt, and my lovely friends Jesse and Mickey May - I had a superb time. Highlights included:
a) gatecrashing Betfair's dinner for Annette15 (thank you Frode and Ollie)
b) seeing the Christmas lights in the Champs Elysses
c) visiting Montmartre and the Sacre-Coeur
d) wearing a dress
e) having a hot date with Benjamin Gallen

Winning the Award was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life. I've never won anything. I was suspended as school prefect after only two days and I have never won a Scratchcard lottery ticket. I can't even win a $3 SNG on PokerStars. And I won this award (Casino Staff Person of the Year) for doing something I absolutely love - hanging out at poker tournaments, working with the media, doing little pie-charts showing how many Scandies there are at EPTs (millions), travelling all over Europe, arguing with Conrad Brunner (Head of Communications, EMEA) and stealing bathroom products and ashtrays from luxury hotels. Also I get to work alongside some of the nicest people I've ever met in my life.

There are two people I really wanted to thank for all this: Conrad Brunner and John Duthie. I have known Con for 12 years. We are poker buddies and we also run the Hold'em100 charity poker tournament in London every year in aid of the Royal Marsden. I adore Conrad (this is well-documented) and I love working with him. Conrad got me into PokerStars in the first place by asking me to hand out baseball caps to losers at the very first EPT in Barcelona in 2004. This made me incredibly unpopular with just about everyone at that event and it has been quite hard work ever since to convince them I'm not a total bitch.

And then there is John Duthie. John Duthie IS the EPT so without John, I wouldn't have a job and nor would dozens of other people. I adore John Duthie (this is also well-documented) not just because he's is a wonderful and loyal friend but also he's a VISIONARY and it's not often you get to meet one of those.

Lastly and most importantly I want to thank all the journalists who attend the EPTs. You all work incredibly hard. You don't grumble (much). You are great fun to work with and the EPT wouldn't be what it is without you guys. Your enthusiasm has been critical in turning the EPT into a massive success. And without being too disgustingly emotional about it all, I think we've become a rather lovely family. So I will carry on creating little nationality pie-charts for you all, and I hope you will all carry on coming to our tournaments. Many thanks to all of you, Mad Harper (corrections to follow shortly)