Los Angeles – week 8

Well, as the saying goes, ‘nowt much to write home about’ but here goes for this week:

Sorry to tell you, but it’s been another glorious week in Calfornia, with clear blue skies everyday and temperatures hovering around the 80 degrees mark. The scary thing is we still see some locals wrapped up as if it’s like winter back home.

The main news this week was that it was Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, so a Bank Holiday for all the yanks on Thursday & Friday. All the shops were closed on Thursday bar a few petrol stations, even McDonald’s was closed, but on Friday it was the day of the sales and all hell broke out!

The day after Thanksgiving is the American’s equivalent of our sales on Boxing Day. Most of the stores opened at 6am, and watching the news on TV it was amazing to see the queues of people forming in the early hours to all the big department and electrical stores, Wal-Mart, etc. Some of the discounts on offer though were incredible, meaning some stores were reporting that people were queuing in excess of an hour just to get through the checkouts the queues were so long.

By the way, my Thanksgiving dinner was an egg & bacon sandwich. Very nice it was too!

The Simpsons this week was the episode featuring Tony Blair, which despite being another classic episode was a bit of an anti-climax as he was on for only about one minute. 

We’ve been bombarded with Xmas carols this week, every shop you visit piping them out through their loudspeakers. We’ve already had two Xmas specials on tv this week, including one featuring the stars of American ‘Pop Idol’. A new series of Pop Idol starts over here in January, featuring the one and only Simon Cowell.

Golf this week was at the Soboba Springs Golf Club. A gorgeous day got better as I parred 3 of the first 5 five holes, but it went downhill from there! It was good job I’d bought some new balls!!

This weekend I also visited San Diego, primarily to see the two Nimitz class aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and USS John C Stennis but also to do some more plane-spotting, the highlight being to see a US Air Force KC-135 at San Diego International Airport. A bonus in the harbour was the ship HMS Surprise which is in the current hit movie “Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World” featuring Russell Crowe.

Lots of photos this week, including Santa’s Grotto at the South Coast Plaza. Click here to view them. 

Los Angeles – week 7

Well, putting work to one side for a moment, here’s what’s been happening in California this week:

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was inaugurated on Monday as Governor of California, and he fulfilled his first promise by repealing car tax!
  • Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch was searched on Tuesday.
  • On Wednesday an arrest warrant was issued for Michael Jackson’s arrest. We then had the chance to watch (via the local news chopper) as his motorcade drove around Las Vegas for two hours before PC plod pulled them over for causing a traffic nuisance! He settled for a night at the Green Valley Ranch Casino rather than a night in a jail cell.
  • Also on Wednesday temperatures hit 83 degrees, although by the weekend it had cooled to around 70. Sorry about the cold and rain back home!
  • Wednesday night saw the broadcast of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Guys, get your requests in now as I taped it and I’ll be bringing it back home with me at Xmas!
  • Thursday saw an ‘all new’ E.R. where one of the major cast members was killed off. Tori has been fully briefed if you need more details or check out their web-site. Parminder Nagra of ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ fame is currently starring the series.
  • On Friday night Andrew and I went to see Rita Coolidge in concert at the Founders Hall, just across the road from our apartment. The hall is an intimate jazz/cabaret setting, and she performed a 90-minute set featuring most of her hits although surprisingly not ‘All Time High’ which was the theme tune for the James Bond movie Octopussy. The most interesting song of the night was ‘Amazing Grace’ sung in Cherokee.

We’re in the run-up to Thanksgiving Day next Thursday with the shops busy, Xmas decorations everywhere, Xmas ads on TV, etc. but we have a major crisis on our hands. The staff restaurant is closed all this week so it looks like we’ll have to take a packed-lunch every day. I’m sure we won’t starve though! Oh yes, forgot – I bought 6 do-nuts today……………..mmmmmmmmmmm.

On the photos page this week you’ll find photographs of aeroplanes, Sierra Lakes Golf Club and the Christmas tree at Brea Mall.

Los Angeles – week 6

It’s been another busy week on the work front with not much happening on the leisure front other than the now customary round of golf, so this week I’ll give you more of a flavour about the work currently under way.

I’ve now been here six weeks and Andrew three, so work is now going full steam ahead on the six month project plan that’s been laid out. The first initial two weeks out here with Graham Hammonds was spent mapping the process flow for the organisation’s way of dealing with hot fixes in respect of Change& Release Management,  but after interviewing 15 people and getting 15 different views it became a very complicated Visio diagram.

Since Andrew arrived we have performed a number of workshops and interviews which led to another interesting diagram, but enabled us to produce Visio diagrams for how the organisation’s processes work for Major, Data Warehouse, Data Center, Network & Security releases. After we had achieved an accurate picture of their processes the work now underway is to mould and manipulate those processes so that they are following MOF (Microsoft Operations Framework). So Andrew has mapped their processes onto the MOF Change and Release models and the next step is to start changing the way the organisation works, although culturally and politically this may be easier said than done.

Meanwhile, I have stated work on identifying all of their Configuration Items that will be managed as we also attempt to get Configuration Management off the ground, which doesn’t exist at all at the moment. I have also spent time reviewing the Service Monitoring & Control processes and procedures and have made a number of recommendations for improvement.

So, we have a six-month project plan to introduce Change, Configuration & Release Management processes as defined by MOF which is still in its early stages, but there is a lot of work to do and no doubt a few barriers to cross as we progress.

The two one-day Service Management in Action courses which Andrew ran last week were very well received, and has got people thinking more along the right lines of Service Management, such as the need to perform an impact analysis when assessing a change, but a big blow this week was when the client decided to postpone the 3-day MOF Changing Quadrant course scheduled for next week, for which David Papworth was due to fly-out this weekend in order to deliver it. 

The course is critical in getting people to understand in more detail what is going to be expected of them as we develop new processes and procedures and build on the foundations of the SMIA courses. Not only that, but Dave “International Rescue”  Papworth was bringing over urgent medical supplies with him, such as Branston Pickle, Daddie’s Sauce and Rich Tea biscuits!

Although living in California has it’s benefits, not only do you miss family& friends, wives & girlfriends, the comforts of home, Sheffield United (obviously!), but you also begin to appreciate the finer things in life like Sky Sports and Branston Pickle. Oh for a proper cheese and pickle sandwich. The yanks version of pickle is the gherkin you get in a Big Mac!

Mid-week we had severe thunderstorms causing havoc in some places, where 5 inches of rain fell in just a few hours, leaving some areas under 3 feet of water. Even more bizarre was one suburb of LA which ended up with a foot deep of hail! Last week Southern California had over 30 earthquakes, the largest amount in over 6 months, although the largest was only 3.3 on the Richter scale, so we haven’t felt any yet. But after recent weeks of fire, flood, snow & hail, we can only wonder what’s around the corner – hopefully not the ‘big one’. Check out the front page of the LA Times.

Black Gold was the venue of this weeks golfing exploits. Set beneath the Chino Hills, it was another immaculately kept course, if a bit damp in places following the rain we’ve had this week. But that was more than made up for by the stunning views the course provided. Check out the photos here, together with the rest of this weeks pics including a stunning sunset and a chipmunk.

That’s all folks for the moment. Bye for now and speak to you next week.

Los Angeles – week 5

It’s been a quiet week this week, the highlight was getting out of the office for two days whilst Andrew ran a couple of one day courses. This was exciting (!) because since we arrived in LA we have been working five days in a week in the basement of a building in Santa Ana.

Typically we’ll arrive around 08:15 in the morning, go downstairs to the basement facility where our desks are and stay there until we leave around 17:30-18:00. There are no windows, no clocks on the wall, but plenty of free coffee to help you through the day with free breakfast burritos on Thursday and free do-nuts on Friday. With the clocks having changed at the end of October we now don’t see daylight between the time we arrive in the morning and the time we go home in the evening, save for the occasional brief glimpse on our way to the staff restaurant, but even that doesn’t have any windows! So, now the clocks have gone back the only time we get to see any real daylight is at the weekend, so we try and make the most of it.

Wednesday was the first of two one-day Service Management in Action courses that Andrew ran. The courses were held in a Microsoft location in Costa Mesa, where they lease some office space on the 18th floor of a high-rise building. The location afforded tremendous views all around the surrounding areas of Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and Tustin. I sat in on the course that was held on Thursday as an observer and took a number of photographs which you can see here (along with the rest of this week’s pictures).

Bonfire night was Wednesday of course, but that is a non-entity over here (not surprisingly), with the people we spoke to knowing nothing about it. Then again, they’ve probably had enough of fires for the time being! Anyway, we went out and dined at TGI Friday’s, each of us having a rack of honey-glazed ribs.

The weather has continued to be really good, with Friday’s temperature hitting 77 degrees. The other ‘highlight’ of Friday was on the way to work, where arrival was delayed some 15 minutes as the Rail Road barrier got stuck in the down position. Many of the locals were dangerously zig-zagging in and out of the barriers, but we took the safe option and turned around and took a detour.

Saturday was quite day except for a bit of shopping, but on Sunday we played golf at the “PGA of Southern California Golf Club at Oak Valley”. It was an immaculate course, with the San Bernardino mountains in the background. Although the day remained overcast all day, the golf was enjoyable if not some of the scoring! The most disappointing fact was that it took nearly five hours to complete the round. We were paired up with a local couple, Jack who was very good and Bonnie who was the best ladies golfer either of us had played with and embarrassed us on number of occasions!

Anyway, check out all of this weeks photos here and I’ll catch up with you next week.

Los Angeles – week 4

The news of the past week has been dominated by the wildfires, which at the last count had burnt three-quarters of a million acres, destroyed 3,400 homes and killed 20 people, including one fire-fighter. Although the fires are some distance from where the apartment is in Costa Mesa, when I went out shopping on Sunday there was a very strong smell of smoke in the air with ash falling in the area, being driven by the ‘Santa Ana winds’. The smoke curtailed my activities for the day, so I set off to pick-up Andrew from LAX later than intended. Nevertheless, I still found the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of the sunset over Huntington Beach and the pier. Andrew arrived on time, and managed to see some of the fires as he flew into LA.

The past week has been a busy one on the work front, running three workshops over Monday and Tuesday and a number of one-to-one interview sessions over the rest of the week, resulting in the creation of a number of Visio process flow diagrams and a training & education plan. It’s been an interesting week from a cultural perspective, with the office and staff restaurant decked-out in Halloween regalia, much as we would do decorations at Christmas.

On Monday evening I took Andrew to Graham and mine’s favourite Mexican restaurant at the South Coast Plaza. It was a disappointing evening on two counts; I asked the waitress for a pitcher of beer, she said they only do pitchers on Friday & Saturday nights and then we both asked for bbq ribs for starters, but the waitress said they were out of stock.

The manageress approached later during the meal and asked if everything was ok. She was surprised that they were out of stock of the ribs, as she knew that they definitely had them in stock. The waitress told her that the computer reported them as out of stock, so off the manageress went to check only to return a short while later to apologise that indeed they did have them in stock. She offered to have some cooked and packed in a ‘doggy bag’ to take home with us, with their compliments, but we declined. By that time I was stuffing my face with an absolutely outstanding dessert, of which you can see a photograph of here, so instead she took the cost of that off the bill.

On Tuesday we went and picked-up Andrew’s hire car, making me exceedingly jealous as he got a brand new Ford Focus with just 40 miles on the clock, (mine’s got 20,000 on it), although I do have cruise control in mine. Tuesday was also my first opportunity to sample Andrew’s culinary skills, and very good it was too. (PS. I did the washing-up!)

Thursday and surprise, surprise it’s started to rain. Only light drizzle on and off, but some relief for the fire-fighters. Los Angeles had gone 92 days without rain before today. In the evening I went across the road to the Orange County Center for Performing Arts, where they have a small cabaret club in addition to the main concert hall. The cabaret club is quite an intimate atmosphere, seating around 200 people sat at small tables around the stage.

I went to see Susan Egan, who I had never heard off until a couple of weeks ago, but is a major Broadway star, including having been the lead in Beauty &the Beast. I had a ticket at a table right at the front of the stage, so had a great view but also left me open to the unexpected! She performed a set full of songs from the theatre, at one pointing coming into the crowd to pick on someone to sing to. Who was that lucky(!) person…? Yes you’ve guessed it, me! The spotlight was on me as she sang to me and ran her hands all over my body!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A tough job, but as they say…someone’s got to do it!

Halloween was Friday and the staff restaurant was decked-out big time, with all the staff in ‘frightening’ gear, not that some of them needed it! The restaurant was packed today, with everyone getting a free lunch, and with them all treating the event just as we would a Xmas party. It’s been very interesting to see the difference in culture to our Halloween back home.

The other news on Friday was that we had half an inch of rain along with an inch of snow in the mountains. Although some of the fires continue to burn, at least they are under control.

On Saturday I ventured out on my travels, driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Huntington Beach, past Sunset Beach and on up to Alamito Bay Marina, near Long Beach. On Sunday I stayed around Costa Mesa whilst Andrew played golf at one of the top courses in the country, Pelican Hill. Click here to see some photos from the golf course along with a complete set of photographs from the past week.

That’s it for another week. Over and out.

Los Angeles – week 3

This week has been fairly quiet as I’ve been on my own and also working from the apartment all week. So I used to opportunity to catch a couple of movies, sort some logistics issues and iron some niggles that were still on-going with the apartment.

On Monday I went to see “Runaway Jury“, a courtroom thriller written by John Grisham and starring Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and John Cusack. I quite enjoyed it, but I had never read the book so had no expectations. One of the bizarre things about the movie is that it has quite a powerful ensemble cast who don’t actually say very much! I recognised most of the 12 jurors from other movies and tv series, such as Jennifer ‘Flashdance’ Beals, who literally has only a couple of lines to say but is seen regularly throughout the movie. It brought back memories of my time a few years ago as a juror. I ‘served’ my time at the Old Bailey and I can honestly say it was nothing like this movie!

I’ve had my eye on a new digital camera since I arrived in the USA, having seen rave reviews of the new Canon digital SLR before I left the UK. I had seen a couple of mail order ads in US magazines that were advertising the camera ridiculously cheap, so I tried to source it from them but was having problems because I didn’t have a US-based credit card. So last Friday I was informed that I could arrange to wire the cash to them, I just had to email them the order details and they would send me the wire details.

Well by Tuesday I had heard nothing back, even though their web-site promised email responses within 24 hours. So I phone them up only to be told “Oh, email is down”. So I then got onto discussing the wire transfer details with them, only to be told “Oh, there is a minimum $1500 purchase on wire transfers”. No-one mentioned that last week. Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! So politely told them where to go!

Also on Tuesday, thoughts of home came flooding back as Sarah Ferguson was on breakfast tv, going on about diets and healthy eating yet again. The fact I’ve gone over a week now without a do-nut is nothing to do with Miss Ferguson! Nor my mother or girlfriend!!

Since I arrived at the apartment over 2 weeks ago I had been telling Graham that I was sure that I could smell gas. Occasionally he would agree, although he didn’t sound convincing! Well, by Tuesday it was really bad so I reported it to the management office here on -site at the apartment complex. A chap turned up a short while later to find that the gas for the fireplace was switched fully-on, and obviously had been on since we moved in. That is very scarey.

Tuesday was also the hottest day of the year. Costa Mesa where I live hit 97degrees, with many of the surrounding areas reaching three figures. Temperatures today beat those reached during the summer months, and when you consider this is late October it’s quite bizarre. Temperatures are expected to remain in the 90’s for quite a while yet.

Wednesday’s highlight was the lottery, or it would have been if I’d won! The jackpot was $99 million, approximately £62 million. It was won by just 2 people.

On Thursday I went to see “Under The Tuscan Sun“, this is one for the girls as a newly divorced woman escapes to Tuscany in an effort to rebuild her life but also ends up having to rebuild her newly purchased Italian villa. The only reason I went to see it was that is stars one of my all-time favourite actresses, Diane Lane.

After a discussion with Tori, (it’s all your fault!), on Friday I went down to the local Best Buy store where I tried the Canon camera out and bought it straight away. More expensive than by mail order but still almost £300 cheaper than buying it in the UK. I then drove down to Huntington Beach to test it out, you can see the results here. The coast was very foggy, surrounded by a ‘marine layer’ as they say in these parts, but with the sun trying to break through and also setting at the same time it led to some good photo opportunities.

Saturday is supermarket day and I crossed the picket lines again to shop in Vons. The supermarket workers have been on strike for 2 weeks now, with no end in sight to the dispute as the company are standing firm and refusing to budge. Anyway, as I was approaching the picket-line the two people manning it decided to walk over to the other entrance to talk to their colleagues. Perhaps it was the red & white striped Sheffield United shirt that frightened them off! (No Richard & Brian, I’m not going to discuss Friday night’s result!!)

The big news this week though are the forest fires. As of today there are now six fires raging around Los Angeles, with the largest now having burnt some 20,000 acres of land and destroyed over 200 homes. Click here to see a photograph of today’s LA Times headline. Because of the wind direction, ash is now falling here in Costa Mesa even though the fires are some 20 miles away.

Ok, signing-off for another week. Take care.

Los Angeles – week 2

Read about the supermarket strike, Graham’s issues with his flight ticket, and getting Donna Summer’s autograph.

Well, week2 has just ended and things are beginning to feel like home! Staff at MTA, which run the Greater Los Angeles train & bus services have been on strike since Tuesday so there are no trains or buses except those run by local firms. And since last weekend supermarket workers have been on strike over medical benefits. This has meant some 70,000 workers across 900 stores & three chains of supermarket.

The supermarkets have managed to remain open, using newly hired temps & management, but things are beginning to get a bit ugly at times with fights breaking out on picket lines and temporary workers getting their car tyres slashed. Nevertheless, I managed to get Graham to along with me last Sunday to Vons, one of the supermarkets affected. We crossed the picket-line, manned by about six people, to get in the store then walked quickly out with our shopping without looking back! This weekend I’ve done my shopping at Wal-Mart, but I’ve got a Vons loyalty card so can’t keep away forever.

Some of locals are beginning to get restless with all this strike action, with some people picketing the picket-lines, urging them to go back to work. Sunday also saw us visiting the Fashion Island shopping mall down at Newport. Another classy shopping area, although this one is mostly outdoors rather than an indoor mall. The weather has been glorious this past week, with temperatures in the mid-80’s, although hitting 90 for the last 2 days, and due to reach 100 by next Tuesday. Just to make you even more sick, I filled up with ‘gas’ the other day, $1.68 a gallon – that’s approximately £1.05 a gallon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It’s been a busy week at work so it’s been a much quieter week outside of work, just going out to the local Mexican restaurant at the South Coast Mall on Thursday evening as it was Graham’s final evening before returning to the UK on Friday.

It’s been a stressful time for Graham trying to get his flight home sorted out. As he had originally flown to Seattle for a week before coming down to John Wayne (Orange County) Airport to stay in LA, his return flight back to the UK had been arranged via Seattle. But it seemed a bit daft having to go all the way up to Seattle to get back to London rather than go from Los Angeles, so the ticket was altered. Indeed, as John Wayne Airport is only 10 minutes from the apartment, his flight was re-arranged so that he would fly from John Wayne to LAX, only a 24 minute flight, before getting the onward flight to Heathrow to save me the hassle of getting to LAX and back to drop him off.

So we went to John Wayne Airport on Tuesday evening so that Graham could pick-up the tickets beforehand so save any last minute problems. Well, it was a good job he did, as he was told that he would have to go to LAX to pick-up the tickets so that he could fly from John Wayne to LAX!!!!!!! Er, but doesn’t that defeat the object? The tickets could only be issued by British Airways even though Alaskan Airlines and United Airlines (both involved in the fiasco) had code-share agreements with BA.

Anyway, to cut a long story, after numerous communications between the US and the UK and with the UK organising for United to re-issue the ticket but for United still refusing to when we made a return journey back to John Wayne on Thursday, Graham ended-up getting a cab to LAX on Friday. United Airlines insisted the only way around the issue was to purchase a brand new ticket from John Wayne to LAX – a ridiculous state of affairs when all the airlines are connected to the same Sabre ticketing system.

On Saturday I went to see Donna Summer do a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble store. She was almost an hour late turning up, and that, together with me being near the rear of a very long queue, meant that just before I got to see her the last 50 people, or so, were told that she would be signing only one item, whereas everyone previously had been having all sorts autographed, including old vinyl records they had brought. So I ended up just getting a poster autographed that I had nabbed from the local radio station, who were covering the event, meaning that I was left with a book & cd that I had bought from the store to get signed being a waste of money !! (OK, I probably would have bought the cd anyway, so someone look out for a Donna Summer autobiography as a Christmas present!).

Oh, I forgot to mention, got up at 06:00 to listen to the match commentary for Sheffield United. Wish I’d stayed in bed 🙁 Fox Sports showed the Leeds -v- Man Utd match live, but that kicked-off at 4am over here and I wasn’t getting up at that time. In the evening I went down to Newport Beach, had a walk along the pier & beach and took some photos, which you can see by clicking here.

Before I sign off for another week, I’ll just mention the California Lottery. Last Wednesday the jackpot was $60million – I won $1 for having the bonus ball selected. The jackpot wasn’t won, so rolled-over to last night when the jackpot reached $76m. The news this morning is that it still hasn’t been won and Wednesday night’s rollover jackpot has now reached $92m – approximately £57.5 million!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So I’m on my own for the next week until Andrew joins me next Saturday. If I win the lottery on Wednesday night this web-site may not be updated again for sometime 🙂

Los Angeles – week 1

Read about the flight to L.A., a visit to the House of Blues to see Shelby Lynne in concert, and a trip to Pala Casino to see LeAnn Rimes in concert.

I arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday 4th October. I flew with Virgin Atlantic in a Boeing 747-400 which was fitted with the latest in-flight entertainment system, offering 54 cd’s to listen to and 52 movies to watch, amongst other programs and music stations. I watched Finding Nemo (highly recommended) and The Italian Job (not as good as the original, but Charlize Theron is in it!).

I was sat next to an American couple during the flight, who were returning home after three weeks touring the UK. Shortly after take-off the woman delicately asked me, “can I ask you a question?”. Intrigued, I obviously said yes, to which she replied “What is treacle?”. She had bought some treacle fudge in Edinburgh not knowing what treacle was, so I explained the details of treacle, treacle pudding, treacle toffee and my favourite northern delicacy, treacle on toast.

It’s a small world. Just as I was disembarking the plane at LAX one of the stewards noticed the Sheffield United emblem on my polo-shirt. To which he pointed out his father used to play for the Blades and did I remember John Ryan? I replied I did, from the 80’s and the days of Ian Porterfield as manager. I’m getting old.

Sunday was a shopping day, ending up with 13 cd’s (although 10 were second-hand so relatively cheap), a couple of dvd’s (but nothing to play them on!) and a Virgin Mobile cellphone. Monday was the first day at work. Friendly people, free coffee on tap, (together with help yourself free headache tablets, of which there were five different brands to choose from), they do a cracking ‘chicken breast sandwich’ for lunch, and you get free breakfast burritos on Thursdays and do-nuts on Fridays. Heaven!

On Thursday evening we went to the House of Blues club at Disneyland in Anaheim to see Shelby Lynne in concert. She’s a major country artist in the US, whose three albums I have back home. It was an all-standing venue so it was a long night as we were stood for the best part of 3 hours! The first artist on the bill was Steve Conn, a more traditional C&W band but not mine or Graham’s cup of tea. Second on the bill was Anna Montgomery, a rather large lady but with a stunning voice. Her and her band were very good, resulting in my buying her cd that night.

Then about 9:50pm Shelby Lynne came on stage, whose slight shape cut a diminutive figure on stage but betrayed her strong and powerful voice. She gave a great performance, backed by just three musicians and Anna Montgomery on backing vocals. As well as showcasing her latest album she performed hits from her previous two albums including Killin’ Kind which was included in the “Bridget Jones’ Diary” soundtrack.

The comment of the night came from Shelby, who claimed not to own any bras and bragged “look, I’ve got my headlights on tonight” as she ran her hands over her breasts. Use your imagination!! The downside of the evening was the rip-off prices at the bar – a small can of Miller Lite costs £3, whilst’s Grahams plastic(!) cup of Chardonnay cost over £4.

Friday evening I dropped Graham off at Second Spin cd store at Newport Beach whilst I drove approx 80 miles south to the Pala Casino Resort to see LeAnn Rimes in concert. Pala is in the middle of nowhere and took almost 2 hours to get there, but the casino is pretty similar inside to many of the casinos in Las Vegas with plenty of tables and slots. I was surprised how busy the casino was considering its location, it took ages to find a parking space and the queue to get in the theatre for the concert was immense.

I was surprised to find the theatre was actually outside, no mention of this when I booked the tickets online whilst back in the UK. The organisation for the concert was chaotic, with many people having seats that had been double-booked, including mine. Nevertheless, I got a seat still in the original row I was on, but more central so I had an ever better view and only 15 rows from the front.

It had always been an ambition of min to see LeAnn Rimes in concert and she didn’t disappoint. I have all her cd’s since she started at the age of 14, but now she has matured into a beautiful young woman with an amazingly powerful voice. She rolled off the hits, including Blue, I Need You and How Do I Live (theme from Con Air) and a number of tracks from the Coyote Ugly soundtrack. The band backing her were absolutely awesome as well, and the 90 minute set just flew by.

The stage was set outside the back of the hotel/casino on the patio next to the pool, but because of the location many of the hotel rooms overlooked the stage so loads of people got a free show!

After the gig I purchased a tour t-shirt for $25 and an autographed photo for $20, this meant that I wasn’t going to gamble any money in the casino but I was walking through the casino back towards the car park I just couldn’t resist the temptation. I slipped my $20 bill into the $1 slot machine and started playing. Although a $1 machine I was gambling $3 a time to increase any potential winnings. I was down to just $4 when I hit a big one. Two triple bars together with a Double Diamond gave me a $250 win! I was very happy. I had covered the cost of my ticket, t-shirt, photo and them some. I cashed-in my winnings and made a quick exit!! What a way to end the first week in California.

Saturday morning was spent listening to the webcast of Radio 5Live’s coverage of Turkey -v- England as we had failed to find anywhere to watch it, although that was probably a good thing in hindsight. The major problem was that we lost the commentary with about 2 minutes of injury time, so it was an anxious wait until we got confirmation of the final score.

After that it was off shopping, visiting CostCo, K-Mart and Wal-Mart. Today was the best day of my visit so far, clear blue skies and about 80 degrees. That evening we visited the Orange County for the Performing Arts to see Olivia Newton-John together with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. It was a very good evening, but at times a strange mix of Olivia’s band and the orchestra.

On arriving back to the apartment complex a number of fire engines were on-scene, couldn’t see what the problem was but our apartment was still ok. Then at about 11:30pm an armed policeman rang the door bell, asking if we were having a party inside. Now, if I were tell you that Graham and I had invited a dozen young Californian girls back to our apartment after the concert for a party, would you believe me? I thought not!

Right, signing off for this update. More updates soon, but click here for photos of week 1.