Howler Virtual Challenges

Howler Events are fast becoming a Lancashire institution with their legendary tough events, or they were before the lockdown curtailed all but a few races. Me and my amazingly fit wife have done three Howler events in the past, all of which have been challenging for various reasons; extra ‘free’ miles, extreme rain or ice and snow (read about them here). To try and keep people interested, Stu, the Head Howler, set up a series of ten virtual routes that could be done whenever. The first iteration involved ten 10km loops all in and around the West Pennines of Lancashire. The second iteration, or the 2nd Coming Virtual Challenge, to its full title, involves ten 10 mile routes. These loops have US States for names and many of them are further afield, so we’ll have to wait until the lockdown eases to travel out of Lancashire which is currently in Tier 3. The good news is that we have a full year to complete all ten. Two of the routes, Dakota and Iowa, are within our county, so we will have a go at these first. Below illustrates the rough area where the routes are located.

Most of the routes will be completely new to us, so we are very excited. If you would like to join the fun, then the signing up information can be found on the Howler Events Facebook group or here.

Chocolate Caramel Slice

Caramel shortbread or millionaire’s shortbread, whatever you want to call them, are one of my favourite cakes. However, they’ve always appeared to be a very difficult cake to make. So when I stumbled across what looked like an easy version I thought I would have a go.

The Australian Women’s Weekly has a series of recipe books and magazines, and many of them are for cakes that you would never find in the UK. I am especially looking forward to having a go at a Lumberjack cake. Anyway, the cake that I made today doesn’t have a shortbread base, instead it is more of a coconut biscuit base. The recipe combines flour, sugar, coconut and melted butter, which is pressed down into a square cake tin and baked for 15 minutes. While this is baking, a tin of condensed milk with some butter is heated in a saucepan until golden brown. This is then spread over the base and baked for another ten minutes.

Once cooled pour melted chocolate over the top. All very easy.

I have to say that the end result looked and tasted fairly good. I like the ratio of caramel and chocolate to base, as often there is far too much sickly sweet caramel. The Bake Off recipe suggests that you need to add lots of sugar and butter to the condensed milk.

Where did I go wrong? I should have used regular brown sugar and not demerara sugar as the recipe stated, as I ended up with crunchy sugar in the base. Possibly I could have also left the caramel a little longer on the hob so that it was more golden, but this doesn’t affect the taste.

Overall a bake that I’m very happy with.

Adjustable Chest Light

Initial Thoughts

One of the best Christmas present that my amazing wife bought for me was an adjustable chest light for running. I like to run early in the morning, which obviously means running in the dark and therefore using some kind of illumination. I’ve always used a head torch, but these are not perfect. This morning was my first run with my new Gato Sports Chest light.

The first improvement on my old headtorch was the addition of a red light at the back. I never run on roads without pavements at night, but it is definitely safer to always make sure that you can be seen. Running with the chest light felt fine, almost as if it wasn’t there. It has different strengths so I used the most powerful along the canal and then the least powerful along the roads. The front light can also be adjusted for where you want the light to shine. One drawback, it was more tricky to look at my watch, but it is just different from what I’m used to. Also, I’m far less likely to shine the light directly into someone’s eyes, which is another bonus.

Long Term Thoughts

So I have now been using this piece of kit for over three weeks, and have used it almost everyday. My thoughts are that it is a very nice piece of kit, although the advertised battery life of 5 hours only applies when the light is on the lower setting. An improvement would be for you to be able to turn off the rear light if you don’t need it, so that the front light would last longer. Also, it isn’t particularly comfortable if you use if with a running vest carrying extra kit. However, these are minor quibbles and overall a very nice piece of kit and one that I hope to use for many years to come.

Strava Freebies

At the start of the UK’s lockdown I reached the milestone of completing 900 Strava Challenges. Naturally I emailed Strava to ask for some free goodies. They said ‘yes’, but that it might take a while as no one is going into the offices at the moment. Well, last week I received a small package containing a t-shirt, socks, water bottle, cap and a couple of stickers, all branded with the Strava logo.

I have to say that the socks and t-shirt fit really well and are incredibly comfortable, so a big ‘thank you’ to Strava.

Since my initial email I have now completed over 1,000 challenges, but I think I’ll wait a bit longer before begging for more freebies.

Book Review: Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam

A few months ago me and my lovely wife were searching Netflix for something interesting to watch on a Friday night, when we stumbled upon the 1999 film October Sky staring Jake Gyllenhaal. We both loved it and so did a work colleague who I recommended it to. However, the film was based upon the book Rocket Boys.

Set in the 1950’s in a company owned coal mining town in West Virginia, Homer and his school friends are transfixed by the Russian’s space exploration, specifically the Sputnik series of satellites. Homer decides to have a go at building a rocket. Obviously it doesn’t all go to plan, with many failures along the way, as well trouble for his parents in the mine.

I don’t want to give too much away but they end up building some very impressive rockets, as well as all of the boys managing to go to college, not something many kids managed from their background. To cap it all, many years later, Homer manages to secure a job working for NASA.

One of the best feel good films and book that I’ve watched or read in a long time. Definitely received 5 out of 5 on Goodreads. There are a few differences between the film and the book, as there always are, but both are well worth looking out for.

Book Review: All the Gear No Idea by Michele Harrison

To give the books its full title, All the Gear No Idea: A Woman’s Solo Motorbike Journey Around the Indian Subcontinent. The title pretty much sums up the gist of the book. Michele has just turned 30 and is incredibly bored with her current job and her current boyfriend. She lusts after some adventure and opts for a year long motorbike trip around most of India.

A three day intensive motorbike training course is all she has before flying out to India, purchasing a motorbike when she arrives. Royal Enfield were a classic British manufacturer until Japanese imports put them out of business. Gone but not forgotten, as the brand was brought back in India as a cheap, reliable and easy to repair workhorse. The brand went full circle as they were then imported back into the UK as brand new ‘classic’ motorbikes. My brother-in-law used to run a classic motorbike shop and became the Royal Enfield dealer for South Wales.

Anyway, Michele buys the classic 350 Enfield and after a few hiccups manages to leave Delhi unscathed. She travels far and wide, meets interesting people everywhere, is constantly told how brave she is and on occasions comes off. The bike needs almost constant repairs, often due to the very poor road surface, but there is always a mechanic in the next village. She also meets her future husband who was cycling around the world at the time.

I love good travel books and this is one of the best, even though I don’t ride motorcycles, much preferring to tour on the engine-less variety of bikes. I’m also not too interested in visiting India, although this book might have changed my mind. Who knows where we’ll all be in a few years time. Hopefully me and Helen will be travelling in our camper van.

I gave this book 5 out of 5 on Goodreads as it was highly entertaining and I would definitely recommend it.

Advent Avenues and Alcohol Free Beer

Advent Avenue

One of the few good things to come out of Covid was greater interactions with neighbours and trying to ensure that everyone is OK. The Whatsapp group for our street decided to have a go at an Advent Avenue (I have my lovely wife to thank for the phrase Advent Avenue). Each house that takes part is allocated a number from 1 to 24, and then on the date reveal a window display featuring their number, much like an advent calendar. This has proved to be incredibly popular and I have to say that our next door neighbours out did themselves with 15.

Hopefully the postman hasn’t become too confused with house number 24 displaying a large 2 in the window. Today when I went for a little walk to drop off some books at the Free Little Library I noticed that the two nearest streets to us are also doing their own advent avenues. I absolutely love it and it brings some much needed cheer to brighten up what will be a very tough Christmas.

Alcohol Free Beer

When the first lock down began it was very easy to slide into drinking a little too much. Me and Helen were guilty of this as it became rare for us not to have a drink most evenings. One solution to cutting back was to try some alcohol free beers. Helen tried a couple of alcohol free wines and vowed never again. There is however, some very large discrepancies between brewery’s and their beers.

The good stuff includes Brew Dogs two options, Punk AF and Nanny State. Both of these taste like real beers. Top of the picks is Flat Tyre from Pistonhead (available in Asda). I like all of the regular beers from Pistonhead but was pleasantly surprised by just how good their alcohol free variety was.

There is a great deal bad stuff out there. Own brand alcohol free wheat beer from Aldi (possibly Lidl) was undrinkable. Sharp’s have recently released an alcohol free version of their popular Doom Bar. Again one sip and the rest of the bottle was poured down the sink. The only way to describe either of these beers is sweet gravy. A brewery like Sharp’s surely has someone in charge of quality control. At some point someone must have raised the point that their new beer was undrinkable.

Book Review: Confess by Rob Halford

My lovely and amazing wife bought me this book as an early Christmas present, and I stormed through it in record time. For those of you who don’t know who Rob Halford is, he is the lead singer with the British Heavy Metal group Judas Priest and trademarked ‘Metal God’. Growing up I was very much into Heavy Metal, specifically Iron Maiden, Saxon and Motorhead, and while Judas Priest were always around there was only so many albums I could buy with my limited pocket money. I do remember picking up a couple of their earlier records second hand and if I’m brutally honest I wasn’t overly impressed. Teenagers can be fickle, and I recall that I didn’t think too much of the earlier stuff by Thin Lizzy either. Until the release of the 1990 album Painkiller I had thought that Judas Priest were a very good ‘best of’ group, much like AC/DC, where you wouldn’t often want to listen to a whole album. For me Painkiller is by far the best Judas Priest album, and unfortunately was the last one to feature Rob Halford for 15 years. Very scary to think that it was released 30 years ago.

Confess obviously begins with Rob growing up in Walsall, but doesn’t dwell too long on his upbringing, although he knew from a very early age that he was gay. Rob remained in the closet until the 1990’s even though the rest of the band knew, but often pretended not to know. The 2001 film Rock Star with Mark wahlberg suggested that Rob Halford was fired from Judas Priest for being gay, which wasn’t true. As for leaving the band, Rob only wanted to do the odd solo project, but miscommunication meant that he resigned from the band and ended up being replaced by a tribute band singer.

The book is highly entertaining, even for non heavy metal fans, and Rob is very honest about his problems with drink and drugs, the suicide of a partner, the arrests for ‘cruising’ and how happy he is with his current and long term partner. He also discusses the MTV interview in 1998 where he came out, and how it wasn’t planned but that it felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and how by and large, most fans have been supportive. Rob also went into rehab for a month, and he hasn’t touched alcohol or drugs for the last 34 years, which is very commendable and a welcome change from other biographies that I’ve read recently where they are in and out of rehab a dozen times. The notorious court case where the band were sued for having hidden satanic lyrics on their albums is also written about.

Anyway, I absolutely loved this autobiography and gave it 5 out of 5 on Goodreads, and looking through other reviews almost everyone agrees. Not just a book for heavy metal fans.


It would appear that Saturday has become baking day. After last weeks success with Shortbread (read about it here), I decided to make biscuits again. Snickerdoodles are Dutch in origin and have an egg along with the expected butter and sugar. There is also nutmeg and cinnamon giving them a slightly Christmas taste. The recipe that I used was from The Australian Women’s Weekly, although there are loads on examples online.

First off, cream together butter, sugar (white and brown) and vanilla essence until smooth, and then add an egg and continue to mix until just coming together. To this add flour, bicarbonate of soda and nutmeg and stir until a rough dough is formed. This needs to chill for 30 minutes which is just enough time to clear up.

Create small balls from the dough and roll in a mix of sugar and cinnamon. These are then baked. The end result is a batch of very nice soft biscuits.

Mine are a little darker than most, which I put down to using a very dark Muscovado sugar mixed in with the white caster sugar. The added egg makes them nice and soft, which combined with the cinnamon coating makes them very moreish. As expected mine are not the neatest or anywhere close to being the same size, but they are very tasty. Also, very easy to make. I will be making more goodies from The Australian Women’s Weekly Home Baked collection in the future.

Three Short Book Reviews

Three very different books to review here; one hit, one definite miss and the other a maybe.

The Killer Inside by Will Carver

First up we have The Killer Inside by Will Carver, a short story set in between the second and third books of the David January series. The only previous will carver book that I’ve read is the very dark thriller Nothing Important Happened Today (read my review here). This short story is also very dark and definitely left me wanting to know more. The story focuses on the killer from the previous books who has now been caught, although the killings are set to continue. I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I will be. Of the three books here this was the hit and I gave it 5 out of 5 on Goodreads.

The Viking’s Witch by Kelli A Wilkins

This particular book was a free download from Amazon and I was expecting so kind of a fantasy epic. It wasn’t and I don’t really know what market the book is aimed at; fantasy, historical romance or fans of vikings. A young witch is about to be burned at the stake but is rescued at the last moment by a horde of invading vikings. The leader of which falls in love with the witch. There were a couple of twists in the tale towards the end of the book, one was telegraphed a longtime earlier and the other would probably have helped with the narrative if it had been revealed earlier. This book was the maybe, and I persevered to the end but wasn’t really satisfied. Probably not enough sex or violence for me (insert winking emoji).

The Travel Diaries of John Dot by Kevin Kelly

Another free download, but from the travel section. While this book in theory is a travel book, it is also a work of fiction, which I didn’t realise until I was thoroughly fed up and annoyed with the main character. I gave up about a third of the way through as John Dot is a moron, and not a funny or likeable moron. In fact in the book he comes across as very weird and not someone you would ever want to meet. I gave the book one out of five on Goodreads, but then decided to delete all references to it. Avoid like the plague.