National Tri Team Relays

Half way round the bike leg it suddenly dawned on my how much fun the team relays are. This was the fourth time that I’d done the relays, but the first time with COLT. The last time I had done them was back in 2003 with Oxford Tri. I don’t have the full results from back then, but in 2000 we were 12th mixed team in a time of 3 hr 29. My individual time was just under 50 minutes, although the swim was a lot shorter. The race might have stated that it was a 500m swim, but it was definitely no further than 400m.

Anyway, 2022 is now, and while none of us are as quick as we used to be, we all gave it everything. COLT had two teams racing, a male team in the morning and a mixed team in the afternoon.

How does it all work? First swimmer goes off, hands over to swimmer 2, etc, and then swimmer 4 hands over to the first person again who sets off on the bike leg. The distances were 500m swim, 15km bike (3 laps of the rowing lake) and a 5km run (1 lap of the lake).

Our team consisted off some very experienced triathletes, with Craig off first, then me, followed by John and finally team captain and organiser Chris (Hobbit). The first leg of the swim is a mass start and is always carnage. Craig had some issues during the swim, but still managed to be quickest out of all of us. The hardest part for me is the swim handover. Fortunately, Craig spotted me and handed the red band over to me. John also spotted me and I could gratefully hand the ‘baton’ over.

The bike is three fast flat laps of the lake, with a tiny uphill section into the wind near the start. The path is nice and wide up one side but a little narrower coming back, but with it being straight and flat there are plenty of fast times.

The run has a couple of very small uphill sections, but at the time they felt quite steep. The first mile is on a perimeter path with plenty of support, but then the long grind up the lake takes its toll mentally, as it feels like the end of the lake is never going to come.

I was very happy to hand over to John at the end of the run, with an average heart rate of 168bpm. One thing that has changed from when I did this race all those years ago, was that the whole team could run through the finish funnel together, which we did, although Hobbit had no intention of slowly down for the rest of us as we were very close to sneaking under 4 hours. I have to say we did look good in our COLT kit.

What made the race special for me was my lovely wife came with me. Friends looked after our dog for us so that we could relax. The whole event is brilliant, and far better organised that it used to be. It is great to be able to chat with your team mates between legs, and there is always something going on. Watching a regular triathlon can be a long boring day. This event is the complete opposite. Helen enjoyed it so much that she wants to race next year, which will be even better. Unfortunately, we did have to get back for old Nelly, so we could stay to watch the mixed team race in the afternoon. Next year, we’re going to book two nights at the campsite next to the event so that we can relax the night before and not have to rush off.

Finally, if you want to read a much better written report of this race, you can find my team mate, John Sutton’s blog here.

Extracted Trilogy by RR Haywood

RR Haywood has become one of the few self published success stories on Amazon, mostly because of his ‘realistic’ Zombie series of books. I haven’t read any of them, but as they are available on Kindle Unlimited, I probably will soon.

Anyway, this blog is to review his Extracted Trilogy, which much like one of his other books, A Town Called Discovery, is all about the end of the world and time travel. The basic premise of that book and this trilogy is mostly concerned with either minor and major details. In A Town Called Discovery, small changes are being made that will hopefully set the world back onto a course where it doesn’t end. In Extracted, the book looks at one very major incident, although we don’t discover this until the third book.

Extracted (Book #1)

In 2061 a young scientist invents a time machine so that he can prevent the death of his father. He manages to do this, but he also has a look 50 years into the future. All looks good. He then has another look and discovers that the world has ended, properly ended, not a single living thing. The young scientist informs his father, who sets about using the time machine to extract various individuals from the past who might have the required skills needed to fix the end of the world. The three individuals, Ben, Harry and Safa, all come from different eras, but were all killed heroically saving the lives of many. Because the time of their deaths are well known, and because they were all killed in huge explosions, destroying their bodies, they can be ‘extracted’ seconds before their death and no one would be the wiser.

Up to this point, the book was fairly good, even if the fight scenes are overly long and overly descriptive, and the ‘banter’ style dialogue does seem to go on forever. I felt that a little less talking and a little more action might help the plot along. Unfortunately, the middle third of the dies. Ben becomes seriously annoying, to the point that I skimmed through all mentions of him for over 50 pages. However, the end does make up for it some way.

Reading the reviews, and nearly everyone feels the same way about Ben. Would it really have been terrible if he had been told the truth about his fiancé right from the start. I ended up giving the book 3 out of 5 stars, and wasn’t sure if I would read the second or third books. However, I have signed up for a three month free trial with Kindle Unlimited, so I added them to my library.

Executed (Book #2)

Much better than Book #1. There might be some spoilers ahead. At the end of Book #1, Ben suggests that they require a specialist to lead the team, and they extract Miri, a former head of various covert Government organisations in America, think FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Most of the book centres around the attempted rescue of the time machine’s inventor and his family, as every government in the world thinks that the British have invented a time machine.

Behind all of this there is still the small matter that by 2211 the world has ended, and the plans to travel forward one year at a time, from 2061, to see when the world ends and how hasn’t happened yet. The top five operatives from British Intelligence are on the case to try and stop Ben and co, but one of their team is captured by Ben, Harry, Safa and Miri. Can she be trusted? On top of all this, there comes to light the existence of a second time machine.

This was a much better book. The characters are more rounded, and while the ‘banter’ style dialogue continues, there is a lot more action. Plus, Ben proves himself to be an asset to the team and can manage to get his head around different time streams and the various paradoxes of time travel. 4 out of 5.

Extinct (Book #3)

The books get better as the series progresses. The head of British Intelligence, who was deemed responsible for the debacle at the end of Book #2, has been retired in disgrace. Or has she? In a bunker, with a third time machine, she sets about finding and killing the other time travelling team. She tries to lure them out by making a small change to history with the Romans near Hadrian’s Wall in the year 123. Unfortunately, the other side have been temporarily incapacitated, and when the Roman alteration doesn’t work, British Intelligence attempts, and succeeds, with a much larger and more destructive display.

When the team notice the small change, they head to 2211, to find that the world hasn’t ended, but London is completely different. Some of the differences are quite small, the only meat available is insects, and coffee is synthesized and tastes like crap. From here, the race is on to stop the head of British Intelligence, who appears to have gone slightly mad, from doing anything even worse.

The third book doesn’t wrap everything up, as there are a whole load of actions that were carried out by the time teams that need to be put right, as well as ensuring that the world doesn’t end, but the book ends nicely before any of this work begins.

The final book wasn’t quite good enough to deserve 5 stars, but 4 felt a little harsh. Overall a very good trilogy, even though there was a great deal of graphic violence, swearing on every page and ‘banter’ style dialogue. Maybe the books are a little rough around the edges and could do with a little work from an experienced editor, or maybe that is part of the appeal.

Where Did We Go?

Last year we went away for a week near the town of Bakewell. We stayed in a lovely little cottage and went for walks, runs and even hired a tandem for a couple of hours to ride along the Monsal Trail. We also walked around Carsington Water, a large local reservoir. We also visited Chatsworth House, although as we had Nelly, our silly Pointer with us, we only walked around the gardens, which were absolutely stunning.

Me and Helen, my amazing wife, had a much needed break and totally relaxed. Our weekly exploration is excellently illustrated using Veloviewer.

A couple of months ago we went away for a week near the town of Cockermouth. Once again we had a much needed break, as well as walking and running all over the place, as can be seen in the map below.

I never blogged about our holiday near Bakewell. I was only two months into a new job, which was already proving to be stressful and time consuming. However, I managed to blog most days while we were in the northern lakes. I had dropped down to a four day week, which I would recommend to everyone. Currently I am three weeks with a different company, which again is proving to be stressful, but for different reasons. I accepted the job offer and then before I started they were bought by another company. We don’t become integrated until October, and it will take many months for everything to settle down, but here’s hoping the company we’ve been bought by prove to be good to work for. Fortunately, there are plenty of jobs out there for experienced air quality specialists, although I don’t want to become known for not being able to stick with a firm.

Anyway, this blog was supposed to be highlighting the excellent Strava add-on – Veloviewer, instead of a work related post.

Reaching out for more Jack Reacher

My seemingly endless quest to read all 500* books in the Jack Reacher series continues. (*Slight exaggeration).

Gone Tomorrow (Book #13)

Reacher is once again in New York, travelling on the subway late at night, when he spots a woman who ticks all of the boxes that would indicate that she is a suicide bomber. Putting his own life on the line, he tries to talk to the woman, who promptly pulls a gun out of her bag and kills herself. Reacher is questioned by the police and then by a couple of groups in the shadows, who may or may not be government agents.

On top of this, a prominent politician has become embroiled. What does he know? What is he hiding from Reacher? There is also a woman pretending to be a Russian journalist, looking for her father, supposedly an American soldier, who might now be a politician.

Another good Reacher thriller, although there are some issues. If there was only one copy of the photograph, why is it on a memory stick, and what was on the photograph that resulted in so many deaths? I think Lee Child was following John Grisham with this book, leaving a few loose threads hanging.

Worth Dying For (Book #15)

This book follows only a few days after the end of 61 Hours (Book #14), which finished with us not knowing if Reacher had survived. Spoiler, he survived. Anyway, Reacher is tired, injured and not at his best as he is dropped off in the middle of Nebraska. Drinking coffee in the only motel around, the owner receives a phone call saying that a woman has been attacked by her husband and requires medical assistance. The only doctor in the area is currently half drunk in the motel bar where Reacher is.

Reacher forces the doctor to visit the woman, and then Reacher searches for her husband to give him a dose of his own medicine. The husband is the son of the Duncan clan, a local family who rules the area and have done for over 20 years. Slowly more and more thugs arrive in the area, hell bent on taking out Reacher. What does all of this have to do with a missing girl, and what are the Duncan’s really up to?

This book was fairly grim, with very little levity, but as usual the plot ticks along nicely while Reacher gradually fills the local hospital with more and more thugs.

The Affair (Book #16)

This book takes us back a number of years to when Reacher was still in the army. A beautiful woman has been murdered, her throat slashed, in a small town adjacent to a large army base in rural Mississippi. Reacher is sent to investigate, but under cover and into the town, while another military policeman investigates within the army base.

Reacher meets the local sheriff, who just so happens to be a former military policeman, but with a different branch of the armed forces. There have been two other similar murders in the town, as well as two disappearances in Kosovo, where the men stationed at the army base have just come from. The army is looking for a cover up, something that Reacher won’t do. This case goes right to the top of the pentagon, and if Reacher survives, his career definitely won’t.

I must admit that I quite like it when Lee Child goes back to Reacher’s time in the army, especially with this book as it details Reacher’s last case and how he came to leave the army.

A Wanted Man (Book #17)

This book follows on immediately after Worth Dying For (Book #15). While Lee Child likes to write one book a year, the timeline of the books is much shorter. Early on we find out that Reacher was born in 1960. That would mean that in the latest books Reacher would be over 60 years old. While he is described as getting old, his date of birth doesn’t get mentioned in later books, apart from saying that it was in October.

Anyway, Reacher is unsuccessfully trying to hitch a ride out of Nebraska, when eventually a car stops for him. Inside are two men and a woman, all dressed in the same shirts, but definitely not together. Reacher guesses that the woman has been kidnapped and the men picked up Reacher to change the numbers in the car so that they can pass safely through a couple of road blocks.

Meanwhile, a local sheriff and an FBI agent are investigating a murder. Other government agencies suddenly turn up on the scene. How did the murderer escape? Was he on foot? Why did they carjack a random stranger? Reacher seems to have been implicated in the murder and carjacking, hence why he is a wanted man.

The start of this book is slow. I skimmed quite a few chapters until my interest was piqued. Unfortunately, halfway through the book slowed down once again. The ending was good, but this was probably the weakest Reacher book that I had read so far, hence why I only gave it 3 out of 5. I don’t think I’m alone here, as the average score is the lowest I have seen in this series.

The other three books reviewed here were all given 4 stars, which is fair, although a little lower than their average scores. Finally, I have finished another four books in the series, which I will blog about soon, with another five books in the series still to read, and one more book to be released in time for Christmas.

A Time for Mercy by John Grisham

I maintain that John Grisham books are the perfect books to pick up at charity shops or secondhand bookshops. He’s written loads of books and they all sell in the millions, meaning that almost every single charity shop will have at least one or two. My lovely wife bought this particular John Grisham book for me from the local Oxfam bookshop. We planned to spend the day at Loughrigg Tarn, swimming, cycling, eating and reading, and I didn’t want my Kindle to come to any harm.

I’m not on top of John Grisham’s books, and this one is apparently the third one in a series starting with A Time to Kill, written and released almost a lifetime ago. The same characters from that book appear in this one.

The lawyer, Jake Brigance, is forced by the local judge to take on a case, one which he is sure to lose. A 16 year old has shot and killed a popular local policeman. It turns out that the policeman was beating his girlfriend and her children, as well as drinking and gambling. The lawyer has to do his best for the young man, his pregnant sister and his mother. On top of this, the family of the policeman are out for revenge, and the cost of defending the young man could cost Jake his firm.

My thoughts on the book are that it is too long. There were whole chapters that I skim read. The jury selection chapter was a complete snooze fest. Added to this, the book feels unfinished. There are threads left hanging. The family who are out for revenge and Jake’s other large case are left unresolved. Will these be sorted out in the next book? It was however, a very easy book to read, and there was a huge plot twist during the trial which was simply brilliant, although it didn’t save the book.

I gave it 3 out of 5, which was possibly a little harsh, but I didn’t think that it deserved 4. I will continue to buy John Grisham’s books, but like Lee Child, I will endeavor to only buy them second hand.

National Triathlon Team Relays

The team relays have been going for 30 years, and this year I am part of a team from the City of Lancaster Triathlon Club, or COLT. The relays are quite simple, although very chaotic. The distances are approximately 500m swim, 15km bike and a 5km run, with four people on each team. The format is also simple, with the first person swimming, and then handing to the second person, who then also swims, and onto the third and fourth person. As the fourth person finishes the swim they hand over to the first person who starts cycling, and so on until the fourth person finishes the run.

There used to be an elite wave where all four members raced at the same time, and they couldn’t start the next leg until all of them had finished, and the time would only finish when the last runner had crossed the line. I don’t know if this is still an option.

Anyway, it is fast and furious, fairly chaotic, especially for the first swimmer. This will be the fourth time that I’ve raced, with all of the other times being part of a team from Oxford Triathlon. I raced in 1999, 2000 and 2003.

In 1999 we were 48th Male Team, with a combined time of 3 hours 31′ 42”.

In 2000 we were 12th Mixed Team, with a combined time of 3 hours 28’11”.

In 2003 we were 16th Male Team. Unfortunately I didn’t write down our combined time, and I have been unable to find the results from that year, but I can safely say that all four of us were fairly speedy.

This year, 19 years after my last appearance, will be a lot more sedate, although hopefully I won’t let the team down. I will blog about it after the event, with some photos.

Dark Corners

Dark Corners is an Amazon exclusive series of seven short stories, all either slightly dark or full blown horror, and they were available within my new Kindle Unlimited subscription. As the stories are short, my reviews will also have to be short so as not to give the plot away.

Hannah Beast by Jennifer McMahon

It is Halloween and a teenage girl wants to go out with her friends dressed up as the local myth Hannah Beast, but her mother won’t let her. 30 plus years ago, a lonely girl, Hannah, was lured away from her home by a group of girls, who pretended to be-friend her.

Not very original, and the ending was fairly obvious from a long way out. 3 out of 5, which is possibly a little generous.

The Sleep Tight Motel by Lisa Unger

A woman on the run arrives at a run down motel in the middle of nowhere. The owner tries to help her in any way that he can, but the police are on her tail, as is her ex-boyfriend. Was she guilty of murder or was she an unwitting accomplish.

Quite a good little tale where I didn’t guess the ending until I was almost there. 4 out of 5, which is fair.

There’s a Giant Trapdoor Spider Under Your Bed by Edgar Cantero

A group of young friends can bring ideas to life, hence why there is a giant spider under the bed, along with people in the mirrors and shadows that will kill.

Completely bonkers. I loved it. The story didn’t make any sense in the slightest, but for me it was the best book in the series, although I only gave it 4 out of 5. I might be going against the tide here, as the overall score is one of the lowest for the series.

Miao Dao by Joyce Carol Oates

A young girl is being bullied at school, and her mother has a new boyfriend who isn’t what he appears to be. The girl adopts a feral cat, who looks out for her. There are murders, but the dead weren’t good people, although death might have been too harsh.

This story was the longest in the series, but would have been better losing a bunch of pages as the ending was again fairly obvious from early on. 3 out of 5.

The Tangled Woods by Emily Raboteau

A family are travelling across America to stay at a Harry Potter styled all inclusive resort. The Dad’s mistress is pregnant, his wife is an airhead and their child is a spoiled brat. The resort is full of rednecks and the theme park is run down with most of the attractions not working.

I ended up wanting something horrible to happen to all three of the main characters. 3 out of 5.

The Remedy by Adam Haslett

Derrick suffers from an unknown disease. He bumps into an old friend who recommends a strange doctor who works out of an industrial estate near to an airport. The doctor is very expensive and doesn’t really do anything, although Derrick starts to feel much better. I don’t know why. The doctor cures him in the end by killing him.

Sorry, I’ve given away the ending, but this was the weakest story in the series. 2 out of 5, and that is generous.

Oak Avenue by Brandi Reeds

A young married couple and their two year old move back into the town where the Dad grew up, into an old derelict house. It is a small town and the women struggles to fit in. Her in laws ignore her and all but one of the town folk are rude to her. The house is haunted by a malevolent spirit.

Not a very original story, but it had its moments. 4 out of 5, although that is probably too generous.

Overall The Dark Corners series was disappointing, with only one or two worth reading. If I was you, I would only read the stories that were written by an author that you already liked.

Kindle Unlimited

‘You can’t just keep buying books’ my lovely wife said to me a couple of weeks ago. She does have a point, all of our bookcases are completely full with books, and I’ve still got half a dozen Jack Reacher books next to the bed which I haven’t read.

I have come up with two solutions. If I buy a new book, an old book has to be removed from a shelf and taken to a charity shop. I have also signed up for a trial with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. It is usually £7.99 a month, but I’ve manged to find a three month free trial.

Positives – I can easily spend more than £7.99 in a month on books, and I won’t be adding to our bookshelves, or impacting the environment with deliveries etc.

Negatives – Not every book is available on Kindle Unlimited. Some of the biggest publishers are not signed up, so Stephen King or Lee Child books are not included. However, there are still almost 2 million titles that are available, which includes many of the more obscure horror or travel writers that I enjoy.

It appears to be quite easy to use. If a book is listed as part of Unlimited, you click on it and it is added to your library, although you can only have 10 books at a time, which I doubt will be a problem. Any new books added to your library are automatically synced to you device, in my case the cheapest Kindle available. It is my third Kindle in 12 years. I stood on my first one, breaking the screen, and my second one suddenly died after eight years of use. My current Kindle is touch screen, which I really didn’t like to begin with, but I’ve got used to it now.

Anyway, there are plenty more blogs out there comparing the pros and cons of Kindle Unlimited, but I will update everyone in a couple of months time.

Two more books about Trump

I’m not a fan of Trump and I don’t live in America. If I did, I wouldn’t be a Republican. However, I do like reading about the train wreck that was Trump’s presidency.

Both of these books are sequels, having previously written about Trump, and they deal with the dying days of his single term in office.

I Alone Can Fix It – words straight from the mouth of the very stable genius.

Landslide – How Trump described his ‘win’ in 2020. Remind me again why the candidate with the most votes doesn’t become the president.

Both books are full of old news, especially with the summer of live televised committee hearings into the insurrection. Why did people vote for a man like Trump? Those people who didn’t want to vote for Clinton saying that the Supreme Court would never overturn Roe vs Wade…

Why isn’t he in jail, and why wasn’t he jailed, along with his whole family many years ago? Why is he still relevant within the Republican party even today? Possibly his time is coming to an end with the FBI raid at Mar-a-lago earlier this week, but maybe not. He’s not called teflon Don for nothing.

I dislike Trump. I don’t hate him because hate is too strong an emotion for a man like him. America, it is time for change, it is time to change how judges are appointed to the Supreme Court. It is time to change the fact that every state has two senators, even though Wyoming has a population of only 585,000 and California has a population of almost 40 million. The American Independence was rooted in the fact that there shouldn’t be taxation without representation. Surely Californian’s have very little representation at the moment.

Bill Hodges Trilogy by Stephen King

Have I mentioned how behind I am with reviewing books that I’ve read? I finished these three books well over a year ago. Can I remember what happened? Probably, but only with a little help from Goodreads.

Mr Mercedes is the first book in the trilogy. The book starts with hundreds of unemployed people queuing to get into a job fair. Suddenly, a man driving a Mercedes plows into the queue of people, killing 8 and injuring many more. In the confusion he manages to drive away and is never caught.

Bill Hodges is an ex-cop and is haunted by the one big case that he never managed to solve. He is contemplating suicide when he receives a letter taunting him, supposedly from the killer. The letter has the opposite effect and revitalizes Bill, who becomes hell bent on catching him, with only two close friends to help him. Time is against him as the next target could kill thousands.

Finders Keepers, the second book doesn’t really follow on from the first book. The killer only features in a very minor role, possibly added as an after thought to tie the characters together, otherwise this book would have been a stand alone book. I guess that the publishers realised that there was more to be made if it was part of a series.

Anyway, the book revolves around a reclusive writer and his biggest fan. The writer hasn’t published any books for years, but rumour has it that he still writes every day. The fan tracks the author down and steals all of his unpublished books and a safe full of money, before killing the author. Knowing that the authorities are closing in, he hides the books and the money.

Decades later a young man finds that money and books and uses the money to help his family out of their financial woes. He also tries to sell the unpublished books, which is where it all falls apart. By this time, Bill Hodges has set up a detective agency, and they become involved.

End of Watch is more like Stephen King. Full of supernatural elements as Bill Hodges and his team try to prove that the killer from book one is still a danger. It is difficult to say too much about the final book without giving away the ending from the first book. What I can say is that the killer has managed to link minds with other people and even take control of their bodies. This isn’t going to end well, and can Bill and his crew put a stop to him once and for all.

My overall thoughts about the trilogy is that they probably wouldn’t have been published if they hadn’t been written by Stephen King. They are not his strongest works by a long way, with the first two books being not much more than sub-par thrillers. However, as we all know, Stephen King could publish his weekly shopping list and it would sell by the thousand (million?). I’m still a fan, but this trilogy is definitely one for the fans only.