Monthly Archives: March 2020

new restrictions

New measures were introduced yesterday evening that, despite government reluctance to use the term, are effectively a full lockdown for the country. We are only allowed to leave home for essential tasks (food shopping/collection, caring for the elderly or vulnerable, collection of medicines, travel to essential work) and are only allowed to exercise within 2km of our homes.

This last bit sounds very restrictive but it’s amazing how much space is within a 2km radius. A software developer in Wexford was quick off the mark and has a handy online tool to show you what this looks like.

my 2km radius

A member of a cycling WhatsApp group pointed out that a 2km radius is equal to a circumference of 12.5km and armed with both bits of information I was able to create an 11km loop on Strava that stays within the new guidelines.

the maths

A few cycling friends have used hill repeats for training but despite considering it I’ve never bothered. This loop is effectively hill repeats as there is one big climb in the middle with an average of 5.4% over 2km with three sections of 10%+ giving an elevation change of 145m. It’s a tough old climb and despite tiredness setting in I was surprised how consistent I was on the four repeats I did today on a total distance of 51km including the descent from home and climb back up.

elevation profile
click the image to view on strava

On my first loop I was hailed by John, one of my fellow Club mates, outside his house as he was out cutting the grass. It was a very pleasant and novel experience to be talking to someone (maintaining a 2m social distance) other than family and shop assistants for the first time in 2 weeks, even if our conversation was unsurprisingly dominated by the virus.

the treatment

The Treatment (Jack Caffrey #2) by Mo Hayder

From Goodreads:

Midsummer, and in an unassuming house on a quiet residential street on the edge of Brockwell Park in south London, a husband and wife are discovered. Badly dehydrated, they’ve been bound and beaten, the husband is close to death. But worse is to come: their young son is missing.

When DI Jack Caffery of the Met’s AMIT squad is called in to investigate, the similarities to events in his own past make it impossible for him to view this new crime with the necessary detachment. And as Jack digs deeper, as he attempts to hold his own life together in the face of ever more disturbing revelations about both the past and the present, the real nightmare begins…

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This is an excellent book. The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is that it takes a little while to develop momentum but it definitely rocks along when it does!

This is no easy reader though, it’s very, very dark and right to the very end. Jack Caffrey himself is carrying a huge amount of mental baggage and is on the verge of a mental breakdown for most of the book. Pretty much everyone in this book is either going through intense mental and physical stress or is causing it through sheer evil.

The storyline is horrific in a lot of the subject matter it covers (murder, rape, child abduction, torture, paedophilia) and the style of writing pushes the book close to the horror genre as opposed to simply a thriller. In fact Benedicte’s story reminded me quite a lot of Stephen King’s “Cujo” with the mother and child trapped in the car.

The way the author constructs this story makes it very fast paced. The story is being told from 3-4 different aspects as it charges to a conclusion from about the middle of the book. Despite the very difficult subject matter I found it very difficult to put down and would easily rate it as one of the best I’ve read for quite a while. It won’t be for everyone though!

the desert spear

The Desert Spear (Demon Cycle #2) by Peter V Brett

From Goodreads:

The sun is setting on humanity. The night now belongs to voracious demons that prey upon a dwindling population forced to cower behind half-forgotten symbols of power.

Legends tell of a Deliverer: a general who once bound all mankind into a single force that defeated the demons. But is the return of the Deliverer just another myth? Perhaps not.

Out of the desert rides Ahmann Jardir, who has forged the desert tribes into a demon-killing army. He has proclaimed himself Shar’Dama Ka, the Deliverer, and he carries ancient weapons–a spear and a crown–that give credence to his claim.

But the Northerners claim their own Deliverer: the Warded Man, a dark, forbidding figure.

Once, the Shar’Dama Ka and the Warded Man were friends. Now they are fierce adversaries. Yet as old allegiances are tested and fresh alliances forged, all are unaware of the appearance of a new breed of demon, more intelligent—and deadly—than any that have come before.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s a really good story with engaging and strong characters with flaws and strengths and in the main the writing is engaging and draws you along. However, the structure of the story almost broke the book and some of the subject matter is difficult to read and to justify.

The first book is written from the point of view of the Northern characters Arlene, Rojer and Leesha but the majority of the first half of this book focuses on Jardir, the leader of the desert tribes and self-declared “Deliverer“. He was an important element of Arlen’s development into “The Painted Man” but a relatively minor character. Here he is given centre stage and becomes one of the central characters. The author also does this later in the book with Renna from Arlen’s childhood in Tibbett’s Brook. Although she isn’t as central as Jardir I feel she will take on a much bigger role in the third book.

Jardir’s story goes all the way back to his childhood and shows his training as a warrior and his rise to supremacy. The depiction of this brutal, male dominated and extremist society is an intriguing blend of a medieval Arabic and Eastern society with a religion that sounds very like a form of extremist Islam. The warrior caste is the pinnacle of society with the religious leaders a close second. Everyone else is treated with complete disdain and especially the female population which are subject to regular abuse and rape and only valued for their ability to produce new warriors.

At the very beginning I thought I’d started reading the wrong book but once I realised what was happening I really got into this storyline and really enjoyed the depiction of the desert society and Jardir’s rise to power. It all sounded very familiar but completely new how the author put it all together. I also really enjoyed how the author re-told the relationship between Arlen and Jardir from the new point of view and especially how Jardir struggles to live with his decision to betray “the Par’chin“.

Eventually the Northern and desert storylines meet and this is where I struggled. The sudden shift from one to the other was disconcerting and clumsy and it runs the risk of turning readers away.

However, once you get into the new story (which is the old story!) it soon picks up pace and draws you back in. Having watched Arlen’s character break down and reform as “The Painted Man” in the first book we now see him regain a lot of his humanity as he revisits his painful past and comes to terms with many traumatic events in his life.

Leesha is back and as suggested in the first book, has become a strong leader for the Herb Gatherers and the renamed Deliverer’s Hollow. I really like her as a character but the author seems to struggle with her and makes a real hash of her relationship with Jardir. It sits badly with her depiction so far and seems to depend on her implausible difficulties finding a suitable lover.

My biggest struggle with this book is the author’s frequent use of rape as a character development tool. All of the main characters, bar Rojer, have experienced some form of rape by the end of this book. Depictions of male and female rape, incest and widespread sexual abuse are difficult story lines and while the characters needed trauma in their lives I feel that the author could have used a different method to do this.

Overall this is a really good book and despite some flaws follows well from the first instalment and sets the story really well for the third.

final judgement

Final Judgement (Lou Mason #5) by Joel Goodman

From Amazon:

A little bit of luck is better than a ton of gold. But when Avery Fish found a headless dead man wrapped in plastic in the trunk of his Cadillac, he needed more than a little luck. Much more. He needed Lou Mason.

Fish may be a con man but Mason has to prove he’s not a murderer. To save Fish, he teams up with a woman from his past, now an FBI agent with a hidden agenda of her own.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Best way to describe this book is “forgettable”. In fact I finished it just over a week ago and had to read some reviews and summaries to remind myself what happened!

The author writes well. He has created a couple of good central characters that are interesting and likeable. However, in this book he then throws in a host of other characters and messes with the central characters so that you get a very superficial and confusing mix of people that are difficult to keep a handle on.

The reappearance of Kelly was a bit unexpected but her character has changed considerably and not in a good way. Can’t help but feel that he would have been better with a completely new character instead.

I also didn’t like how the author handled Lou’s relationship with Abby. I don’t know why I didn’t like it but I think it just didn’t feel believable. The way it played out didn’t really suit either of their personalities.

I kept at this book as it was good enough to keep going and I did want to see how it ended. I’ve seen others criticise the ending but it couldn’t really go any other way to be fair. Overall I’ve liked the Lou Mason character and the author’s style of writing. I think I’ll give some of his other series a go too.

barnes summit

Yesterday was such a good day with warm Spring sunshine for probably the first time this year that I decided not to waste it and threw my gear together in the afternoon and headed for Barnes Gap forest.

I fancied something a bit different from Friday’s spin and thought the trails up there would be good with a possible climb to the summit in the back of my mind.

I was aware of the works in the forest as there is a construction company installing a windfarm. On my last visit they were working between the summit and the quarry with minimal security at the quarry end but safe enough as the site shut down for the weekend. Big change now! The works have spread out along most of the main trails with massive sections quarried out to provide stone for the widening of the trails for increased access for construction vehicles. Most of the trails have changed from potholed gravel and stone to chunky hardcore and rock. Where the vehicles have been working and travelling the trails are a mixture of smooth and some rock but the newer sections are very rocky making the going particularly difficult.

On my loop I entered and left the forest twice each. Neither of the two entrances were signed but both exits were. If I’d seen the signs early on I probably wouldn’t have gone but by the time I saw the construction I was committed and decided to go ahead, especially as all the vehicles were parked up for the weekend. The only security was at the quarry end again but he couldn’t have cared less about me as he was standing chatting to someone.

Halfway round brought me to the summit trail. No windmills going in up there so the track was in good shape. I headed up with the option to retreat if my legs gave up on me. It’s a tough old climb this one at 2.2km and an average gradient of 7.4%. According to Strava it’s an elevation increase of 165m but I’ve no idea how that reflects on other climbs. All I know is that it’s pretty relentless with very little respite and a number of steep sections hitting 12-14% and I’m sure 20% on one of the final sections. The steepness is a real challenge but it’s the loose gravel on some of the steep sections and especially on the tight corners that are the most difficult. Pleased to say I made it to the top without having to stop and even managed a PB for my 3rd attempt taking 45secs off my previous time.

pb but still only 15th overall!

The views from the top were amazing. I’ve been up here a good few times, on foot as well as on the bike and this is definitely the best views I’ve had. I hung around for a few photos but the windchill was significant enough to speed me along.

The drop back down isn’t for the fainthearted either! The steep descents are slippy now with the loose gravel and the turns are tight enough to test. With images of A&E flashing through my head I kept on the brakes and took it fairly handy all the way down.

At the base I continued on through the construction site, stopping for photos before exiting out on to the main road. A short stretch of tarmac and back into the forest to loop around back to the car to give me almost 19km and 400m of climbing in 1hr 20min and a big smile on my face.

i went up the left hand one
click the image to view on strava

mother’s day

If St Patrick’s Day was strange then Mother’s Day wasn’t going to be much different. We wanted to do as much as possible today while being sensible so we went to visit Mum and with a great idea from Catriona we wrote Happy Mother’s Day on A4 sheets and greeted her from outside her garden wall having already left her present outside the front door. It was a bit weird but we got to say what we wanted and she and Dad both stayed safe.

Catriona’s wish was a walk on the beach. We went to Rathmullan as it’s a big wide beach with plenty of space for keeping away from others and allowed us to visit Catriona’s Mum’s grave on the way.

When we arrived in Rathmullan the car park was as busy as I’ve seen it with about 40 cars parked up already. Having seen pictures of crowds in the Wicklow Mountains yesterday we were on the verge of turning away but as there was nobody actually in the car park we decided to have a look down the beach.

It was heartening to see how everyone was behaving. There were a lot of people out walking, lots of couples and lots of small family groups. Everyone was very responsible with everyone well spread out up and down the beach with lots of space. We saw a couple of groups of people meeting who knew each other but just waving. One pair of younger couples were kind of messing but one of the guys was pretty clear about the need to stay apart and made sure the other guy didn’t come too close while still being able to have a conversation.

It was really uplifting to see everyone enjoying the day, the first of the proper Spring weather and to be able to put aside the worries and concerns for just a little while but still being sensible enough to stay safe.

Catriona’s favourite thing is to walk on the beach and it was great we were able to give her that today.

happy mother’s day

isolation distraction

One of the biggest concerns about avoiding the virus is the impact of isolation on people’s mental health. Luckily it’s Spring and the weather is reasonably good so it’s not hard to get outside and do something. The boys have been spending a good bit of time kicking the football and Owen has even started running in a bid to keep up his football and Gaelic fitness when he can’t train.

It’s very easy to fall into bad habits, staying up late at night and lying in late in the morning as well as eating all the wrong things. It’s also very easy to lose motivation and get very lazy. While I’ve definitely been quite lazy I’ve also made an effort to get out and off my arse too.

Since Monday I’ve gone for a walk each day (3 x 6km and 1 x 10km) and today was a biking day with almost perfect cycling weather.

My MTB has suffered much of the same maintenence neglect as my road bike so yesterday I spend the afternoon giving it a deep clean with a big focus on the drive system which was full of gunk. Today I spent 2 hrs and 30km getting it clattered in mud from a variety of local forest trails!

click on the image to view on strava

this is the way

Wikipedia describes this series as a “space Western” and it really does have strong undertones of the “Spaghetti Western” genre and echoes of Clint Eastwood in particular. It also reminded me very strongly of David Gemmel’s Waylander character. The Mandalorian is a foundling, taken in by the warrior clan and raised to follow their creed. He’s working as a mercenary and bounty hunter and it is suggested quite strongly that he has a dodgy past.

I found it really enjoyable and would rate it as ⭐⭐⭐⭐ overall. It’s far from perfect with some wooden acting and glaring plot holes but the special effects are good, it feels connected to the original Star Wars story (set 5 years after Return of The Jedi) and the characters are really engaging. The main character is particularly interesting with his back story and the story of his tribe, teased out through the series. There are some clever reveals in e8 that still leave you looking for more and also plenty of scope for a second season.

I’m not a hard core Star Wars fan but even so there were plenty of connections to the original films with settings, characters and references to connect them that gave this series a solid and familiar feel.

I’d say most Star Wars fans should enjoy this but it’s important that you don’t take it too seriously – as the comedy elements of the final episode show, it doesn’t really take itself too seriously either.

Oh, it’s also got a baby Yoda!

st patrick’s day 2020

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a rare speech to the nation this evening and as he saidit’s been a St Patrick’s Day like no other

Since I’ve come home from Switzerland I’ve been self-isolating as much as possible. I’m not due back to work until Thursday but they have asked me to stay off longer. No timeline given and no determination on pay but I’m expecting a minimum of 14 days and social welfare emergency payment only which will be a significant reduction in pay.

When I first received the message I was still in Switzerland and despite the growing crisis I still felt annoyed and that it was an over reaction. Switzerland was green status and despite large numbers of positive cases there were very few in our region and probably less chance of contracting the virus than at home. Since returning home that has changed to amber status yesterday, the government have recommended 14 day restricted movement for all travellers returning to Ireland since yesterday and Switzerland have closed their borders and gone into partial lockdown today. With that, the mood in the country and the increasingly difficult news in the media I’m no longer annoyed!

I did go out at one stage today. We needed a few items from the shop so I went to the local Mace. The mood was as weird as it gets. Everyone eyeballing everyone else, making sure they knew where everyone was and mentally willing each other to stay back. The checkout had the crisp baskets pulled out to enforce a 2m distance between the staff and customer with the girl stepping well back and wearing protective gloves. Payment was made via card and tapped to reduce contact further. It was a horribly sad atmosphere.

the one that #stayedaway saved the rest

We’re a country renowned for our friendliness and today is our national holiday. Instead of celebrating and enjoying ourselves we’re hunkered down in our homes, expecting the worst and hoping others stay away. Self-isolation is a key strategy to controlling the spread of the virus but it’s damaging to the fabric of society.

One minister stated yesterday that “the normal we had a few weeks ago won’t be the normal we have again“. I hope our new normal is still a good one and that we come out the other side as good people in a good society once again.

last gasp

For our last day we decided to go to Finhaut for one last visit, to have a beer in Beau Soleil and say goodbye to Heléne. We walked the normal rural road on the way over but traffic is so quiet due to the outbreak we were able to come back by the main road. It was great to see the valley and villages from a completely different angle as well as have an easier, less hilly walk home. We extended the walk into Frontière for a final drink before heading back to Le Châtelard.

Tomorrow is an early start with the train to Geneva leaving at 625am and hopefully not too much of an adventure getting home with Covid-19 on the loose.

click the image to view on strava