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I’m not going to pretend to be a huge fan of Linkin Park. I’m familiar with their music and style, and I like quite a few of their songs, but I am not a fan in the way that my wife is a fan. Their music has proven inspiration to her.

Much of what they (and any band or artist does) is in the writing. It’s in the pouring of the heart and soul into the music and lyrics. Truly great artists give something of themselves in every line, every word, every brushstroke or scene or song lyric. Whether you like Linkin Park, love Linkin Park, or hate them, you cannot deny that Chester gave something of himself when he wrote songs and performed them. I’ve seen Linkin Park live – I know how much energy and passion went into his performances.

His death, aged just 41, is both a huge shock and also a damning indictment of the way society views mental health and masculinity. I’ve written about this before – expression of feelings, in any way, acknowledgement of pain, especially for men (but it affects everyone) is seen as shameful. Progress has been made to remove these stigmas but make no mistake, they are still there.

Chester was a tortured soul. You need only listen to the lyrics of his songs to know that. This man was a victim of abuse as a child and the scars of this have, sadly, remained with him. He had his battles with alcohol and drugs, and with the death of his friend Chris Cornell (also by suicide), he reached a tipping point.

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This isn’t an isolated issue. The suicide rate in the USA is at its highest for three decades. It’s fuelled by comments like this, from Korn guitarist Brian Welch:

Welch wrote: “Honestly, Chester’s an old friend who we’ve hung with many times, and I have friends who are extremely close to him, but this is truly pissing me off! How can these guys send this message to their kids and fans?! I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sempethetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!! [sic]”

Did Chester have the support he needed? Did Chris Cornell? And what of the thousands of people who feel the same way? When there is still an expectation that admitting to problems is a weakness, something to be condemned, then the problem won’t go away. If we bottle up our trauma, if we are afraid to talk about it, it will only get worse. What happens when we take away any recourse for someone to get help with their problems? They become desperate. Let’s end that.


Meet Jodie Whittaker. If you’re like me, you’ll be completely unfamiliar with her past work. She’s been in a showed called Broadchurch (alongside a former Doctor as it happens), but I’ve never seen it. I cannot therefore pass judgment on her acting ability. I can talk about the kerfuffle that’s erupted over her reveal as the 13th Doctor.

The issue? Previous actors to play the Time Lord from Gallifrey in Doctor Who have been men. This is the first time a woman has been cast in the role (though not the first time we’ve had a Time Lord change from male to female). Doctor Who has been subtly (or not so subtly, depending upon your point of view) preparing the audience for this possibility for a few years – but for some sections of the fandom, this is a bridge too far. 

If you’re on Twitter, the hashtags #13thDoctor and #Doctor13 are already providing a huge volume of misogynistic, sexist tweets. I am not at all surprised. However, there has also been a huge outpouring of support for Jodie. 

My own view? The same as always – I will judge the show on the acting and the writing. I don’t care if the Doctor is a woman – it makes no difference to me. What will make a difference is whether or not the stories are a little more energetic next season. We’ll have to wait and see!

Halfway point of the season reached, and a race that, whilst not hugely exciting, delivers a pivotal shift in the world championship fight. That’s the short summary of the British Grand Prix. The long version? Well, if you’re a Lewis Hamilton fan the weekend was near perfect. In qualifying Hamilton put in a stonking lap to secure pole, finishing up some half a second quicker than Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. It was the start of a dominant weekend for Hamilton, and ultimately Mercedes, though it didn’t start out that way. Valtteri Bottas received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change (the same issue that afflicted Hamilton a week earlier), and by being out qualified by both Ferraris, would therefore start ninth. 

Q1 threw up variable weather conditions that allowed a very rare sight – the McLaren of Fernando Alonso finishing top of the charts. A 30-place penalty (what a joke) for replacing several parts always meant Alonso would start at the back of the field, but his effort was a timely reminder of his talent. Meanwhile, penalties also meant the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo would join Alonso on the back row. The main permutation, as far as the title battle was concerned, was that Hamilton started on pole and Raikkonen had pipped Sebastian Vettel to second. Would Ferrari swap their men around early on? They wouldn’t get the chance.

Hamilton got a clean start and so did Raikkonen, but Max Verstappen got his Red Bull away very strongly, going side-by-side with Vettel around the first couple of corners and muscling into third. Hamilton and Raikkonen pulled away from Verstappen whilst Vettel couldn’t find a way past. With Bottas moving up the order, there was a very real threat of Vettel being caught, but aggressive defending from Verstappen (something of a trademark of his) kept Vettel at bay. 

Further back, a first lap incident involving the Toro Rosso pair of Danill Kvyat and Carlos Sainz ended with Sainz being dumped out of the race. The two had been jockeying for position and Kvyat ran wide, rejoining the track by bumping into Sainz. Kvyat (whose career is in the balance) kept going but damage plus a penalty meant he would retire early. There was also disappointment for Joylen Palmer – his Renault failed on the warm-up lap, ending his race before it even began. 

Beyond that it was a straightforward race for the most part – Vettel managed the undercut on Verstappen to move into third and Bottas would also end up getting ahead of the Dutchman by the time Bottas finally stopped (being on an inverted strategy of soft to supersoft). Bottas would catch and pass Vettel in fairly short order once he’d stopped, and then for the final few laps he would chase after Raikkonen.

Before getting to the finale (which is where the ‘pivotal’ nature of the race comes in), a word on a few other proceedings. Ricciardo successfully scythed his way up the order, demonstrating his enjoyment of the fight along the way. He would ultimately rise to fifth place, and earned himself the title of driver of the day for his efforts. Nico Hulkenberg gave another highly credible performance to take sixth, whilst Force India got both cars into the points, with Ocon eighth and Perez ninth. After a poor performance from Williams in qualifying, Felipe Massa fought back to finish 10th. Meanwhile, Stoffel Vandoorne, who had actually qualified in the top ten for McLaren, just missed out on the points.

So the finale – with Bottas chasing down Raikkonen but rapidly running out of time, fate would smile down upon the Silver Arrow in the form of a tyre failure for Raikkonen- his front-left tyre started to peel away, forcing Kimi to pit, which allowed Vettel into third – damage limitation on the points lost to Hamilton, or so it seemed. The problem was, with the cars on the penultimate lap, Vettel would suffer the same problem! Having also been forced to pit, Vettel would drop to seventh, with the consequence of his championship lead being cut from 20 points to just one. All of a sudden, the title fight is in the balance, and Bottas is only 23 points (less than a win) behind as well. The destiny of the 2017 title hasn’t been decided, but Ferrari will be hoping the nature of the next race in Hungary will better suit them, and will want to use the summer break to make whatever improvements they can. Mercedes have upped their game, with Hamilton winning at Silverstone for the fifth time (equalling Jim Clark and Alain Prost), and also his fourth in a row here. 

Hamilton got pole, led every lap, and I believe he also took the fastest lap on his way to victory. The dominant nature of the win will alarm Ferrari. They need to bounce back, and quickly.

RickOConnell

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Ok, time for a slightly different take on my movie reviews – comparing a classic, to a remake – or is that a classic remake to a modern-day remake? Or a modern-day classic remake of a classic vs a modern-day remake of a modern-day remake?!

I don’t know. It’s confusing, but Tom Cruise’s latest stunt-filled mayhem is a remake of a remake, with Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy being a remake of the 1932 The Mummy.

Still with me? Good, because thre’ll be a quiz later, and I will need help with the questions, let alone the answers – and just to be even more confusing, there was another filmed called The Mummy released in 1959, though it’s the 1932 film upon which Brendan Fraser’s film is based, and in turn, Tom Cruise’s film is based on Fraser’s film. My comparison is between the Fraser and Cruise editions – so, let’s weigh up!

Firstly, Fraser’s character of Rick O’Connell is a much warmer, friendlier guy than Cruise’s Nick Morton. Part of that lies in the writing, part of it is from Fraser’s natural charm. He and Rachel Weisz have a good chemistry from the word go, and Arnold Vosloo brings a strong presence as the titular Mummy. The 1999 edition harks back to the classic adventure/monster film genre, capturing the spirit of the era, and doesn’t take itself too seriously either. In contrast, Nick Morton (Cruise’s character) is not some roguish figure of charm, but a colder figure, a less likable man, from the start. Sofia Boutella is creepy as the Mummy, there’s no denying that, but not particularly memorable, Annabelle Wallis is Jenny Hasley, an archeologist whose character exists solely to move the story on, and Russell Crowe shows up as an apparently important character, and keystone for the wider universe Universal Studios are trying to build, but he is not exactly amazing in this either.

Even the CGI, whilst better (as it should be, some 18 years on), isn’t as good as it should be. It’s not a huge leap forward from 1999.

In short, for a fun movie that lets you forget your life for a couple of hours, I’d always choose 1999’s The Mummy over the new one!

Against the backdrop of Silverstone’s owners saying ‘no’ to extending the British Grand Prix past 2019, comes the halfway point of the 2017 season. The short version of the contract issues surrounding this event is that costs are rising and the venue can no longer afford these costs, so it is cutting short its contract. The other previous venues to host F1 races in the UK (Brands Hatch and Donnington) are not currently in a position to take over, so a few ideas are being mooted, such as having the event in London. At this point, nothing is certain.

Nothing is certain in the championship either. Valtteri Bottas won in Austria last time around to arguably put himself into contention for the title, whilst his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton will be desperate to re-assert himself, after seeing one likely win in Baku slip through his grasp, and taking a penalty last time around. He is 20 points behind lead Ferrari man Sebastian Vettel, hardly insurmountable, but he will want to start putting wins on the board to apply some pressure to the championship leader.

If recent years are anything to go by, Silverstone is the perfect place for him to begin that run. He won here in a rain-soaked event in 2008, and has won here in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (every year of the hybrid turbo era). He appears to relish the superfast sequence that is Maggots and Becketts (turns 10-14), a part of track that every driver has nothing but praise for. It has been suggested that Stowe (turn 15) will be flat-out this year, which should make for a pretty dramatic spectacle. Hamilton would settle for a boring race, one where he leads from the start to finish.

The venue named after a modern F1 success story has, ironically, not proven to be a successful track for Red Bull Racing – would that be changing here?

Not if the qualifying story would bear out in the race. As is more or less normal, it was a front four comprising of the Mercedes’ and Ferraris – though Lewis Hamilton would not in fact start in third – an unauthorised gearbox change meant a five-place grid penalty – he would start eighth. His teammate Valtteri Bottas took his second career pole, fending off Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen would slot the second Ferrari into third, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen putting the Red Bulls fourth and fifth respectively.

Also between Hamilton and the leaders would be the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who was impressive in qualifying, and the Force India of Sergio Perez. Up until qualifying Force India had looked out of sorts, yet managed to get both Perez and Esteban Ocon into Q3. Ocon would start ninth, with the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz (who had his wings clipped a little by Red Bull bosses for expressing a desire to move on earlier in the week) completing the top ten.

There was considerably less joy for Williams. After Lance Stroll’s excellent showing to snatch third in Baku, an upgrade to the car on a circuit that would surely benefit from the powerful Mercedes engine proved anti-climatic. Stroll was 18th and Felipe Massa 17th – a dismal performance.

The main sideshow though, was about the fallout from Hamilton and Vettel’s contentious collision in Baku. Did the two men now hate each other? Hamilton had made it clear he felt Vettel’s punishment was too lenient – and refused to shake Vettel’s hand when asked to by a reporter. Christian Horner, the boss of Red Bull, who had been Vettel’s boss for several years, was on record as saying he believed the pair now hated each other. Would this intensifying rivalry provide extra spice going into the race?

As for the race itself – I haven’t seen it. I was working, plus couldn’t get my tablet set up, so I haven’t seen one tiny bit of footage. From what I can gather, the race was pretty uneventful – a minor controversy over whether or not Bottas jumped the start (according to the FIA, he didn’t), and a first-lap accident that put Verstappen and Fernando Alonso out. Aside from that, Hamilton was able to rise to fourth place, whilst Bottas held off Vettel to claim his second career win. The results mean Vettel now leads Hamilton by 20 points, with Bottas a further 15 points back.

Bottas a Contender?

Valtteri was largely expected to play second fiddle to Hamilton but a few moments of bad luck and a few off-days for Lewis, plus a couple of wobbles from Vettel, have brought the Finn firmly into play. If he were to get a couple more wins, with Hamilton and Vettel tripping over each other, and there would be no doubting Bottas as a serious title challenger. It remains to be seen as to whether he can put such a run together – we shall find out, starting with Silverstone on Sunday.

“He is here. I will dispatch him.” The computerised voice said over the secure phone line. “I have also taken steps to end the police investigation.” The line went dead as Lanker’s contact hung up. Lanker rubbed his eyes, took note of the time (3.30am), and decided to try and get a little more sleep.

****

Bevin opened the door for Harris, who held a glass of water and a small plastic packet. He still looked disgruntled, and now bruising was showing up around his nose. Despite himself, Eric was quite pleased – he’d rattled the younger man thoroughly, and could work with that.

“Now then Mr Cooper…” Bevin began as Harris sat back down and placed the water in front of Eric. “I would rather not force you to take the drugs. However, it is crucial that we learn the truth. I therefore ask that you cooperate.”

For a moment Eric sat in silence, then took the packet and scooped out a small white pill, that could have easily passed for an aspirin. He clasped the glass in his free hand, and Harris tensed. Eric almost laughed.

“Don’t worry son, I’ll spare you another beating.” He couldn’t resist a bit of mockery. Harris went red, cheeks flushing with anger, as Eric popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed it with a big gulp.

“It’ll take a few minutes to start working.” Remarked Bevin. “Perhaps then, we can finally get to the bottom of all this.”

“You know what you can do to get to the bottom of this?” Eric sat back and crossed his arms. “You can investigate One Touch Security, thoroughly.”

“I can assure you, they were vetted in every conceivable way.” Replied Bevin with a wry smile.

Without warning, the sensation of swimming through treacle nearly knocked Eric sideways. His eyes went wide, then he felt the world bottom out from under him. As Bevin, Harris and the meagre contents of the room began to blur together, Eric slipped off the chair, coughing, suddenly feeling a sharp pain in his chest. As Bevin raced around the desk, Eric shuddered, starting at him accusingly. As his world faded to black, his last thoughts were for Mary. She would never know…

****

“He’s having a heart attack! Harris, get the defib kit, now!” Bevin knelt by Eric, clutching him by the shoulder and rolling him onto his back. Eric was unconscious, barely gasping for breath, as Harris charged out of the room, going for one of the emergency medical kits stationed around the building. Bevin somehow knew it wouldn’t be enough. Already Eric was going still, but as the old man lay dying, the conversation was as clear as day in his mind. He can’t be right, he just can’t…

Harris rushed back in, holding the portable defibrillator. The two wide pads were attached by wires to a box roughly half the size of a microwave oven – Bevin ripped open Eric’s shirt and Harris slapped two green plastic stickers to the man’s chest. “Clear.” He said, then he pressed a button on the machine and pressed the pads to the stickers. Electricity punched its way through Eric’s chest, and his body arched, but fell flat again moments later. Harris upped the charge, delivered another one, but again Eric fell limp. A third, final charge surged into Eric’s body, and then Bevin shook his head. The man was dead.

“Shit, shit shit shit!” Harris was pacing. The younger man was flustered, hands going to his head. “Fuck!”

“Calm down! First things first, we need to notify any next of kin, we follow procedure, as always.”

“He’s dead, that USB is still out there, and our only lead is dead!”

“I said calm down!” Bevin stood, raising his voice then immediately regretting it. Telling someone to calm down by shouting was counterproductive at the best of times. “Now, deep breath, did you get the right pill?”

“Yes, I got the right fucking pill.” Harris spat.

“Okay, then we know it was natural causes. An autopsy will find out the reason. Don’t panic.” But what if…

Bevin wasn’t going to give voice to his thoughts, not in front of Harris and not with microphones listening in. Paranoia was a good quality for a spy, but it was also paralysing.

“Go and get some rest. I’ll call you once I know more.” Bevin herded Harris out of the room, looked at the camera, and pursed his lips thoughtfully.

****

The little Honda Civic had avoided any of Peter or Rob’s usual haunts. Paranoia was a quality not only found in spies, and the former SAS operatives had found themselves driving around at random. Exhaustion had kicked in – in a few hours it would be sun-up, and they couldn’t trundle down London’s streets forever. Coming up with a plan, a way forward, was proving challenging.

“So, we can’t go to the police, the Army, MI5, MI6, any government office – where do we go then?” Rob was doing a good job of narrowing their options.

“I need some time to figure out how to get into this data without being tracked. My bet is the USB has a tracking device – it powers up whenever the stick is plugged in, very clever. We can’t use it without giving up where we are.”

“So how do we get into it?”

“I’m gonna crack it open and find the transmitter.” Peter rounded a corner and parked up. “Then we can look at it to our hearts’ content. We need to expose what this does, and then go to the right people.”

“Who are the right people?” Asked Rob.

“Fucked if I know.” Peter turned the small white stick around in his hands, looking to see if he could prise it apart. A small seam, where the silver rectangle met the casing, was a vulnerable point. Using his thumb nail, Peter began to gently ease the casing apart. There was an audible crack as the plastic came apart, and another crack as a fracture appeared down the line of the case. Peter winced, but then let out an ‘aha’ as the casing fell away, revealing a small green board with gold lines, and a criss-cross gold structure on one side, with a small, red bulb on the other.

“Is that the transmitter?” Asked Rob curiously.

“Dunno. The light comes on when the USB is plugged in and getting power. I’ll have to have a proper look at this, but we’ll do it in the morning. We need a place to stay. You got any cash?”

Rob groaned. “Why?”

“I’m not slumming it in a car until this blows over. We’ll book into a hotel.”

“I don’t have unlimited funds you know.”

Peter shot Rob a dirty look. “I’ll get some cash too, we only need a few days, we’ll be alright.”

Rob sighed. “Ok, so, assuming you can figure out exactly what this code is, how it works and who’s behind it, who do we actually trust to help us?”

“Like I said, fucked if I know. First things first, we get into a hotel as soon as we can, and get some kip.”

 

 

He opened his eyes.

Took a gasping breath, and leaned up, coughing as he did.

A sharp pain jolted through his left side, and he grimaced. His hand went to instinctively clutch at the hurting region, met with cloth that had been torn or sliced through. The dull grey and beige rags adorning his body looked threadbare, and stained with… blood? Blinking, the man took stock of his surroundings.

Wheat, and lots of it. The plants and their fruit were still green, and they waved languidly in the gentle breeze. It was then that the man realised he was in fact laying upon some of it – several stems had been bent over where his body had fallen upon them. Others had snapped completely, and now the rough form of the seeds was irritating his back and neck. He sat up again, slowly, attempting to brush straggling bits of wheat from his back, though that was proving difficult.

He looked around him. The wheat had grown quite tall, and obscured his view of anything except more wheat, with the exception of a patch of sky. Above him the heavens were varying shades of red and orange; either the sun was coming up, or it was going down. He couldn’t tell. A few lazy wispy clouds were travelling eastward of him. Though it was unclear, he thought he could pick up on a few twinkling stars.

Pain continued to be a companion of his, but he propped himself up on his elbows, taking stock. His pain, thinning top was indeed ripped, and around the hole the fabric was mottled a dark red. My own blood? Trousers, a dull, faded brown, and flimsy shoes with brown leather that was starting to cure and peel, completed his meagre outfit. The man stole a glance around him, trying to find any clues as to why he’d ended up unconscious in a wheat field, with an apparent wound in his abdomen (though his body was without said wound, another mystery to solve). It was as he stood that he caught sight of the other body.

At first, all he could make out were the legs. The shoes and trousers were similar to his own, but as his eyes progressed along the other person, he noted that the top was cleaner than his own, save for one, glaring detail.

Around the collar and neck, blood had soaked the material. As it became apparent that he was staring at a man, and a corpse, the cause of death also revealed itself. The other man’s throat had been all but ripped out – it was a shredded mess of flesh, windpipe, and skin. The face was contorted in pain and fear, eyes still open, but devoid of life.

He recoiled in horror, stumbling backwards and tripping over, ending up on his backside. It was then that he became aware of how dry his throat was, and the hammering of his own beating heart as adrenaline surged through him. He wanted to retch, but he pushed the acidic sensation down, trying instead to focus. Something metallic glinted in the light (which by now was fading – night is setting in). One of them had brought a sword, which looked remarkably well-made. The blade was long, smooth and conveyed a sense of deadly sharpness. The hilt was simple – a plain black leather, easy to grip, but big enough to require both hands, with gold cross-guards. How do I know this?

Blood was still congealing on the sword, a marker that whatever had transpired between these two had happened quite recently. Some deep instinct stirred within him, told him he needed to leave, immediately. To linger would be folly.

As he stood again, his eyes fixed to the sword. There was no scabbard, and he himself had no belt upon which to secure the weapon, but he felt the urge to take it. The fallen man had a belt, a simple black leather one with a small hoop to contain the sword. Though he felt it wrong to rob the deceased, he hastily unclipped the belt and took it for himself. Next, he carefully wiped the blade against the wheat, no doubt spoiling a small portion of the farmer’s crop, but not too much. It wasn’t a perfect job, the sword was still stained, but it would have to do.

A question that had been floating around his mind since he awoke came to the fore. What happened? Why don’t I remember? Why didn’t he remember anything? Yet, he knew what a sword was, knew he was in a wheat field, knew the difference between night and day…

Now he was standing he had a clear view. A scare-crow made of straw had been crucified upon wooden beams, and stuffed into old cream-coloured clothing, but the blackbirds had been undeterred, and pecked at the exposed straw, occasionally squawking. Their noise increased sharply as he approached, and the birds took flight, annoyed that their surveillance had been interrupted. He ignored them and made for the small path he could see in the distance.

A crumbling stone street waited him, with several of the cobbled paving stones bearing the mark of cracks, water saturation and scratches from animal hooves and claws. It hadn’t been maintained for years. The path also offered no clue as to where to go next – did he go right or left? With the sunlight almost gone and the moonlight doing a wholly inadequate job as a replacement source of illumination, he had to make a choice. With a deep breath he started out to his left, not truly knowing if he were heading north, south, east or west. He just knew he had to put some distance between himself and the event behind him.

There was no one else around, not a hint of civilisation to be seen, or heard, or smelled. To his right was another field, filled with barley. A faint scent still carried from it in the wind, that was starting to pick up as night fell. Like the wheat, it wasn’t yet ready for harvesting. He couldn’t explain why, but he got a faint sense of dread when he thought of the harvest, as though a bad memory lurked underneath the veil of amnesia. Picking up his pace, he decided he wanted to be clear of the fields as quickly as possible.

After an indeterminate length of time, he became aware of a sound, the quiet but unmistakable sound of water, gurgling as it rushed along a river or a stream. The noise brought with it a reminder that he was parched, his throat feeling as though he’d swallowed a rusty razor blade. Ahead of him the path was bearing to the right, and starting to slope downward, which brought into view a welcome sight – thatched roofs, wooden slates, and a small windmill, with a brook running by it. He had stumbled upon a village!

It was then that he had to check himself. His top was blood-stained, and he carried a sword. What would the people in the little hamlet make of him? Maybe they know me…

If they did know him, was that a good thing? His mind was tying itself in knots trying to figure out if he should keep going forward, or whether he should simply turn around and seek solitude. No, I can’t run away, what will that accomplish? He went onward, for the first time spying people, putting away barrels and clay bowls, and closing up wooden shutters on their windows. So far, no one had noticed – or appeared to have noticed – his approach. With the sword gently slapping his thigh, and the leather soles of his shoes tapping the bumpy surface beneath him, the man wandered into the village…