Farewell to the BMW 120i

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The time has come to replace my trusty BMW 120i. It has been a great car, but it was bought almost five years ago to transport me and my bike, but now things are a bit different – our family (and fleet of bikes) has grown! Day to day the BMW was ideal – the bodywork was scruffy, but that meant I was happy parking it anywhere. It was engaging to drive on the fun roads, but also happy cruising long distances on the motorway. The problems came when we needed to load it up with luggage and/or bikes – holidays and even days out started to challenge our packing skills, even after adding a roof rack and roof box.

I did 30,000 miles in the BMW, but not without reliability problems – there were lots of niggling problems, but the main one was an engine issue that came with a four figure bill. It also got through a lot of consumables, as can be expected with a sixteen year old car with almost 100,000 miles on the clock. This all makes it sound worse than it was, it was still cheap motoring. Probably about half the cost of leasing an equivalent new car over the time I had it.

I have some great memories from my time with the 120i. I bought it as a car that could carry people and/or bikes whilst still being fun to drive – it certainly met that requirement. In addition to numerous mountain bike trips and road trips to Croyde (twice), France, where it soaked up the miles and Wales, it was the first car that both Owen and Henry went in! For this reason it will always be a special car to me. Unfortunately Henry will not remember it, but I hope Owen will!

This morning Owen seemed sad when I told him the red BMW would be gone by the time he got back from pre-school – he asked me not to sell it, which made me feel a bit sad and guilty. However, by the time he had ridden his bike to pre-school he was excitedly telling his teacher about the replacement. He is right to be excited, as the replacement will open up more options for adventures together as a family.

Parental Leave II: Week 6

After staying up late to watch Top Gear (where my previous post left off), it was not surprising that Owen had a bit of a lie in, but I was not expecting Henry to also – it was a nice start to the week! My mum and dad came to look after the boys, which allowed me to get some jobs done in the morning. Last week I had read about the bakery near my house doing Nutella doughnuts on the Food Covolution blog, so decided to check them out! It was also a good opportunity to get Owen back out on his bike. Mum and Henry came along for the walk too. Despite the worst of Storm Ciara having past, it was still really windy outside, however this did not faze Owen! He was riding really well, listening to our instructions, using his brakes to stop and I even saw him coasting with level pedals – which I have not seen him do before! Stoke Bakery had a great selection of cakes in addition to the Nutella doughnuts that had inspired this trip. As he had been riding so well I let Owen choose himself a cake – he went for a huge cream filled chocolate doughnut! He had earned it though. After lunch (and doughnuts) I did some studying, before taking advantage of a gap in the rain to cycle to the butchers, where I picked up some of their new lamb and feta stuffed peppers, which Jen and I have been drooling over on their twitter feed. I cooked them for dinner and they were every bit as good as we had been expecting! Henry seemed to make some big developmental steps – first he climbed the stairs all by himself. Luckily I had spotted him heading to the stairs and followed him up, realising that my life had just got a bit more complicated! Later he started pushing Owen’s old trolley along the hallway whilst standing up – one step closer to walking!IMG_1662On Tuesday morning I was in the kitchen and Henry crawled off. Concerned that he was heading upstairs, I went looking for him, and just as I asked “Where is Henry?”, Owen asked “Where is my other slice of toast?”. You can see from the photo above what the answer was! Henry looked so pleased with himself – Owen on the other hand was upset and I had to make him more toast. After dropping Owen off at pre-school, Henry and I went to the supermarket, which is becoming our Tuesday afternoon routine. In the evening Jen and I had a rare night out – her mum came to babysit the boys (who behaved well for her), and we went out for dinner and to the theatre. Dinner was at a new steak restaurant that we had been wanting to try for a while, the food was nice, but I doubt we will go back. I really enjoyed seeing Crongton Knights at the Belgrade Theatre though – you can read my review here.We did not have a good night – possibly because we were not there when Owen went to bed, but Owen ended up in our bed at 4:00, and Henry about 5:30. We were all so tired by the time we had to get up. Henry and I had a quiet morning at home – he had a long nap, where I was able to get some small DIY jobs done and deal with some HR stuff from work. The first time I had switched my work phone on for almost two months! Expecting Owen to be tired in the evening, I decided not to take him to his bike training, so Jen, Henry and I all collected him from preschool. My hunch was correct, as Owen fell asleep on the sofa eating his dinner at 5.30!Thursday went much better – I took Henry swimming and he had a great time splashing around in the pool. In the afternoon we messed about together at home, then walked into Earlsdon to run some errands, collecting Owen from pre-school on the way back. Jen was out for the evening, so I cooked dinner for the boys – looking back it is funny that Henry managed to eat a whole omlette by himself, but I had to spoon feed Owen his scrambled egg. Obviously at the time it was pretty frustrating. At least Owen was a good boy going to bed, as solo bed times can be tricky!IMG_1676Friday was a busy day! Owen had his twelve month developmental check, which clashed with Owen’s swimming lesson. Jen was off work, so she took Henry for his check and I took Owen. It was his final swimming lesson with Paula from Little Ripples, because when I go back to work next month I will have both boys on Fridays. Owen has made great progress since I last took him swimming before Christmas – his kicking and confidence in the water has got so much better. We need to get him booked onto the next stage of lessons (in the water without us) so that he does not lose confidence again, as happened when he had a long break from lessons over the summer holiday. After lunch we all went shopping for a replacement for my BMW, which is getting too small for us as a family of four. On the way home we called in at Ali’s Chippy, a “new” fish and chip shop that I had noticed around the corner from our house, although it turned out it had been open for about a year – the food was good, so I am sure we will be going back. Recently Henry has been keen to get his hands on drinks, he does not care whose drink it is, or even of the drink is empty. We have to be careful what we leave within his reach, but it was inevitable that he got his hands on my empty beer bottle…Heeding the warnings about Storm Dennis, we did not have anything planned for the weekend. Coventry seemed to get off lightly – it was not even raining first thing on Saturday morning, so Owen and I got outside to play in the garden/jump in puddles/clean bikes. Owen is always keen to help me clean bikes, and to clean his own bikes, and it is nice to have him there with me. We had a family trip to the supermarket, which I think Owen enjoyed a bit too much, looking at the toys, trying sushi and running around – not so fun for Jen and me though! We had an afternoon in the kitchen, Jen and Owen made some amazing chocolate and cherry brownies, I prepped the chicken wings for dinner and Henry supervised from his highchair!IMG_1681.jpegSunday started with bacon sandwiches – a nice start to a stormy day! Jen started making a chilli for dinner, before heading off to the gym, leaving Owen and I to add the remaining ingredients. Owen did a good job of scraping the ingredients into the pan and stirring them in, he is picking up Jen’s interest in cooking which is nice to see. Henry also shares Jen’s interest in recipe books, although he prefers to eat them than read them! After lunch we braved the storm to drive to Nuneaton. The weather did not seem that bad, but there was a lot of flooding on the roads. We had a nice afternoon at Jen’s mum and dad’s house, Henry was being his cheeky self, getting into all sort of mischief. When we got home, Owen ate all of his chilli for dinner, which I was proud of, as he usually just picks at the beans. He was also good about going to bed, although I did sort of miss him watching Top Gear with me, as he had done the last few weeks.It felt like a really long week, possibly as I crammed in a lot at the start of the week, followed by more of a low key weekend. Henry seems to be getting more confident, standing unsupported for a few seconds at a time, usually without realising it – he will be holding himself up, then takes his hands off to pick something up and all of a sudden he will be standing, before falling down again. However he seems to be standing for longer and longer each day. He is also getting more confident – if Owen is on the floor, Henry will climb on top of him and wrestle him – I guess this is what I have to look forward to for the forseeable future…

Crongton Knights at the Belgrade Theatre

© Robert Day

Ad – Through Coventry Bloggers, I was invited to watch Crongton Knights at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, in exchange for a review on my blog. All words are my own, however I am using photos supplied by the production, as photography was not allowed during the show. All photos in this post are copyright Robert Day.

Crongton Knights is a show about six friends – “The Magnificent Six”, from the fictional (but could be in any city in the country) estate of South Crongton. They rally round when one of the group is in trouble, and head out on a mission to fix it. Leaving the relative safety of the South Crongton estate, they encounter troubles and triumphs along the way. It is billed as “about the friends you’ll never forget and how lessons learned the hard way can bring you closer together.”. It has been adapted from the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize winning book Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle (affiliate link to Amazon.co.uk).

© Robert Day

The show was in the smaller “B2” auditorium at the Belgrade, which meant that you felt closer and more involved with the show (no need to worry – there was no audience participation). The set was brilliant in its simplicity, evoking an inner city estate with grey steps/railings covered in graffiti. There was no need for set changes, meaning the story could keep flowing as the adventure progressed.

© Robert Day

What struck me the most was the breadth of talent that each of the cast had – not only were they acting, singing and dancing, they were also providing the soundscape by beatboxing. There was no backing music – everything was the cast! The music, all written for the production, ranged from RnB, such as the catchy “We are The Magnificent Six” theme song (which I still have in my head), to solo raps about the important issues facing the characters, and many young people in general. That is not to say that the show was all serious, there were lighthearted moments and cleverly scripted running jokes throughout.

Even though where I grew up, in rural Northamptonshire, is about as far removed from an inner city estate as you can get, I felt a connection with the main characters, willing them to succeed in their mission and do the right thing! The Magnificent Six reminded me of my group of friends at school and made me think about the scrapes that we would get ourselves into, how we handled them and why some of us are still close almost twenty years later!

Crongton Knights is running at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry until the 22nd of February 2020 – tickets are available on their website. After Coventry the production will be touring around the country, see the Pilot Theatre website for dates and tickets.

Parental Leave II: Week 5

Week five started where week four left off – with the boys at their grandma and grandpa’s house! In theory this meant a lie in for me, but I still woke up at 6 o’clock! With the house to myself I managed to get lots of jobs done – general tidying up, sweeping the drive, painting the kitchen ceiling where the bath had leaked last year. As usual, I still had more jobs on my list than time, but I also wanted to get out for a bike ride! The trails were muddy, and my tyres still had too much pressure in after the bike service, so these are the excuses I am using for why I fell off… After my ride I met my parents to collect the boys, I would like to say they were pleased to see me, but they were both asleep and unimpressed to be disturbed when I swapped their car seats in to my car.

After the excitement of the boys’ mini break in the Cotswolds, Tuesday was back to normal – pre-school for Owen and a quiet morning at home for Henry and me. In the afternoon we went to the supermarket, in the MR2 again, but this time we had the roof down! Henry seemed to like this, looking all around. Jen had tasked us with getting some dried porcini mushrooms, we did a few loops around the shop looking for them. Little did we know this would become a saga that dragged on all week!

Whilst dropping Owen off at pre-school on Wednesday morning, I booked Henry’s settling in sessions at the nursery – as unwelcome sign that I will be going back to work in the not too distant future. Another sign that Henry is growing up is that I caught him red handed taking my credit card out of my desk drawer – I thought I would have to wait at least a few more years before I had to deal with that sort of thing! Whilst Henry had his nap I managed to book a weekend away mountain biking with Partho, in addition to the usual jobs I try to fit in whilst he naps. In the afternoon we got out in the MR2 again, this time to do a tip run, a much longer trip than to the supermarket – of course we had the roof down again! We called in at another supermarket looking for the dried porcini mushrooms, again with no luck. After pre-school I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session. The focus of the lesson was looking around corners – definitely something that Owen needs to work on, as he was crashing into the tape marking the course most laps. Purely because he was not looking round corners properly. I spent most of the session fixing the track as Owen crashed into it.

Thursday is swimming day for Henry! Jen took Owen to pre-school, so I managed to avoid the chaos from the previous weeks and got to Henry’s lesson on time. Henry was on good form, splashing and kicking his legs – he even behaved in the changing room! He had a good nap after swimming, then played upstairs for a bit. My Apple Watch was charging on the bedside table, Henry grabbed it and crawled off. I crawled off after him, and this continued for a while, both of us giggling away. Until Henry started to take it too seriously, biting my arm (with all six of his teeth), then trying to put my watch in his dirty nappy bin. After things had calmed down, we went for a drive to get petrol in the BMW and pick up a few bits in Leamington Spa. The trip to Leamington was only partially successful, I picked up a camera strap from London Camera Exchange, but the petrol station I had planned to go to was closed and I still could not find any dried porcini mushrooms…

Henry and I had a quiet Friday morning, whilst Jen took Owen to his swimming lesson. After lunch I went out to run some errands and finally got hold of those pesky dried porcini mushrooms! When I got back, Owen and I cleaned our bikes. I adjusted the rear brake lever closer to the handlebar on Owen’s bike – hoping it would encourage him to use it more. He went for a ride around the block and the adjustment seemed to work – Owen was stopping using the brakes, rather than his shoes! The reason I had been searching for dried porcini mushrooms all week was that Jen had invited some friends round for dinner, and was cooking giant pasta shells with a sausage and mushroom filling. For dessert Jen and Owen made cookie dough pots, ready to go in the oven and be served with ice cream. Dinner for the boys was not quite so gourmet – I made them omelettes! Based on previous experience I had expected Owen to eat his and Henry to spit his out, but Henry surprised me by eating his, whilst Owen messed around – meal times can be a bit of a lottery with these two! At least Owen did get to try one of the cookie dough pots that he helped make! When I eventually got the boys into their beds, we got to tuck into the pasta, both the wait and the mushroom hunting were worth it!

Saturday was my day to do what I wanted – so I went mountain biking at the Forest of Dean with my friend Partho! Despite everywhere else being so wet, the trails were running really well and it was great to be riding them with a friend. It was also good to catch up on the long drives there and back. Jen and the boys had a fun afternoon visiting Jen’s parents!

With Storm Ciara battering the country on Sunday, we had planned a quiet day. In the afternoon we braved the weather to visit Resorts World (the outlet village by the NEC). On the short drive there Jen’s Yaris was being buffeted by the wind, and at one point we had to slow right down on the A45 as the visibility was so poor due to the heavy rain! Fortunately we are able to park inside, so did not get wet on the way to the shops! It was only a quick stop – we picked up some bits for the boys in Gap, and Jen got some new trainers, but after that Owen was making it obvious that he had had enough of shopping! Or maybe he was just tired – as he fell asleep in the car on the way home, just as we were about to turn in to our road. He was in a very deep sleep – to the point where he barely noticed being transferred into the house. I lit the fire and settled in for the evening, watching “The Love Bug”, which was the first time I had ever seen any of the “Herbie” films. It was a nice way to spend a stormy winter evening. Owen slept for a few hours – unfortunately this meant that bedtime was going to be a nightmare. So once he was ready for bed, we let him come back downstairs to watch Top Gear, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Whilst this series of blog posts has gone through a lot of the things Henry and I have done together whilst I have been on parental leave, there has also been a lot of downtime together at home, the picture at the top of this post is pretty typical – Henry with a mouthful of banana after having smeared his Weetabix over his face! He may not even be one year old yet, but Henry certainly knows what he likes – banana is certainly a favourite. It is no wonder that his is a cheeky little monkey…

Parental Leave II: Week 4

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I am almost halfway through my parental leave and really enjoying myself. The week started, as usual with my Mum and Dad coming round for the day to look after the boys. So after I got my jobs (clean Henry’s bottles and make his milk etc) done, I managed to escape for a bike ride. As the local trails are so muddy, I thought I would go for a road ride to avoid the mud, however my plan failed – the roads were really muddy and I ended up filthy. It was nice exploring some different areas on the outskirts of the city though. In the afternoon I worked on setting up my new blog server, before making dinner (gammon, corn in cheese sauce and roast potatoes) for everyone. After the boys were in bed I also made a haggis lasagne to eat on Tuesday. Probably the most cooking I have ever done in one day! Even though I did not spend that much time looking after the boys I was shattered by bedtime!

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On Tuesday Owen went back to preschool, so to start with it was just Henry and I, then Jen’s mum also came round to look after Henry. With Henry being looked after I took the opportunity to nip out to the supermarket, but as I was getting into my car I noticed a man on the opposite side of the road who did not look in a good way – swaying and struggling to stand up. As I walked over the road to see if he was OK he just fell over backwards, cracking his head on the pavement. In the time it took to finish crossing the road there was already a pool of blood forming under his head and he looked like he was having some sort of fit. I dialled 999 straight away! As I was speaking to the operator, some more neighbours and passers-by also stopped to help and got the man into the recovery position when he stopped fitting. After what felt like ages, but was probably only ten minutes he came round and tried to stand up, obviously very confused. Fortuately the ambulance arrived at this point and the professionals were able to take over looking after him. After explaining to the paramedics what happened I left to carry on with my shopping. I really hope the guy is OK, because it was a big hit, and there was a lot of blood, however I expect I will never know how he is doing, as it was not someone any of the neighbours recognised. Last year I took a similar fall, off my bike, whilst wearing a helmet, and had definite signs of concussion, including a two week headache – so I dread to think of the outcome without a helmet. After all the drama, I got my shopping done, there was some building work going on in the Cannon Park car park – Owen would have loved watching the excavator. Henry and I picked Owen up from preschool, and ended up walking back with one of his friends, who lives a bit further down our road. It was quite sweet watching the two of them together, although Owen did not seem too keen to hold hands. Chasing each other down the road also made the walk home significantly quicker, which was a bonus. Henry’s Giro Scamp bike helmet arrived, so before bed I attempted to get him to wear it so I could adjust the fit and of course get some photos of him looking cute! In the evening Jen went to running club, so I had to put the boys to bed on my own. It turned into a bit of a disaster, with neither boy being asleep by the time Jen got home. Eventually Owen went to sleep, but Henry took much longer.

Wednesday was a quieter day, I think Henry was tired from his late night, so after dropping Owen off at preschool we just had a quiet morning at home – it is nice just pottering around at home the two of us. Henry is in to everything now, most of the time it is great watching him crawling around investigating things, but you also need to be careful, as he loves opening and closing drawers, usually trapping his fingers in them. He also seems more excited about eating food that he has thrown on the floor than anything I try to feed him. It was a lovely sunny winter afternoon so we took a walk to Go Outdoors to buy my Mum a birthday present. Then I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session. He rode well again, he is getting better at coasting with level pedals and using his brakes, hopefully if he carries on progressing we will be able to hit the pump track together soon!

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Jen was heading out after work on Thursday evening, which meant she could start late and help with Owen. This was very welcome as the last few Thursday mornings have been a bit fraught getting Owen out of the house for preschool. He loves his Wheelie Wednesday session, but he is always so tired on Thursday mornings. Henry had a great time at his swimming lesson, there were only three babies in the lesson – and for the first time since I started going with Owen dads outnumbered mums! Henry had a long nap after swimming, I was able to get loads done, it almost got to the point where I was unsure what to do with myself! When he had woken up and I had fed him his cauliflower cheese for lunch I had a treat planned for him (us) – a ride in the MR2! We were only going to the supermarket to pick up a few bits, but I thought it would be the ideal short journey to try with him – especially as it was to a destination that did not require a pushchair. Henry seemed a bit confused as I carried him out to the garage and strapped him into an unfamilar seat, but his face lit up when he heard the engine firing up behind him – always a good sign! As this was both his first journey in a forward facing seat and in the front of a car he realised that the steering wheel and gear stick must do something and started reaching out for them – fortunately he was well strapped into his seat and his arms were too short. I always enjoy parking the MR2 in parent and child spaces (only when I have a child in the car with me of course), as it looks so tiny next to the usual large family cars. In the evening I was on my own for dinner and bedtime. As Henry had liked the omelette he stole from Owen last week, I though I would try him with his own. Unfortunately his did not seem at all interested in it, he also managed to crawl off, despite being strapped into the little chair with tray table – leaving a trail of squished omelette behind him. I tried a different strategy for bedtime, leaving Owen downstairs drinking his milk and watching YouTube and taking Henry up to bed. After a busy day Henry went to sleep fairly quickly. Owen was the same unfortunately and fell asleep on the sofa before I had taken him upstairs to bed!

Jen took Owen swimming on Friday morning, so Henry and I had a quiet morning at home – before an exciting lunch of falafel pittas! While the boys were finishing their lunches I escaped for a haircut – usually something I can fit in on the way home from work, but trickier while I am off with the boys. Jen took Owen to the dentist after lunch, then I had a couple of hours to do some work/studying before pizza and film night! Owen loves putting the pepperoni on his pizza, then picking it off to eat before eating the rest of the pizza. Henry just loves stealing slices of pizza off anyone’s plate that he can reach! We watched Brave, which none of us had seen before, Owen and I both thought the Scottish clans were funny, although I expect for slightly different reasons. While we were watching the film Henry learned a new skill – taking his trousers off! He has been able to take his socks off for a while and it is rare to see him wearing any, so I hope it is not the same sitation with trousers! Once again I took Henry up to bed, leaving Owen downstairs – but this time I told him that he had to come upstairs after one programme – which he did! Even though he was a good boy getting ready for bed, it was quite late by the time I had finished reading him some books. After reading to him, he always asks me to stay in his bedroom with him, even though he usually falls asleep pretty quickly, it is nice lying on his bed with him, often the most relaxing time of the day – and quite difficult to get back up and crack on with some work!

The boys both had a good sleep, and I woke up naturally at 7:45, without being called for or jumped on. Of course this was a morning where we had somewhere to be… Not only was Jen doing parkrun, Owen was doing the Kids Run Free Park Kids event, which starts next to parkrun at the same time, but only on the first Saturday of each month. I was surprised at how keen Owen was to run, but I guess that he sees Jen running as much as me riding my bike. Henry looked like he wanted to join in, but we had to watch from the sidelines. After the warm up Owen ran six laps of the 250 meter course, which I thought was impressive for a three year old, especially as he had to do the first four by himself, as I had to stay with Henry. Jen joined him for the last two after she had finished her run. I could tell that Owen felt really pleased with himself afterwards and deservedly so! After all that running/standing around outside, we had eggy bread and bacon for lunch.

IMG_1600In the afternoon I cycled in to town to meet up with some of the other Coventry Bloggers, at Ziferblat, a new community/co-working space on Spon Street. It is an interesting concept, where you pay for your time there, by the minute, but get free drinks/snacks/wifi. It is the perfect place for a group of bloggers to spend an afternoon chatting and working on their blogs. It felt a bit like being in someone’s cosy front room, even down to the hosts making sure we had enough hot drinks/biscuits. I managed to get most of this post written whilst I was there, which was a good job, as I had been a bit lax during the week and had not updated it. The ride back home, which is all uphill, felt like a bit of a struggle, as there was a strong headwind and I was carrying a 6kg rucksack (with camera, laptop and bike locks) – it was still quicker than driving though and good to get out on the bike!

I had expected Owen to sleep well after all his running, but he, and consequently Jen and I, had a rubbish nights sleep, and he seemed to be in a foul mood in the morning. To the point that when he started calling for Jen to help him, whilst she was dealing with Henry, we both thought that it was something trivial, as he had been doing all morning. I finished my yoga and went downstairs to find Owen with his finger stuck in piece of wooden train track. We tried all the usual ways to get it off, cooling his fingers, using oil etc, but if anything his finger was swelling up more. So we decided to cut it off – the piece of track, not the finger! Owen was not too impressed when I said I was going to the garage to get my saw to chop it off. Jen wanted me to use my electric saw, to get it over with quicker. However, I chose the far safer option of clamping the track in the Workmate, more to prevent Owen wriggling, then cutting carefully with a hacksaw, until I was about halfway through the wood, then snapped the rest off using pliers. Not what was needed before I had even had breakfast on a Sunday morning! Owen seems to have made a full recovery, but we have had to change the layout of his trainset, due to a gap in a key section of track…

After the morning’s excitement, we drove to my Mum and Dad’s house to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. I thought Owen seemed reflective in the car, and was in a much better mood when we arrived. My brother and sister-in-law were there, it had probably been six weeks since they last saw the boys – Henry has changed so much in that time. We had another haggis dinner, but disappointingly neither of the boys seemed to like it, despite both eating it last week. The both ate plenty of raspberries to make up for it though. Mum had made cranachen for dessert, which was lovely, but Owen refused to eat his and kept asking for some whisky on it! After lunch we had a nice walk around Chipping Norton, where I took the photo above. My mum had found some toys, probably from the early nineties, which somehow survived at least four house moves. Owen especially loved playing with the Micro Machines! Henry was his usual cheeky self, crawling around, seeing what he could put in his mouth. Jen and I left the boys with their grandma, for a well needed night off! We did not have anything planned, but after completing some jobs at home (tidying/sorting is much easier without our two small “helpers”) we took a walk to Street Asian restaurant in Earlsdon. As we had eaten a big lunch, we chose some small plates from the Asian tapas menu, all of which were delicious! It had been quite a while since we last ate there – certainly before Henry was born – but I doubt we will wait that long again!

Babies in Sportscars – Throwback Thursday

Henry had his first ride in my MR2 today and seemed to enjoy it! It reminded me of this photo from Owen’s first ride, with the roof down!

It was a bit too cold to have the roof down with Henry today, but I am sure he will get to experience the MR2 properly soon!

For a real throwback – here is a photo of me with my Dad in his Triumph TR6!

New Blog Server

This is the first post written on my new blog server!

Migrating my blog to a new server was one of my goals for 2019 – one that I underestimated! The main motivation was that I could not upgrade to the latest version of the WordPress platform on my old server – due to some permissions issues (probably related to how I had set it up originally). My old server was also using the AWS custom Linux operating system, which was fine, but is only available on AWS instances, meaning I could not replicate it in Virtual Box on my Mac. As I am more familiar with the Ubuntu Linux operating system, which I can work with locally (and have even made an automated script to deploy a virtual machine) I wanted to use that on the new server.

Over the last few weeks I have done a lot of testing on my Mac, making sure I could install everything correctly and migrate my data across seamlessly. I span up a new server on EC2, installed WordPress with the plan being I would simply point my web address at the new server, restore an UpdraftPlus backup and be running with minimal downtime. However, I forgot that WordPress does not play nicely with having its address changed and I ended up with a bit more downtime than anticipated whilst I fixed that issue. I also had a problem with the Jetpack plugin, which I was unable to test on my Mac, but I was able to fix that fairly quickly.

Hopefully I have squashed all the bugs and the only noticeable change to the blog will be that my theme now plays nicely with smaller screen, so if you are viewing my blog on a mobile device you will see my black theme, rather than the standard Jetpack mobile view. I will now be able to concentrate on my 2020 goals for my blog: building a new theme and improving the way series of posts (such as my Parental Leave II blogs) are displayed, which I have already been working on – so keep your eyes peeled…

Parental Leave II: Week 3

It is my third week of parental leave, and I feel like I am getting into the swing of things. Owen kicked the week off by waking up at 12:05 on Monday morning and shouting for me, only to ask if it was still nighttime. He called for me a few more times in the night, he had had a quiet Sunday, which I suspect is the reason he did not sleep well. Henry slept like a log! When I weighed him in the morning (my Withings scales have a cool baby weighing feature) he had reached 10kg – no wonder my arms hurt after carrying him for a while…  My Mum and Dad came round to spend some time with the boys, arriving just as Henry had finished his breakfast – so I was able to do my morning chores without having to worry about him either getting bored watching me – or even worse “helping me”. Then I was able to do some studying. We all had lunch together, then Owen and I cleaned our bikes, as they had got pretty muddy at the weekend. My Four was also well in need of a service, so I started that. As it was such a nice afternoon my Mum and I took the boys for a walk to the park, well we walked, Henry was sleeping in his pushchair and Owen was on his Strider! It was a longer walk than I had expected, but it was good to be out and the boys slept well that night.

Tuesday was a quieter day, with nothing planned. Henry and I had a relaxed morning at home together, before venturing out to the supermarket. Henry stayed awake this time, but did not have any smiles for the old ladies that tried chatting to him. When we got home we had avocado on toast for lunch – Henry ate all of his up, which is more than could be said for his big brother when I was on parental leave with him! We spent more time relaxing at home, Henry did not sleep for long enough for me to get any jobs done, so I took him out for a drive – to Balsall Common to fill up the BMW. He had a good sleep in the car, but woke up when we got home. Then we collected Owen from pre-school. It was a quiet day, but a good one!

Henry did not sleep well that night, he spent a lot of time screaming in his cot, then eventually wriggling in our bed. Come the morning, he seemed fine, but everyone else was tired. Owen was in a particularly grumpy mood, for some reason not liking the trousers that had been put out for him to wear. Then it turned out that he had changed his trousers at pre-school the day before – the old ones were “too warm” apparently, but in doing so he had emptied his rucksack, and not put anything back in. Fortunately we were able to find them when I dropped him off at pre-school . Henry had his breakfast when we got home, then screamed at me for a few hours. I knew he was tired, but he was refusing to sleep, and calming him down meant that I was unable to make his milk – which probably would have been the one thing that would have calmed him down. We eventually got out of the house to meet Jen for lunch at Burger King, Henry seemed happy once he had some chips to eat. Then I took the long way home, via the tip, to try and get him to sleep in the car. It worked, and I was able to transfer him into his cot when we got home, allowing me to catch up on some chores, life admin and blogging. In the evening I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session – the focus this week was on racing starts. Owen seemed to be getting better at starting himself off with his dominant foot on the pedal. He also did some good listening to Coach Kazzi.

Like last week, getting Owen to pre-school on Thursday morning was a bit of a nightmare, he got ready as slowly as possible, spilt his breakfast down himself and refused to let me change his clothes – taking his top off as I was putting his trousers on etc. All the time screaming at me that I was making him late for pre-school. Henry and I just about made it to Henry’s swimming lesson on time! Henry was a little star throughout this, and carried on his good behaviour during his swimming lesson. He still has not quite got the hang of scooping with his hands and kicking his legs, but enjoyed himself and went underwater a few times. I managed to speak to the mums that I know from swimming with Owen, about the next grade of swimming lessons, as Owen will not be able to carry on with his lessons after I go back to work (can any Coventry folk recommend swimming lessons for a 3 (nearly 4) year old? If so let me know!). Once again, Henry only had a short nap after swimming, so we had another quiet afternoon, before I was eventually able to convince him to have another nap. This nap ended up being so long that he was still asleep when it was time to collect Owen from pre-school, fortunately Jen was able to on her way home from work.

On Friday morning, I was able to get out for a pre-breakfast bike ride, as Jen was not at work. As my Orange Four was still in the work stand and the trails were too muddy I took my hardtail for a “road” ride, using a loop I normally do at night. It was a good way to start the day, although my legs were feeling it when I took Henry for a walk to the butchers later that morning! Jen was out in the afternoon so I looked after the boys at home and got ready for our pizza and film night!

Friday should also have been pay day for me, but as my parental leave is unpaid, I got one days pay and a bit of tax rebate, but nowhere near what I would normally get. I am fortunate that I have been able to save up some money to be able to afford to take this time off with Henry, but two months wages is a lot of money to miss. What I had not considered was that all my usual direct debits still go out, so I had some frantic shuffling of money to do to avoid being massively overdrawn. Living off savings is not ideal, but it is definitely worth it to be able to spend time with the boys!

Owen had a hair cut booked in Rugby on Saturday morning, so we dropped Jen off at Rugby parkrun and I took the boys to the hairdressers. On the way Owen and I discussed how he wanted his hair – shorter, but with no gel, and he was an extremely good boy, sitting still while he got his hair cut. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of Owen with his new hair, but I can assure you that he looks really smart! Afterwards, whilst waiting for Jen to finish her run, we walked to “the digger park” – the GEC recreation ground, which has a sandpit with mechanical diggers, which is one of Owen’s favourite places to play. As I also had Henry with me, it was difficult to play with Owen, as it meant leaving Henry in his pushchair to watch, but I managed to have a play with both of them. Henry particularly liked it when I bounced on the trampolines whilst cuddling him! Jen’s Mum came round in the afternoon, so I was able to crack on with servicing my bike, and Jen was able to do some baking with Owen. As it was Burn’s night, we all had haggis for dinner – I was pleased at how well the boys ate their haggis.

Sunday was a rare day off for me! Jen took the boys out for the day, to softplay, then for lunch. I started the morning off with a walk with my camera to a new local nature area. I had planned to go to the pump track after that, but the weather turned horrible, so I had a quiet day at home. I spent some time in the garage working on my bike, and had a nice long stint at my Mac working on my new blog server, which was one of my goals for 2019, but a bigger task than I had imagined. I am now at the stage where I have got the new server set up with WordPress, I just need to migrate my blog over and make sure my caching and backup solutions are working correctly. It felt so strange being at home on my own, it was so quiet and I was able to get loads done! Jen had left a stew in the slow cooker, so the house smelled lovely all day. After a busy day playing, Owen had a short nap in the car on the way home, which ruined all chance of him going to bed at a sensible time, so he came and watched Top Gear with me – he loved the Ariel Atom, but thought the presenters were being a bit silly, which is pretty much what I thought too. It made me think back to when Owen first got back from hospital at three weeks old and seemed engrossed by Top Gear.

What I did not seem to do last week, was take many photos, I also was a bit lax on updating this blog, hence it is a bit late! Definitely something to bear in mind for next week!

Parental Leave II: Week 2

My first week (and a bit) of parental leave had only been a warmup, as Jen was also off work – this week Jen was back at work and I was on my own! Well sort of anyway – I did get some help!

When Jen left for work on Monday morning, Henry burst out crying as soon as the door shut – not like him at all! But at least I knew where I stood in the parental hierarchy. My Mum and Dad come round to help out on a Monday, so they took the boys for a walk and I managed to escape for a short bike ride on very muddy local trails. Henry did not seem to be his usual cheeky self, all he wanted to do was cuddle up with my Mum. I am not sure if he has picked up a cold, or if his sixth tooth is trying to come through. When Henry eventually took a nap, my Dad and I went to Ikea to pick up a unit to house the record player I bought Jen for her birthday. After I had built the unit I got the record player set up properly with our sound bar, which was much easier than when I had tried a few weeks previously – it was good to be able to listen to Frank Turner and Arctic Monkeys records to test it though! My Mum had made a turkey pie for dinner, but Henry was really off his food, and had a temperature, so we put him to bed with some Calpol. I was also shattered by 9pm, so had an early night – so much for my plans to study in the evenings!

Henry must have also been tired as he had a (relative) lie in. Jen was first up as she went for a run before work, which confused Owen. His Gro Clock said it was still nighttime when she left – not that it stopped him getting out of bed! As Owen does not go to pre-school on Mondays, Tuesday was the first day just Henry and I at home – the house felt so quiet when Jen and Owen had left in the morning! Henry seemed to be more himself in the morning, he was happy to steal Owen’s breakfast, but reluctant to eat his own. Jen’s Mum, Gill, called to say she would come over and take Henry out for a bit. I got Henry changed and gave him milk, ready for him to go out, then a few minutes before Gill arrived Henry fell asleep in my arms. This is a rare thing these days, but as nice as it was, he always seems to pick the worst moment! I transferred him to his cot and he slept for two hours! Again, usually this would be very welcome, but was slightly frustrating as Gill had come to see him! We managed to get some jobs done before Henry woke up for lunch. He was obviously still feeling poorly as he did not eat much, he also had a temperature again, so had more Calpol. When Gill left, I thought Henry was going to fall asleep in my arms again, but he seemed to get a second wind. We braved the horrible weather to do the “big shop”, I could tell Henry was not feeling well as he just sat quietly in the trolley, usually he would be chattering away and smiling at all the ladies in the shop. He even started to nod off as we were finishing the shop, so he was fast asleep by the time we got home, which at least allowed me to put the shopping away without any “help”. I was impressed at how Henry woke up just as Jen and Owen were pulling onto the drive. I had decided that this was going to be the week I tackled the Apple Watch “Ring in the new year” challenge, by meeting the calories burned, excercise time and hours moving around targets each day for a whole week, which left me with a 23 minute workout to do in the evening. I completed it and felt good for it – also ticking off my “weekly strength workout” goal from my 2020 post. My December expenses from work also landed today – I had forgotten claiming them before Christmas, so it was a welcome surprise to see my bank balance going up, as I am not being paid whilst I am paternity leave.

Henry and I walked Owen to preschool on Wednesday, but the excitement must have worn Henry out, as he was falling asleep eating his breakfast when we got back. This gave me a good opportunity to do all my chores, as we had a trip out planned for lunch! My good friend Stevo had a day off and as he was yet to meet Henry we had arranged to see each other. It just so happened that Jen and her friend Jess, who is also friends with Stevo, were meeting for lunch – so we all went to Mod Pizza! It was good to catch up with everyone, and of course eat pizza! Henry was on good form, gnawing on any crusts he could get his hands on and smiling at everyone. After lunch, Jen and Jess had to go back to work, so us boys went to a cafe to chat some more. Henry must have found the conversation boring as he fell asleep. After preschool, I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday bike session. This week the focus was on riding the ramps, which he has been lacking in confidence on since switching to his pedal bike. His “level pedals” technique was improving, but he still has more improvement to do before we can hit the pump track.

Pre-school and bike training must have tired Owen out, as he had a long lie in! Unfortunately he was in a terrible mood when he eventually woke up, and refused to cooperate with getting ready, such that we missed my window for taking him to pre-school before getting Henry ready. Owen had to wait for me to clean and sterilise Henry’s bottles and make his milk, before I could drop him off at pre-school, on the way to Henry’s swimming lesson! I have been taking Owen to swimming lessons for the last couple of years, so it was a bit of a shock to the system taking Henry instead! Owen pretty much gets himself changed now, whereas Henry fights against getting changed. He enjoyed his lesson, did lots of splashing and smiling, and even went under the water twice without crying! All the splashing must have been hard work as he was obviously tired by the time we got back to the changing room and was fast asleep in the car on the five minute drive home. Jen had told me that Henry always had a long sleep after his swimming lesson, so I was surprised when he woke up after half an hour. Unfortunately he was really grumpy, I knew he needed more sleep, but of course he was resisting it. After a few hours, with him mostly screaming at me, I managed to get him settled in his cot again. Whilst Henry had his well needed nap, I was able to crack on with tidying up my desk/work area in the dining room, making space for my radio controlled MX-5.

Friday is Jen’s day off, so I was able to have a lie in! Jen took Owen to his swimming lesson, and I was planning to take Henry for a walk, but it was raining heavily so we had a chilled out morning at home. When Jen and Owen got back we decided to finally hang some hooks to display Owen’s bike medals – of course Owen had to get all his builders kit on and bring his tool box to help! Then Jen’s friend came round with her daughters, who are a few weeks older than Owen and Henry respectively. I took the opportunity to do some work at my Mac. When the girls had gone home, I took Henry for a walk to the butchers, where I discovered they had just had a delivery of Scottish delicacies – haggis and Lorne sausage! This was great timing – Jen has delegated food shopping/cooking to me while she is at work and I am at home, so I am using this as an excuse to cook all of my favourite foods! After a rainy morning, it was a lovely crisp winter afternoon, perfect for getting out of the house to burn some calories and log exercise minutes for my Apple Watch January challenge! It also encouraged Henry to have a nap after the excitement earlier in the afternoon. The walk took a bit longer than planned, which had a knock on effect on my dinner plans – I cooked wings, but the recipe I use needs two hours (but is really good), and Owen was already hungry! Jen fed the boys early and we had a late dinner when the wings were ready – and they were worth waiting for!

We were back at Coventry parkrun on Saturday morning! Jen did not want to run with Henry this week, so as I would be wrangling both boys, Owen took his Strider, rather than his pedal bike – he still does not have enough speed control on his pedal bike to be let loose without direct supervision. It was a cold but sunny winter morning, so we all wrapped up warm – there was even ice on the ground at the skate park, which made for tricky riding conditions for Owen. To warm up after our trip to the park, we had bacon sandwiches, well Jen, Owen and I did. Henry stole some of Owen’s sandwich – at the moment he seems to be much more interested in eating other people’s food than his own. As both cars were at home, along with someone to look after the boys and a gap in the rain I took the opportunity to swap car seats around, making it easier to get Henry in and out of my BMW. I also adjusted the child seat in my MR2 Roadster, so that Henry can come out in it with me, although that will have to wait until the roads are clear of salt. As it was such a nice day, we decided to head to Ryton Pools, so that we could all get some fresh air and Owen could get out on his pedal bike. Owen was riding so much better than on our previous visit on New Years Day, but he kept getting frustrated with himself – I think he forgets that he has only been riding a pedal bike for three weeks! While we were at Ryton Pools I noticed a strange looking aircraft flying overhead – after a bit of online research when I got home I found out it was WZ507 – the only flying de Havilland Vampire in the Northern Hemisphere – a pretty cool plane spot! After two park trips in one day, we treated ourselves to a fish and chip dinner, the photo at the top of this post is Henry looking pleased with himself after successfully stealing some of Owen’s chips. My watch informed me that I had completed the “Ring in the New Year Challenge”, which was a day earlier than expected, but I was glad to tick that off!


Sunday was for mountain biking – a day I had been looking forward to! I was meant to be going to the Forest of Dean with a friend, but he cancelled. It was another crisp wintery day – so I went anyway! The trails were running surpisingly well, given the conditions on my ride earlier in the week (and all the extra rain since), and I ended up having one of my best days on the bike in ages! First I did a lap of the blue “Verderers” trail, taking all of the red graded optional sections. I felt like I was riding better than my last visit back in November, both on the climbs and descents. After completing the amazing “Dragon’s Tail” descent at the end of the “Verderers” trail, I stopped for lunch – a pizza from the shack in the car park! Does it get any better than that? Whilst it was nice sitting in the sun eating my pizza, the temperature was only just above freezing, so I was shivering by the time I got back on my bike to hit the downhill trails. The push/climb to the top warmed me up though. I rode the “Countdown” and “Launchpad” downhill trails – completing each of them in one hit, which I did not manage last time. I am pleased to say I set personal best times on both, which was my goal for the afternoon!

My first “solo” week has gone really quickly – I have kept myself busy and feel like Henry has had a good week, despite teething – the elusive sixth tooth still has not appeared. He is upset when Jen goes, but seems happy enough hanging out with me at home, especially when he gets to roam free. He has started to show an interest in the stairs, so I am going to have to keep a close eye on him! I am getting more into the swing of his routine, although he does sometimes change it up to keep me on my toes!

Radio Controlled MX-5 Rebuild: Chassis

One of my goals for 2020 is to rebuild my Tamiya 1:10 scale radio controlled MX-5 model up and running. After wanting a decent radio controlled car as a kid, I finally bought myself the Tamiya MX-5 model when I was a student in 2006, when I had a real version of the car. As work/studying/life in general got in the way the little MX-5 was put away in the loft, and transferred from loft to loft as I moved house three times. Then I found it when I was digging out my Scalextric set to show Owen and decided to rebuild it this year.

The plan is to split the rebuild in to three parts:

  • Refresh the chassis – all the radio gear was rattling around loose, and I was unsure of the state of the rest of it. I also did not know what condition the electronic components were in.
  • Tidy up the original body shell – when I originally did the build in 2006, I did not do a great job of painting and preparing the body shell. I also crashed it and put a split in the front bumper.
  • Paint and prepare the spare shell to a high standard – due to the rubbish paint job and crash, I had the foresight to buy a spare body shell, which I have not touch yet. The idea is that I will try to do a really good job of the paint and decals, to make it look as much like my old car as possible! This body will be kept for looking good, as I would be gutted if I crashed it.

There is also a potential fourth phase, which would be preparing the MX-5 for racing, but that may not actually happen. This post covers the chassis refresh. As I tidy up the body shells I will update with further posts!

The first thing that I needed to do was to check the NiCad battery packs – they are known to degrade over time, and I did not expect them to be in good condition after fourteen years in the loft. The first surprise was that I found a yellow battery pack, that I had forgotten about, unfortunately when I connected it to the charger it was not recognised – not a good sign. The other (blue) battery pack charged up fine, and apreared to be holding voltage when tested with my multimeter. When I eventually got some charge into the yellow battery pack it did not hold it, so it will go into the battery recycling. At least I had one battery pack that I could use for my testing. When researched new battery packs, it seems that the technology has moved on significantly – NiCads, like I have, are no longer available, NiMH battery packs are a straight swap, but considered old hat. LiPo batteries, like those found in mobile phones/tablets are the current standard, but from what I can tell would mean replacing all of the electronics inside the car – so I will give that a miss!

Next, I had a thorough read of the build instructions, and soon discovered the parts list – and “hop up” parts list for upgrades, and decided that if I was stripping the car down, I should probably fit the metal bearings, rather than the standard plastic bushings. I also noted the exact consumables I would need – grease, tyre glue and servo tape (to stick down the radio gear). I started the strip down with the front bulkhead/suspension and found surprise number two – the metal bearings were already fitted! I took my shortened shopping list to FTD Models in Coventry, who were able to supply me with better quality generic products, for less than the equivalent Tamiya bits – result! Owen helped with rebuilding the front bulkhead – he has seemed really interested in this project!

Rebuilt chassisThat evening Jen had some friends round for “cocktails and puzzles”, which meant that once the boys were in bed, I had a few hours where I would not be interrupted and could crack on with the rebuild – focussing on the rear part of the chassis, which houses the rear suspension, and drivetrain. To regrease the gearbox, differential and axles meant fully didassembling the rear of the car, but I got it fixed back together without any parts left over! Before fixing the radio gear back into the car, I tested that it still worked – which it did, so I was able to use the servo tape to stick the speed controller and radio receiver onto the chassis. Then, when Jen was out of the house, Owen and I were able to give the chassis (minus body) a brief test drive in the hallway at home. The test drive was successful, so I proceeded with the final steps of the rebuild – tidying the wiring and glueing the tyres to the rims. Glueing the tyres is something I had neglected to do when I initially built the car, as I did not have any tyre glue and I was eager to drive the car. Unfortunately I started doing the first wheel before watching a guide on YouTube, and learning that I should have trimmed the inner foam before fitting it. To avoid any handling imbalances, I did not trim the foam on the other rear wheel, the front wheels look much neater with trimmer foam though. With the chassis finished it was time to refit the body and take it for another test drive in the hallway, which swiftly turned into a shakedown at the Hearsall Common fair site, which was the nearest clear area of hardstanding I could think of.

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Ever since I brought the box down from the loft, Owen has been really interested in the car, asking regularly when we would be able to drive it. He was surprisingly keen to help with the rebuild, even if it was just watching and handing me tools. When it came to the test drives at home he was really excited, even though the car was barely crawing along. Owen wanted to drive it properly, and as I was feeling confident in the car, I brought him along for the shakedown. As there was a risk that the car could fail after a few minutes we brought our bikes along to do some skills practice, so it would not have been a wasted trip if the car failed. Fortuantely it ran worked well! I let Owen drive, but he struggled to hold the controller, so we settled on Owen controlling the throttle whilst I supported the controller and did the steering. He was actually a really careful driver, keeping the speed sensible and following my instructions – impressive for a three year old! In fact, the only crashes happened when I was controlling the speed and driving too fast…

Rebuilt and ready to goThe car was fast and seemed less keen to just spin in circles than I remember. I needed to add some trim to the steering to stop the car veering left, but I should be able to correct that fairly easily by altering the steering arms on the car. The battery pack also lasted longer than I expected. The situation the car is in now is a lot like my real MX-5 was for the last few years I owned it – a good runner with a scruffy body! Fortunately it should be easier to tidy up the plastic body shell than it would have been to weld up all the rust on the real thing!