Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

2018

Happy new year! 2018 started quietly for us, at home with Jen’s best friend, whilst Owen slept upstairs. It wasn’t a wild night, I knew that I would need to get up with Owen in the morning. I’ve always been more excited about New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve. I prefer getting outside and doing something to an expensive and overhyped night out.

Owen let me have a relative lie in – until 7:30, although later would have been nice. Jen had a slightly longer lie in, but had to get up for park run. After porridge for breakfast, we all set off for Kingsbury Waterpark, for Jen to do Parkrun. Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, which wasn’t ideal. When he woke up we had a walk around the waterpark to cheer Jen on at various points on her run – well, I pushed Owen in his pushchair. I had some proud dad moments, as Owen seemed to get excited whenever he saw someone on a bike – pointing at them and shouting “bike” excitedly. We had planned on going to the playground, and I’d brought my camera along to take some cute photographs of Owen but it started raining and it was cold, so we came straight home. Typically, the weather had improved by the time we got home.

I took advantage of the nicer weather to get out on my bike – just a local ride around my urban woodland loop. It was hard work as the trails were particularly muddy and I really felt like I’d ridden more than 16km by the time I got home. A cup of tea and slice of Jen’s Christmas cake was very welcome after I’d removed the covering of mud from both my bike and myself. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Owen. A great start to 2018!

Last year will be a tough act to follow, but there is still plenty to look forward to: a trip to France with my family, our usual visit to Croyde and a weekend in Chester to visit the zoo. Most excitingly we will be going to San Sebastian in Spain to meet up with our friends Nicki and Mat, who we haven’t seen since our wedding in 2015, as they live in Australia. Jen and I visited San Sebastian on our first holiday together, in 2010, and have been wanting to return ever since. We loved the food and the atmosphere in the town, it just felt like our sort of place. The main beach is in a sheltered bay, but there is also a surfing beach across the river – a great set up for a family holiday. I’m also planning a mountain biking trip to Scotland with my friend Ali. We have done some groundwork for most of these trips, but we will have the excitement of finalising plans over the next few weeks. Aside from all of these trips away I’m heading back to work after the Christmas break with some exciting projects to get my teeth into, although I will still be having Fridays off to hang out with Owen – which is usually the highlight of my week.

At this time last year I set myself some goals for 2017, which gave me focus for the year, so thought I’d do the same for 2018:

Get my weight down to 85kg

I made good progress in 2017, so I want to continue and get to the weight I was when I was 18. I think it is doable, as I’ve been losing weight consistently over the last six months. Jen got me some Withings (now Nokia) connected scales for my birthday in 2016 and they have been a great motivator to losing weight.

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

This is a difficult one to quantify, but when I got back on my bike after six weeks off I could feel that my fitness level had dropped. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get back to where I was. I kept up my training schedule while I was injured, replacing my usual exercises with knee strengthening exercises, so I’ve already cleared the first hurdle.

Improve my MTB skills

2017 was the year of improving my fitness, I want 2018 to be the year of improving my bike skills. I’d like to learn wheelies, manuals, endos, bunnyhops and other trials type skills that can carry over to trail riding. Owen will be getting a balance bike in the summer, so hopefully I’ll be taking him to the pump track/skatepark – a good opportunity for me to improve my riding too! I had intended on getting some skills training three years ago, but felt I didn’t have the fitness to back it up – I do now!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

The “Harry” rock garden is where I had the crash that injured my knee. I’ve never felt like I can ride that section confidently, and it has now replaced “Cardiac Hill” as my nemesis. Hopefully the skills training mentioned above will help with this.

Ride at a new trail centre

I liked this goal from last year, so added it again. My trip to Scotland with Ali should give allow me to complete this goal.

Ride more natural terrain

In 2017 I enjoyed my rides in the Cotswolds and the North York Moors, and I know there is even better natural terrain in places like the Peak District and the Long Mynd. Both are nearer to Coventry than a lot of trail centres too.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve enjoyed riding my mountain bike for the last few years, but aside from removing the odd fallen tree I haven’t put much back in for everyone else. Whilst I’m not up to full riding fitness I’m going to join a trail maintenance session at Cannock Chase – the trails there are all maintained by volunteers! I’ll also have a few rides locally where I focus on improving the trails.

Drive the MR2 more

Last year the MR2 took a bit of a backseat, when I had any free time I was out on my bike.  This needs to change in 2018 – even if it does mean riding my bike less. Last year I wanted to do a track day at a new track, but I think just doing a track day will be difficult enough, hopefully I can squeeze one in.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

My iPhone takes decent photos, but whenever I use my DSLR I’m reminded just how much better the picture quality is! Last year it was mostly used for taking pictures of Owen, but I’d like to take it out with me on a bike ride to take some landscape shots.

I would like to get some photos of myself riding – I’ve only got one, from 2015. It would also be nice to get my Orange Four in the GMBN Bike Vault, along with my Vitus (and Owen).

Learn to juggle

I’ve noticed that both Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff use juggling as part of their training – so if it is good enough for Mountain Bike XC world champions…

There is also the showing off aspect, I’m sure Owen would be very impressed if I could juggle! He bought me some juggling balls for Christmas, so I’ve already made a start on this goal. I’m at the stage of throwing one ball from my right hand to my left hand, and back again – with my eyes closed. It is a lot harder than it sounds! However, I’m sure juggling is the sort of thing where it is important to get the fundamentals right – such as accurate repeatable throws.

A Look Back at 2017

2017 is going to be a tough year to top! The main highlight was taking 9 weeks parental leave to spend with Owen – I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to take such a long break from work again and it was great bonding time with the wee man at such a key point in his development. If any fathers to be are reading this and are considering taking shared parental leave I’d seriously recommend it, and also checking out the series of blog posts I did documenting my time off!

The first few months of the year, before my paternity leave started were fairly standard, I took the MR2 to a few Pistonheads events – a visit to Prodrive and took it on track at Silverstone. I also had my annual trip to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, which proved to be quite a key day for me.

The spring was by far the best time of year – I was on paternity leave and in addition to spending every day with Owen I managed to fit in a wedding, some climbing, a big bike ride in the Cotswolds, project managing a garden renovation, a holiday in Croyde all culminating with Owen’s first birthday party! I think it is pretty safe to say that I made the most of my paternity leave!

Summer was all about mountain biking – starting off with buying my dream bike! 15 year old Lewis would have been very excited at having an Orange mountain bike, a full suspension Orange mountain bike would have seemed other worldly! I hadn’t planned on buying one, but after demoing one at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, I had to have one. This meant my old bike could be fitted with a child seat for Owen, and he seemed to like his rides round Draycote Water and along the Monsal Trail. Owen even managed to sneak into the GMBN Bike Vault! We also had a fun trip to North Yorkshire for Jen to run the York 10km race, me to ride my bike on the North York Moors and Owen to share his stomach bug with everyone we met. I also started to settle into my new four day week at work. It has meant a pay cut, which isn’t ideal, but getting to spend the extra time with Owen has been worth it. Fridays usually start off with mountain bike videos, then Owen’s swimming lesson followed by a nap. Then lunch, a walk to the butchers and/or the park before waiting for Jen to get back from work.

The main event in autumn was our trip to Cyprus for my best friend Partho’s wedding, after the initial stress of getting there, we had a great time, both at the wedding in Limassol and relaxing in Protaras afterwards. There were so many firsts for Owen, the big one being his first flight on aeroplane, and he coped well with all of the new experiences. After getting back from Cyprus I had my best bike ride ever, a loop of the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase where everything just clicked. Unfortunately I had a really bad ride back at Cannock Chase a few weeks later. I came off my bike on a tricky section of trail, aggravating an old knee injury. This happened at the top of a hill, at the furthest point of the trail from the car park. I managed to gently ride back to the car, mostly annoyed that I’d done all the hard work climbing, but missed out on the fun descents. However, when I got out of the car at home my knee had swollen up and I was in a fair bit of pain. It took about a month, and a lot of exercises from the physio to get the full range of motion back, but it is on the mend now.

At least my injury coincided with the bad weather, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending my evenings at home at my computer, working on websites and generally being a geek. We also won a new project at work which has been keeping me occupied, so I’ve not missed mountain biking as much as I thought I would. I did manage to take a trip to the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my Dad. Christmas was an extra special time now that Owen can appreciate what is going on, I don’t think he understood exactly what was happening, but he certainly liked having an advent calendar, the brightly coloured tree in our living room and seeing Santa Claus in the run up to Christmas. He also enjoyed being the centre of attention throughout the festive period, spending time with his aunts and uncle and especially all the new toys that arrived for him! I’m sure next year will be even more special again, as Owen starts to understand what is going on. After Christmas I was able to get back on my bike for a short local ride but mostly enjoyed spending time at home with Jen and Owen.

At the start of the year I set myself six goals on my look ahead to 2017 blog post, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in meeting them:

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

I currently weigh 87kg and have been under 90kg for over six months. When I reviewed my goals in June I set a stretch goal to keep my weight below 87.5kg, which I have just about managed.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

Must try harder in 2018! I’ve barely driven the MR2, and only did one track session at Silverstone.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Llandegla was hard but awesome, I’m looking forward to a return trip.

Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride

Yes. I also had some good rides in the Cotswolds on natural terrain.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I took my compact camera out with me on a few rides, but what I really wanted to do was a proper photography mission on my bike, which I didn’t get around to. Another one to carry over to 2018!

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I wouldn’t say yoga is part of my weekly routine yet, but it is getting there. I did have a few months of practicing yoga two or three times a week, but when I injured my knee at the beginning of November I let the yoga slip, as I just didn’t have the required mobility in my leg. Yoga has been replaced by knee exercises from the physio, along with some upper body weight training, but I’ll be looking to phase the yoga back in over the next few weeks.

Aside from the goals I laid out at the start of the year I feel like I have accomplished a fair amount, especially as I’ve had to balance work, family life, training and personal projects, which was an accomplishment in itself. I’m most proud of how much my fitness had improved over the first ten months of the year, I seem to notice it most at places I ride my bike occasionally, such as Cannock Chase, I found myself riding straight past places where I would have normally had to stop for a breather. Hopefully six weeks off the bike hasn’t undone all of that good work! At the start of the year I said I wanted to clock 100 active days, do at least 1x Everest climbing and log more kilometres on the bike that my best friend Partho. Even with six weeks off the bike I managed 100 active days, although two off them were swims, 1.8x Everest of climbing and most importably rode over 400km more than Partho. Up until my knee injury I had ridden my bike at least once a week from the second week of the year, which probably had a lot to do with my improved fitness.

I have been trying to expand my technical skillset, from front end developer to full stack developer, this blog has been moved to an AWS EC2 instance, which has taught me a lot about running a web server and has lead to a few other interesting projects. I have also been brushing up my PHP and MySQL skills, which I hadn’t used since graduating from university in 2007, at the moment I’ve only been using it for a small personal project, but it is something that could expand one day…

I also feel like I’ve shared in Owen’s many accomplishments this year – he has said his first words, taken his first steps, been on his first bike rides and charmed every person he has met. He is also turning into a little petrolhead, “car” seems to be his word for anything he likes and he could happily play with cars all day. I wonder where he gets that from…

Back on the Bike

I came off my bike at Cannock Chase last month, aggravating an old knee injury (ruptured ACL), which has kept me off the bike for six weeks. I kept myself busy with some geeky projects, exercises from the physio and servicing my old hardtail, but what I really wanted to be doing was blasting down some single track on my bike. I had decided that I would wait for the OK from the medical professionals before restarting any exercise, unless it dragged on past Christmas…

With the festivities out of the way, and no update on even when I’d get the results from my MRI, I decided to head out for a gentle local ride. The only slight problem was that snow from the day before was still on the ground and there had been a hard frost. However, it was a lovely sunny winter day and it would have been a shame to waste it by staying inside. Usually I would have taken my old hardtail for this sort of local ride, but despite having had six weeks to work on it, it was still in bits in the garage, awaiting some spares – but that is a whole other story. In any case my Orange Four was probably more suitable for this particular ride, with suspension to reduce the stress on my knee and knobblier tyres for the muddy trails. Who cares if I was totally over-biked for a gentle ride around the city!

It felt good to be back in the saddle, even just riding along the lane behind my house, crunching through frozen puddles. However, I knew the first real test would be the climb up the bridleway next to the Co-op, known as “Dog Poo Alley”. As I got into the climb I could feel a slight reminder from my knee that it wasn’t right, but I wouldn’t describe it as pain. I was more concerned by my legs and lungs! A combination of six weeks off the bike, freezing temperatures and lack of warm up before a climb meant that both my legs and lungs were burning – on a climb I usually breeze up! The low winter light coming through the trees in Hearsall Woods necessitated a stop for photos – I still need to get my Four into the GMBN Bike Vault with my Vitus hardtail. I then had the brilliant idea to check out a clearing in the woods, which I hoped would still be covered in snow – as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, I was in luck! Riding away from the clearing I found a fun bit of trail with roots and berms – I couldn’t believe that I’d been missing out this section for years.

The next section of my ride was uneventful. At Canley Ford I opted to miss out the “Milkbar trail”, as it is quite rooty and twisty, so I stuck to the tarmac lane. My plan had been to ride round the Memorial Park, as an easy way to add some distance to the ride. When I got there the perimeter path looked like an ice rink, so I decided that the muddy trail through the woods would be safer. I haven’t had much luck with this section of woods this year – a tree fell onto the main trail in the spring and thus far I haven’t found a way through without having to get off the bike and climb over fallen branches – this ride was no different.

After crossing the Kenilworth Road, I resisted the temptation of the dirt jumps and followed the trail to Earlsdon Avenue South, where I had to stop for a breather. I was really feeling the six weeks I’d had off the bike. From there it was road to Hearsall Common, where I had fun breaking through the ice on some frozen puddles – something that never gets old. Then back through Hearsall Woods and down Dog Poo Alley. As I was near the end of my ride, I decided to drop my seat and really push on the pedals to see how my knee would react. It coped, but it wasn’t happy about it, most of the ride my knee felt fine, but when I was standing on the pedals it didn’t feel right. It didn’t hurt, but it was more a reminder to not push things too quickly.

I rolled back home, covered in mud, but happy that my knee had held up and that I’d survived the icy conditions. It is also good to know that my knee is recovering, I won’t be heading back to Cannock Chase to conquer the rock garden that caused the injury for a little while, but hopefully I should be able to get out and rack up some base miles to get my fitness back to where it was at the start of November.

Ferrari: Under the Skin at the Design Museum

The Design Museum, now in Kensington, currently has an exhibition called Ferrari: Under the Skin, all about the brand and most importantly – their cars. So when my Dad suggest a trip to London to see it, I didn’t take much convincing – especially as he’d planned it to coincide with Porsche night at the Ace Cafe!

The journey to the Design Museum took in car (Porsche of course), tube and bus. Whenever I’m in London I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Coventry, walking/cycling distance from most places I need to go – getting round London is a faff. A very slow faff. I was impressed that I could travel on the tube and bus, just by waving my iPhone at the machine though.

The Design Museum’s new location is impressive in itself and much bigger than the old site near the Tower of London, that I visited with Jen in 2015, for their bike exhibition. We were on a tight schedule, so unfortunately only had time to look at the Ferrari exhibition. The first few sections were about Enzo Ferrari and the background to the formation and early years of his most famous racing team. I particularly liked the original design drawings from the 1950’s. I work with automotive CAD at work, so seeing similar drawings done by hand was very impressive. The next section – about the design/construction of Ferraris, as an automotive geek I was in heaven. There were wooden, wireframe and clay styling bucks from over the years, a rolling chassis from a 250 GT and various bits of engines, paired up as rough castings and finished parts. I love seeing how cars are put together!

The rest of the exhibition was cars, first road cars, including the gorgeous 275 GTB4 (the blue one in the photo), which was my favourite. Then race cars, on a large banking, starting with the Ferrari 500 F2, which Alberto Ascari drove to victory at the F1 championships in 1952 and 1953 to the Ferrari F1-2000 driven by Michael Schumacher, which also won a world championship. The F1 cars were impressive, but I liked how close to the road cars the GT cars were, including one which Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, whilst listening to the race commentary on the radio! The final part of the exhibition was “the future” and the star car was a white LaFerrari Aperta – one of only 200, this one owned by chef Gordon Ramsay.

The car that made me smile the most though, and grab my phone to get a photo, was the little Fiat 500 driving up Kensington High Street, at rush hour, in the rain. I love seeing classic cars being used, but after having driven one I had even more respect for the driver – it was difficult enough to drive on empty country roads, London rush hour in a Fiat 500 would be way too stressful for me!

From the Design Museum, we were back on the bus/tube/car to the Ace Cafe, taking about twice as long as the way there, due to London rush hour. We were still one of the first Porsches there, so grabbed a burger whilst waiting for more to arrive. I’d forgotten just how good a flat six Porsche engine sounds, hearing them all pulling up had me thinking that it may be good to have one in the garage instead of the MR2…

Unfortunately we had to leave before it got really busy, we had a long drive ahead and my Mum was babysitting Owen whilst Dad and I were out looking at nice cars. I can’t wait until we can bring Owen along on our automotive adventures!

Bitcoin: Wallets

The main thing you need to get started with Bitcoin is a wallet to hold your coins. There are a few different kinds of wallet available, I’ll run through them in order of security, starting from the weakest. As with most things there is a trade off to be made, as the less secure wallets are more convenient to use.

Online wallets are the easiest to use as they are online and can be accessed from many devices such as smartphones and web browsers. The downside of this convenience is that you don’t own the wallet, it lives on someone else’s server and you could lose your money – as happened to Mt.Gox customers. These wallets are often part of an other service like such as exchanges such as Coinbase or LocalBitcoins or faucets (free bitcoin sites), like freebitcoin. Some others that do not come with a service are Blockchain.info and Green Address.

Desktop wallets are installed on a computer and keep your Bitcoins there. This is safer than using an online service – you are in control of your wallet, but also responsible for backing it up and ensuring your system is secure. To make desktop wallets more secure you can use some of them in an “offline” state, if you have an old computer not connected to the internet. You can usually only access the wallet from the machine it is installed on, so they are less useful when it comes to spending Bitcoins out and about, although you can get “desktop wallets” on your smartphone. The official Bitcoin Core client is a desktop wallet, albeit one that requires downloading a large section of the blockchain – so make sure you have a lot of free space on our machine! Other examples are ArmoryElectrum and Copay, which is also available on iOS.

Paper wallets are simply a print out of the data needed for a Bitcoin wallet, usually in the form of a QR code. They don’t have to be printed on paper, they could be printed on something more durable, such as metal. As they are not held on a computer they are secure, but not so user friendly and have largely been replaced by hardware wallets.

Hardware wallets are small devices designed to hold cryptocurrency securely, offline. This can mean that they are possibly too secure – as the founder of Wired magazine found out! Trezor and Ledger Nano S are examples of hardware wallets.

Wallets are usually referred to as “hot” or “cold” with “hot wallets” usually being online wallets, containing a small amount of Bitcoin for servicing transactions. “Cold wallets” are offline wallets, such as hardware or paper wallets for long term storage, much like a savings account.

Based on my research, I have set up an account with Coinbase, so I am using their wallet as my hot wallet. I noticed that the service struggled with the number of users caused by Bitcoin reaching $10,000, then $11,000 on the same day, so that is something to keep an eye on. I have also set up a desktop wallet with Copay, which rather niftily can be duplicated on my iPhone. I also plan to set up a paper wallet, but that is a project for another day/post.

Some of the links I’ve posted are referral/affiliate links, but in general with Bitcoin/crypto currency you need to be wary of the links you are clicking, as some of them may be scams. At the time of publishing this post, all links appeared to be genuine.

Bitcoin: Introduction

I’m no expert in Bitcoin, or any crypto currency, just a regular guy with a bit of background knowledge. I’m starting to experiment with Bitcoin partly to diversify my investments, but mostly out of curiosity – I am a geek and this sort of thing interests me! I thought I’d blog about my Bitcoin journey in case anyone else is looking into it, but also to serve as a notebook for myself.

Bitcoin is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically. No one controls it. Bitcoins aren’t printed, like dollars or euros – they’re produced by people, and increasingly businesses, running computers all around the world, using software that solves mathematical problems.

– Coindesk: 20th March 2015

In the UK we have already started to change how we use money, even five years ago the major banks had a monopoly, but now fintech startups and even the big players such as Apple/Google are trying to replace the old banks. I was an early adopter of Apple Pay, registering and using iron the first day it was available in the UK. Bitcoin is certainly a part of the changing landscape for our money – I especially like that it is decentralised and not run by a company whose main motivation is do get more data about us. I spend a lot of time online, both for work and leisure, and Bitcoin has been in my peripheral vision for years – I’m not going to think about how lucrative it could have been to have bought some Bitcoin when I first heard about it! The value has already doubled since I put “Research Bitcoin” into my todo list three months ago! I am not interested in learning about the mining side of things, it seems like I have already missed the boat on that. Mining now seems to be the domain of large “mining pools”, plus my old iMac doesn’t need anything else to slow it down!

Whilst I’m certainly no financial expert, I have researched stocks/shares/funds etc and how to invest in them efficiently over the last few years, both for myself and for my young son Owen. I came to the  conclusion that I prefer to take a hands off approach to investing, and that fees can eat into your profits so need to be minimised. Obviously the biggest risk is that the value of your investment can go down, as well as up. I got caught out by investing just before a big dip, but stuck it out, investing more when the prices were low and did OK when things bounced back. I’m going to take a similar approach to Bitcoin, finding a balance between returns, effort and fees, and to start with – not investing more than I can afford to lose!

This is going to be a series of posts, documenting what you need to get started with Bitcoin, how to get Bitcoins and hopefully how I become filthy rich – if only it was that easy!

Cannock Chase Ride

One of my goals for 2017 had been to “Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase”. I’ve ridden them before, but skipped sections out and/or pushed my bike up the hills. Last Friday I managed to do the almost impossible – align my time off, Owen’s childcare, the weather and permission to escape for a day out on my bike. It was to be the day I tackled the full loop at Cannock Chase.

I almost fell at the first hurdle, I was feeling full of cold when I woke up and considered staying in bed. I was so glad I didn’t though, as it was a lovely autumnal day – perfect for mountain biking! Still unsure if I was going to do the full loop, I paced myself for the first few sections to see how my legs and lungs felt. Although I could have done with some more speed over the new rock garden, as once you stop it is difficult to get going again. Just over two kilometres into the ride is “Cardiac Hill” – my nemesis. I have managed to ride all the way up it a couple of times previously, but it was always really difficult, with a particularly cruel increase in gradient right at the top. This time I feel like I conquered it, my legs were still burning and I needed a rest at the top, but felt in much better shape than I had before – probably a combination of stronger legs from my midweek rides and having lost some weight! At this point I knew I was going to do the full loop!

Crossing the railway and road onto the Monkey Trail felt much more remote, and I had a few more breaks to take in the view, watch the wildlife and consider how lucky I was to be there on my bike. The best view was at the top of “Over The Rainbow”, where the photo at the top of this post is from. By now I felt like I was riding the best I have ever ridden and hadn’t even noticed that I’d missed lunchtime! I managed to stay on my bike down the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rockgardens, which was better than my attempt a few years ago, when I went over the bars. At the bottom of “Upper Cliff” I managed to take a wrong turn, which resulted in some unnecessary climbing, before having to descend again to join the trail for the “Insidious Incline”, which leads to “Lower Cliff” – regarded as the best piece of trail at Cannock Chase. I’d never actually ridden this trail before, as it had either been closed, or I’d been put off by the extra climb. I had been missing out – the climb wasn’t all that bad and the descent was amazing. It felt more exposed than other trails at Cannock, Chase as the trees have been felled in that area, and there was lots of loose gravel waiting to catch out an unwary rider, but that all added to the fun! I even caught up to an other rider during the descent, not something that has happened to me before.

Crossing the road and railway again, back onto the “Follow The Dog” trail, I was faced with a long climb up “Kitbag Hill”, another section I’d never ridden before, having just gone up the fireroad on previous visits. My legs were starting to tire by the top of the climb, but I knew I was on the home straight and took things easy. By the time I’d got to “Son of Chainslapper” my legs felt much better and I could attack the last few sections of trail. This is the part of Cannock Chase I’ve ridden the most, mainly on the Leisure Lakes Demo Days, which use these last few sections of “Follow The Dog” as the demo loop. I found myself whizzing past places I would usually have stopped for a breather, which was another indication that my fitness has improved significantly over the summer. The very last section of trail is closed for renovation, but knowing how my legs felt and that I’ve ridden that trail loads, it wouldn’t have posed a problem. So I’m claiming a full loop of “Follow The Dog” and “The Monkey Trail” and ticking it off my list of goals for 2017!

I was still buzzing when I rolled into the car park, not only had I achieved a personal goal, it had been the best day I’ve had on a bike. To celebrate, and because I’d missed lunch, I treated myself to a Burger King on the way home, still smiling to myself at how much fun I’d had on my bike.

Cyprus: Part Three – Protaras

Despite his late night, and my even later night celebrating Partho and Marilena’s wedding, Owen was awake at 7:00 and not at all sympathetic to Daddy’s hangover. Jen took him for a walk along the beach, so I could catch up on some much needed sleep. We met Partho, Marilena and Richard for a late breakfast as we would all be going our separate ways that morning. Partho and Marilena for a minimoon in Ayia Napa, Richard over the border to Northern Cyprus (which Jen and I checked out in 2011) and we were going to Protaras for a few days relaxing. Before checking out, we took Owen for another swim in the indoor pool, which he enjoyed.

When we visited Limassol in 2011 there was a lot of building work happening near the old town – a swanky new marina was being built. We decided to have a look round and grab some lunch before settling off for Protaras. The marina was beautiful, with super yachts parked in the turquoise waters and pastel coloured villas lining the marina. I’m not sure if the boats or villas would be more expensive, but imagine that the owners have both anyway. There were regular security patrols on golf buggies, making it feel a bit like a Bond villain’s lair. We had frappes (iced coffees) sat outside Cafe Nero, as that was what the locals do. Then we went for lunch at TGI Fridays, not normally somewhere we’d go on holiday, but it was sheltered from the sun and wind and had a great view over the marina.

After lunch we drove to Protaras, taking the coastal route to Larnaca, then the motorway to Protaras. It was good to see some new parts of Cyprus – I’d previously only seen Limassol and the motorway from the airport. Some of the smaller villages were really nice, others just seemed like ramshackle hamlets. Our first impression of Protaras was driving down “the strip” to get to our hotel. It looked much like any other typical holiday resort, with English themed pubs (Only Fools and Horses bar etc) showing English football and advertising full English breakfasts. After putting Owen to bed, I popped out to the ice cream shop next to the hotel – this was to be a recurring theme of our stay.

Once again, Owen woke up at 7:00, despite our efforts to keep him on British time, so I took him for a walk. Fig Tree Bay was two minutes down the road and looked beautiful, with shallow clear water and a small island in the middle of the bay. We walked around the headland to the main beach with all the big hotels. I really liked having the promenade/boardwalk along the beach and that there were municipal sun loungers and parasols, rather than the beach being carved up by hotels for residents only.

After breakfast we took Owen to the beach for his first taste of swimming in the sea! He seemed to enjoy it, splashing away and wriggling his feet into the sand. When we got out he made friends with the couple on the sun loungers behind us, playing peekaboo and waving at them. I went back into the sea with my GoPro and swam out to the island, where there was a shelf of rock just under the water, which was a perfect place to watch the fish swimming around. There were even some pipefish swimming around, which I had never seen in the wild before. Some of the GoPro photos looked otherworldly and some even had fish in the frame.

All the swimming and playing in the sand must have tired Owen out as he had a long nap, meaning we had a late lunch. We walked back down to Fig Tree Bay, to Zefkas, for traditional Cypriot kebabs. They were amazing, probably the best food we ate all trip. Jen had pork, I had Sheiftalies (a Cypriot sausage) and Owen had halloumi and lountza -Cypriot ham. To work off our lunch we walked the length of the promenade to the other side of town, stopping for an ice cream, then back via the strip. In the evening we went to Paladela, which was just across the road, I had Pork Tavas (chunks of pork and potatoes baked in a tomato sauce), Jen had moussaka and Owen had pizza. Then when Owen was in bed I went to the ice cream shop to bring back a late night snack. Once Owen was in bed it was nice having some time to relax, sitting out on the balcony reading a book, sorting through photos or blogging.

Our last full day in Protaras was much the same as the first, except that Partho and Marilena joined us for lunch at Zefkas and a walk along the promenade. We all then joined Partho’s sister and brother-in-law at the beach, where Owen befriended some Russian kids, although I expect he was planning to steal their ball! Our evening wasn’t quite so relaxing, as we had to pack for the flight home. We still managed to have ice creams though.

The journey to the airport went without a hitch, we even had time for breakfast pizzas and a bit of shopping at the airport. We had seemingly the only empty seat on the plane next to us and Owen had a much better flight than on the way out, despite a fair bit of turbulence. We got through the airport quickly – our bags came round the carousel just as I got there, which never happens! Before embarking the long drive back to Coventry we stopped at McDonalds for a late lunch, which was Owen’s first Happy Meal, he was especially excited to be given some balloons.

Traveling with Owen was certainly different to our previous travels, we’re used to traveling light, but Owen had more stuff than both of us combined. He seemed to cope well with the food, even if he wasn’t eating as healthily as he would at home – but that is all part of holidaying, right? We did miss out on a few things, such as paddle boarding and eating later with everyone else but he certainly made the holiday more fun.

Cyprus: Part Two – The Wedding

Photo by my good friend Richard Long, as I was too busy being best man to take any photos.

After a busy build up, this was the day we had come to Cyprus for – Partho and Marilena’s wedding! I had been told that my services would not be needed until 13:00, so we had a relaxing morning, swimming with Owen. The outdoor pool was too cold for him, but the hotel had a heated indoor pool, which was perfect for Owen. It was also empty, so he could splash and squeal in delight as much as he wanted! I was going to take him in the sea, but had been told it would be better to wait until we got to Protaras for that, as the sea in Limassol is “cold” – this was from a Cypriot, who obviously hasn’t surfed in the English Channel in February!

I had been told to report to Partho’s hotel at 13:00 for the ritual shaving, a Cypriot tradition where the best man shaves the groom. Although these days it is mainly symbolic and for the photographers. Partho must have wimped out, as I merely had to help him get dressed, button up his shirt, tie his tie etc, again, all for the photographers.

After the photos we had an hour or so to kill, so we thought we would get Owen lunch, which turned into a rushed affair, with both Jen and I getting stressed that we’d be late for the ceremony. Partho actually thought I was doing it on purpose as Marilena was so late to our wedding she missed the ceremony! After the quickest outfit change for all three of us, we made it to the hotel lobby a mere six minutes late. Only to be told that the bride was behind schedule – panic over. Owen looked so smart in his blue trousers, white shirt and blue bowtie, especially as he was matching Partho and I.

At the church I didn’t realise what was going on – I’m not too au fait with British weddings, let alone Greek Orthodox ones, and all the logistics of who needed to be where etc were in Greek. Rather than the groom waiting at the alter, the bride and groom meet outside and walk down the aisle together. I eventually got the right place, next to Partho at the alter, then realised that I hadn’t been given the rings! Fortunately the best man isn’t responsible for the rings at a Cypriot wedding and the priest had them.

The ceremony was a bit of a blur, the priest did explain some bits in English to Partho, so I had a vague idea of what was going on. My best man duties were swapping the rings between Partho and Marilena’s fingers twice. I had been told I needed to do it three times, so was a bit confused there. As I was when I didn’t need to swap their “crowns” (beaded head pieces, which are tied together) – I had been told that I would need to swap them three times, and that if they were dropped the wedding had to be postponed! I also had to hold a napkin under Partho’s chin in case he dribbled when eating the holy bread and drinking the holy wine. Partho joked that I was best qualified for this as I’d had plenty of practice with Owen. One thing that surprised me about the ceremony was that the photographers and videographers where free to work during the service, even posing Partho and Marilena when the priest was talking to them. They had lights and camera dollies set up behind the alter and at points it felt more like I was in a film about a wedding, than at an actual wedding.

The wedding reception was back at our hotel, with canapés on the lawn. This was a good opportunity to try some typical Cypriot food, which was all very tasty. Even Owen ate plenty of it! As best man I was sat on the top table for dinner, but hadn’t been expecting Jen and Owen to be up there with me. Having a tired little boy on the top table was a risky strategy, but Owen seemed to take it in his stride, making friends with Partho’s sister.

I found my speech more difficult than when I was best man at my little brother’s wedding in 2015, despite Partho giving me so much material to work with over the years. The language barrier and the fact speeches aren’t usually part of a Cypriot wedding didn’t help, but Partho had decided I wasn’t getting away with not doing one. I did get a few laughs at the key moments and didn’t upset Partho, or Marilena, with my stories, so I’ll class that as a success!

After the speeches a short wedding highlights video was shown, with both Partho and Marilena getting ready, and some shots from the ceremony and reception. As a photographer I was impressed at how quickly they turned the video around. I’m also looking forward to the full wedding video and photographs, as there was much more focus on capturing the day than at a typical British wedding. I don’t envy Partho and Marilena having to choose the images they want for their album!

After the wedding we spent a few days relaxing in Protaras.