MOD Pizza Coventry Press Night

I was invited to the press night of MOD Pizza’s Coventry restaurant by Coventry bloggers. Food and drink were complimentary for review. All words and photos in this post are my own. 

I am a big fan of pizza, to the point where I class pizza as one of the essential food groups. So I was excited to hear about MOD Pizza opening a restaurant in Coventry. And even more so when Emily from Coventry Bloggers invited me to the press launch night.

MOD Pizza started in Seattle, and has expanded across the United States and into the United Kingdom and have over four hundred restaurant. They bill themselves as “original superfast pizza experience”. I think the easiest way to explain it is like Subway for pizzas, in that you follow your pizza down the counter choosing which toppings to go on it, at no extra cost, before it is baked in their huge pizza oven and delivered to your table on a plate. A proper plate, not a board with paper underneath, that tears as you cut your pizza – other pizza restaurants take note! I like the “Subway” concept, especially for pizzas, as even when presented with a big menu I like to make changes to toppings. It reminded me of a great Italian restaurant I went to in Limassol called La Boca. 

The menu does have a few pizzas to use as a starting point, however I decided to freestyle as I went down the counter. I started off playing safe with a standard tomato and mozzarella base. At the meat section I was restrained, only choosing pepperoni and bacon, from the many options available. Then black olives, red onion and roasted red pepper from the vegetable section and finally a sprinkling of blue cheese to finish it off. At the end of the counter you pay for your pizza and return to your table, while your pizza goes into the huge pizza oven. One disappointment was that egg was not one of the “30+” toppings available – I love egg on pizza!

My pizza only took a few minutes to arrive, but others took a lot longer – forgivable in this instance as the restaurant has not opened yet. Initially I thought my 11” pizza looked a bit small, but it turned out to be the perfect size. I was full after eating it, without feeling like I had overeaten. This was good as it is an uphill bike ride back home from the city centre. For those with smaller appetites they also do 7” pizzas, or you can get a takeaway box for any pizza you cannot finish. Not being able to carry a box while cycling home meant that I had to eat all though. I was pleased with how my pizza turned out, the blue cheese looked a bit strange once melted, but it tasted so good, especially with the bacon! Roasted red pepper is not something that I would usually choose for a pizza, but I am glad I tried it – the softer texture and slight garlic flavour worked better on a pizza than standard red pepper.

We also shared some sides on our table (another reason why slightly smaller pizzas are better) – cheesy garlic pizza bread, wedges and dips. Another table ordered a humous rip and dip, which looked amazing as it was being delivered to them. The flat bread had puffed up like a balloon – definitely one to try next time!

As I was on my bike and doing the late shift with Henry when I got home, I stuck to soft drinks. Usually this would mean post mix fizzy drinks, which are self service and unlimited at MOD Pizza, but there was a much more exciting option – a selection of homemade lemonades! Also on a self service and free refills basis. They only had a couple of beers on tap, so there were more lemonade options than beers. As someone who prefers driving to drinking it is great to see that some thought has gone in to the soft drinks. I found the strawberry lemonade slightly too sweet, but thought that the classic lemonade was spot on!

For those that know Coventry, MOD Pizza is where the entrance to Cathedral Lanes used to be (Wilko’s now has a door at the back), behind the Lady Godiva statue. Inside it is like a lot of street food type places, with bare concrete and chipboard, but with some interesting statement art on the walls. My sort of place! It felt spacious inside, with plenty of room for pushchairs, which is something I have to consider these days! Three years ago Jen and I could eat out wherever (and whenever!) we wanted, but these days, other than the rare occasions we are child free, we have to consider pushchair and toddler friendliness. MOD Pizza ticks those boxes! There is also an outside area, which should be perfect in the summer. Now that Cathedral Lanes in full of restaurants I really hope that Broadgate states to feel a bit more European, with people eating and drinking outside restaurants. 

Overall I was impressed with MOD Pizza, the food was good and I liked being able to choose what went on my pizza as it was being made. I am keen to go back with Jen and the boys, I know Owen will love choosing his own pizza toppings!

MOD Pizza in Coventry is opening at 12:00 today, 29th March 2019. Their first fifty customers get free pizzas and one lucky customer will win free pizza for a year!

Henry’s Due Date

Today was Henry’s due date, he was born a few weeks early, although not as early as Owen, so has already been on a few adventures. The first few days he stayed at home, stealing the hearts, and cuddles, of all his visitors. When he was four days old he was starting to look slightly yellow and by day five he had lost more weight than the midwives were happy with, so we were sent back to hospital. This was reminiscent of when Owen also had  jaundice and was admitted to special care. This time much easier on us, as we knew what to expect. Seeing Henry in the incubator took me right back to June 2016 and the many hours spent with Owen on the neonatal unit. Fortunately Henry responded well to the treatment and was back home within 36 hours.

As he was gaining strength we could take him out and about, to the supermarket (for a photo in the whisky aisle, like I did with Owen), to visit Nanny and Grandad in Nuneaton, (whilst Owen and I went on a bike ride with Little Rippers) and also to the garden centre/softplay to watch his big brother. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I took Henry to register his birth, followed by lunch at Dough and Brew in Warwick – the first restaurant we had taken Owen to. Like Owen in 2016, Henry was so well behaved, letting us eat our pizzas without disruption – not something that we have experienced for a while! We also took both boys for a visit to Coventry Transport Museum, and Sprinkles Gelato for ice cream and waffles.

However the best part of my paternity leave was being able to spend time together as a family of four. My paternity leave for Owen was spent in the neonatal unit at UHCW, I had already gone back to work by the time he got out. So the bonding time at home was great. There have been lots of nappy races, where we line the boys up on their changing mats and see which parent/boy can change the nappy fastest. What was harder this time round, was not being able to devote our full attention to the new baby. Owen had been a bit poorly around the time Henry was born and I think felt like we had abandoned him a bit. So to start with he was playing up a bit, we have tried as much as possible to keep to his normal routine, but it has not been easy. Things have improved now and he seems to have accepted Henry, it is very cute when Owen says goodbye to him whenever we go out just the two of us.

Henry has also changed loads in the two and a half weeks since being born. He is now heavier than his birth weight and so much more alert. The jaundice has cleared up too. His little legs are already really strong, despite their skinniness. He loves his milk, often drinking way more than his little tummy can hold, with predictable consequences…

I am really going to miss Jen, Owen and Henry when I go back to work tomorrow. It will be especially difficult trying to fit a full work day and spending time with the boys, especially as I am doing Henry’s late feeds. I had visions of getting all sorts of jobs done during my paternity leave, life admin, servicing my bike etc, but had forgotten just how much attention a newborn needs – almost as much as a toddler!

I am still working a four day week, so will have extra time to spend with Henry and I am very much looking forward to taking some shared parental leave at the start of 2020 – it was such a rewarding experience when I did it after Owen was born. 

Baby Henry

Henry Peter Craik was born at 18:10 on the 7th March 2019, weighing 2.78kg. He had a much easier time than Owen did when he was born and we were back home a few hours later. Owen is still getting used to the idea of having a little brother, but he is always keen to help us with Henry.

Henry is a cool little dude, he likes milk and cuddles. When I first started talking to him about bikes he started pedalling his legs – this has got to be a good sign!

MX-5 Thirtieth Anniversary – Throwback Thursday

This week is the thirtieth anniversary of the Mazda MX-5’s debut at the Chicago Motorshow. The MX-5 is always going to be a special car for me as  it shaped a lot of my outlook on cars. To this day I will always pick a lower powered, lightweight, engaging car over something with a big engine or high top speed. I will never forget my first drive in one – I had a Saturday job at the village garage and my first job after passing my driving test was running an errand round the village in my boss’s red Eunos Roadster.

A few years later I bought my first one by accident. Between my first and second year at university I had been looking at Ford Pumas, but my Dad heard of a little sports car for sale. It seemed like a good car and was a good deal, so I bought it. The silver MX-5 mk1 with a 1.8l engine was a big step up from the Rover Metro I had been driving before and over six years I drove it over 100,000 miles. Using it for track days, hooning around the shire, trips to Cornwall and Nurburgring and to racing circuits far and wide when I was official photographer for the Ma5da Racing series. I bought it as a student, then when I got my first real job used it to commute from my parent’s house near Kettering to Coventry. Then when I moved out and had my own place in Rugby. It was the car I owned when I met Jen. Unfortunately, like a lot of mk1 MX-5s, it got a bit rusty over the years and in 2011 failed the MOT so badly that I had no choice but to scrap it.

It took me all of a few days to decide on a replacement – another silver MX-5! However this one was different – I leased a brand new one! For two years track days were replaced by road trips all over the country from the Outer Hebrides to Cornwall. I loved how the newer MX-5 kept all of the character of the old one, but was reliable and comfortable – Jen even liked driving it!

When the lease was up, I was tempted by another MX-5, but after eight years I fancied a change, but I knew I wanted another small, lightweight car…

Flyup 417 Bike Park

One of my goals for 2019 was to ride at a bike park, and earlier this week a day off work, childcare and the weather all aligned and I could get to Flyup 417 Bike Park in Gloucestershire. And what a day it was!

For the non mountain bikers reading, a bike park is somewhere with lots of downhill bike trails, usually with an uplift service (van/chairlift etc) to get you up to the top of the hill. This means that you can concentrate on riding downhill. Although this may sound like cheating, lots of downhill riding can be quite tiring, as I found out…

When I got to the bike park and signed in, I realised that I was their first customer of the day – I had the whole bike park to myself! I could not believe my luck as I was driven to the top of the hill in the van. I started off with a few laps of “Blue Racoon” their new “easy” trail, which was a really fun, flowy trail, with smooth wide berms all the way down the hill. Perfect to warm up on! As the bike park had only just reopened after being closed by snow, I took it easy on my first run, making sure there were no ice patches etc, but it was clear and I was able to press on for the next few runs. Brandon, the van driver, later told me that all the trails are inspected before the bike park opens, but I prefer to check out a new trail before hitting it at full speed.

For my fourth run I tried their other blue-rated trail “Cheese Roller”, which is on the other side of the hill. This is a longer trail and one of the first trails they built, so is narrower and a bit more natural. The top section of the trail was closed due to ice, but that meant it could ride from where the van dropped me off, rather than pushing up to the very top of the hill. “Cheese Roller” was my favourite trail of the day, it is a fair bit longer than “Blue Racoon” and a nice step up in difficulty. The final section along the bottom of the field is a series of table top jumps, which looked like they were perfect for learning to jump on – assuming your legs still had some strength left after the descent. I say were, as I have since heard that they are rebuilding these jumps. As I was riding down, I saw someone else pushing their bike up the hill, which looked like a lot of effort to save a few pounds! He only did a few runs, so I still had the track to myself when I was riding. Having the uplift van to myself was great too, it would be waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, ready to whisk me back to the top. I was making the most of this and managed six runs in just over an hour, so when lunchtime came round I was glad to be able to give my legs a rest.

After eating my lunch I had a look at the indoor riding barns. The dirt jump barn looked fun, but I lack both the skills and bravery to ride it! The indoor ashphalt pump track looked like a lot of fun – I think Owen would have been in his element there. Next time we are passing by on the M5, I think we will be calling in for an hour. Whilst waiting for the van to come and pick me up for the afternoon, I rode up the push up track and back down the lower section of “Cheese Roller”. I felt like I could attack the line of jumps more, as my legs were feeling fresher than after riding down the whole trail. However I was still nowhere near making the landing – more practice needed!

My first full run after lunch was “Cheese Roller”, as I wanted to warm up with a familiar trail, before stepping up to the red graded trails. The main red trail, “Igneous”, has a couple of alternative lines, “Missing Link” and “Pinball Wizard”, which split off from, then rejoin, the main trail. Brandon advised that I should ride these alternative lines, by taking the left trail at both of the forks. “Missing Link” was noticeably rougher than the blue trails, with a small rock garden in the middle. The rocks continued as I rejoined “Igneous”, with a series of small drop offs in quick succession – this was probably the most technical section of trail I rode. It highlighted that I need to improve my set up to drops, as I could hit one, but could not get the hang of hitting multiple drops one after the other, as I was taking too long to prepare myself for each one. “Pinball Wizard” was a fun trail to ride, albeit slightly outside of my comfort zone. It had a few deceptive drop offs, that initially looked quite big, but were actually rollable. Then came two sets of berms, first a bigger set, then a smaller, tighter set, which again I struggled with, as I am not quite quick enough. The last section of “Igneous” has recently been rebuilt, with a series of large table top jumps. A couple of lads were seasoning the jumps on downhill bikes – the first point in the day that I was sharing the trail with anyone! Knowing the jumps were way too big for me to even attempt, I kept my speed down and just rolled over them.

After a couple of runs on the red trails I decided it was time to get my GoPro from the car and get some footage of the trails. I rarely ride with my GoPro, but the short repeated loops at the bike park seemed ideal to use it. I rode “Blue Racoon” down to the car park to collect my camera, then rode the “Missing Link”/”Pinball Wizard”, “Cheese Roller” and “Blue Racoon” trails, capturing the footage at the bottom of this post. For my last two rides up the hill I was joined in the van by a father and son who had been riding at the Forest of Dean earlier in the day, but fancied a few bike park laps on their way home. By the end of my run down “Blue Racoon” my legs were really burning. It was a different sensation to tired legs from pedalling, more in the calves than the thighs, but I knew it was time to call it a day and get home in time to wash my bike before it got dark.

I had a great day, possibly my best ever on a bike, and I am already looking forward to my next bike park trip. I know I was extremely lucky to have the place almost to myself, but on the other hand I can see how much fun it would be with a group of friends. I will need to work on my fitness before my next visit – I have already started doing calf raises on the bottom step of the stairs at home, and I am sure that more pump track sessions will help too. I also learned that I need to be less excited and actually remember to pause my Strava app before each uplift ride – I ended up spending way too much time tidying up the GPX file and uploading each individual run.

GoPro clips from each of the trails

Strava files for each of the trails

Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.

Ten Year Challenge

The #10yearschallenge has been all over social media the past few weeks, so I thought I would join in. I cheated a bit pushed the limit of the rules, as the 2009 photo was taken right at the end of 2009. Come to thick of it, the recent photo was taken at the back end of 2018, making it more of a nine year challenge…

The 2009 photo was taken by my Dad, we had spent Christmas in Perth, there was so much snow that the road to Glenshee was closed, so instead of going snowboarding with my brother, I went on another photo walk with Dad – we had already been out on Christmas day. The photo was one of a series my Dad took of me on Moncreiffe Island, in the middle of the River Tay in Perth, however this one is my favourite – it was the one I used on the online auction dating profile where Jen found me! I still regularly wear the blue Finisterre jacket, even if it looking a bit tired now. It is still a great jacket and I think I will be buying a new one in 2019.

The recent photo was an iPhone selfie on a local bike ride back in November. I remember the light in Tile Hill Wood was perfect, so I just had to stop for a photo! This was back before I had sorted out my MTB photography kit, but fortunately even the front camera on my iPhone 7 works well with good light.

From looking at the two photos I do not seem to have changed much, I am still have the same stubble and am messing about in the woods. However, in 2009 I was in the woods in Scotland because after travelling up there I could not go snowboarding. In 2018/9 I cannot even remember the last time I thought about snowboarding, mountain biking has well and truly taken over! Another thing that I realised has changed is that I have not been out with my Dad on a photography adventure for a long time – something that I need to address in 2019!

Instagram Best Nine 2018

Instagram was my most used social network last year, I think it helped that I split my social networking up a bit – cars on Twitter and bikes on Instagram. As many people have done, I used the #bestnine2018 tool to find my best nine images from the year. In addition to posting them on my Instagram grid I thought I would post with a bit more detail on my blog.

From my first ride back at Cannock after injuring my knee. I love a black and white photo and should really take more!

View this post on Instagram

Happy New Year!!! I started 2018 off with a muddy local ride on my urban woodland loop. After posting my 2017 achievements yesterday, I thought I’d follow it up today with my MTB goals for 2018: Get my fitness back to where it was before I injured my knee. Concentrate on improving my skills and get some coaching. Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at @chasetrails. Ride at a trail centre I’ve not ridden at before. Ride some natural trails on some proper hills such as the Peak District. Do some trail maintenance – I want to give something back. Take my camera out with me on the bike. Learn to juggle – @nschurter and @jolandaneff use it as part of their training and I’m sure it will impress Owen! . What goals have you got for 2018? . #2018 #happynewyear #newyearresolutions #Fourlife #mtbshotz #mtblife #rideyourbike #mountainbiking #mtb #ukmtb

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This was taken/posted to my grid on the first day of 2018, from a short ride round my local urban woodland loop. The caption includes a lot of my MTB related goals for 2018.

Probably the first photo of Owen and I riding together! The #bestnine tool only shows the first image from the set, but the second one is still the desktop image on my work PC. The reason that I am dressed “full enduro” for a ride with Owen, is that somehow I managed convince Jen that we should have a family trip to Ryton Pools, but that I should take my bike and ride home. Via Rugby. I had done this loop previously, but without the ride back to Coventry. Maybe this year I should try riding it from home…

I thought that I would be able to give my Orange Four a full service around the time of our trip to Spain, sending the suspension off to be serviced whilst we were away, to minimise time off the bike. I was slightly naive. It ended up being on the work stand for over a month, as I kept finding extra jobs to do – including drilling a drainage hole at the lowest point of the frame. This photo was taken on my first ride back, a shakedown on local trails that I am familiar with, which allowed me to tweak the suspension and stop for photos.

The only thing better than a Monday morning bike ride, is a Monday morning bike ride, with a cooked breakfast at the end! I like how the green and blue hues on my sunglasses work with the background colours of the hills and see. The lens colour was not at the front of my mind when I had to urgently replace my old pair of Oakley Fuelcell sunglasses, which had died protecting my eye from a stone at 60mph. Once again the #best9 just showing the first image does not tell the full story. However I did blog about the ride, which was whilst I was on holiday in Croyde.

Llandegla in North Wales is one of my favourite places to ride. This shot was taken from my only ride there in 2018, which I blogged about at the time. I like how the bike is so muddy it almost blends into the background, with the fork stanchions and shaft of the shock being the only clean bits. This was taken near the top of the blue trail on my second run.

Another photo from a local ride on my Orange Four – I wonder if it is the beautiful Coventry scenery, or my tactical #hashtagging that has made these so popular… This one was taken on my Meriden loop, which actually takes me outside of the city, but can be a bit hit and miss, depending on how overgrown the trails are, from what I remember, this was one of the good rides!

Riding with Owen also seems to be a popular theme, even if Owen was on the back of my bike for this one. Jen was also out with us on her bike. The reason we were all out, riding round Coventry’s notorious inner ring road was for the Let’s Ride Coventry event, a family cycling festival on closed roads in the city centre.

I was surprised to see this shot from 2014 in my best nine for 2018, but I did a before/after post when I upgraded my hardtail mountain bike. I am sure it was actually the after post that would have garnered the likes, but once again the #bestnine tool only takes into account the first photo from the post.

2019

Happy New Year!

2019 is going to be an exciting year for us – Owen will be getting a little brother! Baby Craik is due in March, hopefully he will wait a bit longer than Owen did before coming out! Owen seems to be excited about being a big brother, he has already been shopping with us to pick out a special toy for his new brother – he was very decisive and chose an elephant soother – hopefully it will be loved as much as Owen’s blue rabbit toy! We are currently busy preparing for Baby Craik’s arrival, my office is being relocated to the dining room (meaning a lot of sorting/decluttering in both rooms) and Owen is being promoted from cot to proper bed. I’m sure that wrangling two little boys is going to take up most of our attention this year, but we do have a few other exciting things planned!

June is going to be especially busy, with Coventry Motofest, Monster Jam in Coventry, Malverns Classic MTB festival (including Strider racing for Owen) and Owen will be racing again at the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. In September we’re planning on going away for a week, somewhere in the UK, ideally near a beach – but for the first time in ten years, not Croyde! Pembrokeshire is looking favourite, but if you know anywhere good to holiday with two small boys, please let me know!

We saw in 2019 with our friends in York, which was really nice. Especially as Owen is now big enough to play with the other children. Owen loved having access to lots of toys, and a few slightly older friends to play with. This meant the adults could have a good catch up. I really hope Owen is as good with his baby brother as William, Billy, Violet and Catherine were with him! New Years Day continued in the same style, albeit at a different house. The kids had a hotdog party and the adults had a burger party – my sort of party! Owen slept through most of the long drive home, but it gave Jen and I plenty of time to reflect on how much we always enjoy seeing our friends in York and also to discuss our goals for the year ahead.

As in 2017 and 2018, I have set myself some goals, stating them publicly gives me more motivation to get them done. Having said that, I had a few fails last year.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from last year, as I ended the year weighing 88kg. I got close to 85kg in the spring, but got carried away with too much nice food in Spain.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

I used to get out on my bike, or go for a swim pretty much every Wednesday evening, but I have slacked off over the last few months. I need to get back on it. I also want to start climbing, after my taster in 2017.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Jen bought me some resistance bands for my birthday, I am ashamed to say that four weeks later they are still in the packaging. There is also a new gym opening next to my office. I have no excuses for not fitting in at least one workout a week!

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

After riding at the pumptrack last month, and realising what a good workout it is, I want to make sure I do more of it in 2019. My plan for 2018 had been to ride at the pumptrack with Owen, but it didn’t quite work out, as he still isn’t confident enough to ride without me following close behind. Hopefully 2019 will be the year we can ride together at the pumptrack. As a stretch goal, I would like to be able clear some tabletop jumps and/or manual through some rollers.

Ride at a bike park

I used to think that downhills had to be earned, but after doing some van assisted riding in Spain with Basque MTB last year my opinion changed. Not killing yourself on the climb gives you the energy to focus on the downhill, and doing laps of the same trail really allows you to hone your skills, so I can now see the benefits of doing an uplift day at a bike park. 417 Bike Park is an hour’s drive from Coventry (about the same as Cannock Chase), so I will be booking a day there fairly soon! I hear they also have good trails for kids, so maybe Owen will get to ride there too.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I have added this goal mainly because I “only” clocked 99 active hours in 2018 and it seems a good target to aim for.

New blog server

I have been dabbling with AWS for a few years now, and have identified a few ways that I can improve the server set up I have for this blog. I would also like to move it to blog to WordPress 5.0 and write a new custom theme. All geeky stuff, but as my day job is getting more and more project management based I like to keep my technical skills sharp.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have been thinking for a while that I have too many open tabs in Safari across my two Macs and iPhone. I counted (well used the “Bookmarks” menu on the Macs and “Close all tabs” button on iOS) almost 400 open tabs, so need to work through and close them. I am sure that there are some duplicates and ones that I opened for something i was researching, but never got around to implementing. I am going to try and close a few each time I use Safari.

Replace my ageing iMac

I have been thinking that I would do this the last few years, but keep stretching it out for “one more year”. However, now that it will not run the latest version on macOS, is running out of space on the hard disk and is incredibly slow, the time has come. There are two things making this difficult – deciding between an iMac, Mac Mini or MacBook Pro and saving up for it!

Do some night photography

I always look at astrophotography in awe, and enjoyed doing some night landscape photography when I lived in Rugby, but haven’t done any in ages. Now that I have switched camera systems to Fuji, and I am more interested in photography again I would like to get out and try some night photography. Hopefully I will be able to get my Dad to join me…

Detail my MR2

I took the MR2 out for a quick spin on Sunday and realised that I last washed it in 2016! After the Peak District hoon, I know I have not driven it much, but it deserves better! I bought some special Japanese car wax for Jen’s Yaris, I think it would also work well on the MR2.

Get my MR2 to 60,000 miles by its MOT in April

I actually set this goal after its last MOT, when it had 57,239 miles on the clock and I was disappointed that it had done less than 2,000 miles in the previous year. Unfortunately I forgot to check the milage last time I drove it, so have no idea how likely I am to meet my goal.

Drink more whisky

A strange resolution I know! I am not a big drinker, but do enjoy the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky. However people have latched on to this and I am being bought whisky faster than I drink it! I currently have ten bottles (plus one miniature), with six that haven’t even been opened. I am still yet to finish the Tomatin twelve year old that I bought when we visited the distillery in 2014!

I got this off to a good start by seeing in the new year drinking a dram of Tasmanian whisky, that our host Will had been given as a gift. As a Scotsman I usually only drink Scottish whisky, but I doubt I will have another chance to try Tasmanian whisky, so I gave it a go. Now to make a dent in my own collection…

A look back at 2018

2018 has been an exciting year! Owen got a new bike (and had his first bike race), Jen got a new car and I got a new camera, which has encouraged me to take more photos.

I We had a great holiday in Spain, with our friends Nicki and Mat, where I managed to squeeze in a day mountain biking with Basque MTB. We also had our first family European roadtrip, to visit my family in France and a rainy week in Croyde!

Aside from all the adventures we have had some fun family time without straying too far away from home, making the most of the glorious weather we had this summer. We spent a lot of time visiting zoos. We had annual passes to Twycross, where the photo at the top of this post was taken (by Jen), in the “Lorikeet Landing” enclosure. Our pass also got us into other zoos, including Chester Zoo, which combined with visits to Chester Ice Cream Farm and our friends Richard and Anna made for a great weekend away! My little brother also treated us to a trip to London Zoo, which was both Owen’s first trip on the fast train and to the centre of London (having only visited Hackney, by car, previously). As much as we enjoyed, and would recommend, the zoo pass, we have not renewed it. We will take a few years off to visit other attractions, and maybe get another one when Owen is a little bit older, so will be able to experience the zoo through new eyes.

At the start of the year Owen was only just taking his first steps, now he is running around, exploring everywhere. Except where you want him to go, in typical toddler fashion. He has also developed his own interests – he still likes cars and bikes, but what he really loves are construction vehicles. I have no idea where he gets that from! His personality is really coming through – he knows what he wants and can be quite stubborn about getting it. He is also very chatty, and still a charmer. This year Owen has moved through two classes at nursery and made some friends. The teachers have been very pleased with his development – I think they were a bit surprised when he was able to recite the whole of his favourite book to them. Sometimes I think he is getting too clever, like when we visited the Apple Store a few weeks ago and within second of walking in, he asked me for a new iPad!

At the start of the year I set some goals, I also did a mid year update back in July, but here are the final results:

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail! My weight seems to have hovered around 87kg, it did spend a while nearer to 86kg, but after a good Christmas it was back up to 88kg this morning. What has happened though is that I have had to buy a load of new clothes, as none of my old ones fit any more. That has to be a good sign, right?

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

Up until the end of November I really felt like I was the fittest I have ever been. However, I had a cold for what felt like the whole of December, and took my foot of the gas a bit. My first proper rides back I really struggled, especially at the pumptrack. I have been following MTB Fitness and Matt has really helped with my motivation. I’m sure I’ll be back to where I was, and hopefully fitter by the spring.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course, which was a good start, however I haven’t really followed it up. I am defiantly better at manuals and track stands, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Where I do feel that I have improved is at riding technical trails, which is probably more useful than the showy trials skills I wanted to learn.

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

Fail! This should have been easy! My excuse for not checking this is down to not getting there, rather than still being scared of it. I have ridden far more technical trails this year, including on my hardtail whilst on holiday in Devon. There have also been a lot of diversions on the Monkey Trail, which features Tom, Dick and Harry, so I have tended to avoid it when I have been at Cannock. I did make it down the Devil’s Stair case for the first time last week, admittedly helped by the tricky step being removed, but I am still going to claim it.

Ride at a new trail centre

I am going to have to count the ride I did at Lady Cannings in Sheffield for this. Even though I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. I had planned a trip to Scotland with my friend Ali, but life seems to have got in the way. I was also planning to ride at 417 Bike Park for my birthday, but had a cold, so didn’t feel like I would make the most of it. I’ve also been concentrating more on riding natural terrain…

Ride more natural terrain

Yes! I can certainly check this goal off! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy feels like ages ago. The day I did with BasqueMTB in Spain was one of the highlights of the year, even if I was a bit out of my depth on the steep rocky trails. They did however set me up well for the loop I rode around Lady Bower Reservoir in the Peak District at the end of the summer. I felt that it was fitness holding me back there, rather than my bike skills. When I unexpectedly found some technical trails in Croyde, I managed to ride them, even though I was on my hardtail, which wasn’t really the best bike for it. As fun as trail centres are, getting out into the hills is my favourite part of mountain biking!

Do some trail maintenance

Yes! I have done a bit of trail maintenance around my local trails in Coventry, ranging from small bits of tidying on a ride, to helping some local lads make a jump track. I also spent a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding on a Sunday.

Drive the MR2 more

This is a hard one to quantify. I have been making more effort to drive the MR2, and I have really enjoyed to occasions where I’ve been able to go for a fun drive in it. Such as a pointless Sunday drive earlier in the year, or when I used it to run an errand to Staffordshire, stopping off to do some photography on the way back. I did manage a track session at Silverstone, but now that I am working reduced hours, I can’t justify the cost of a full trackday.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

At the start of the year I couldn’t see myself selling my DSLR, however switching to a Fuji mirrorless camera has invigorated my photography. I have probably taken more photographs in the last three months than the rest of the year! Being able to take it with me on bike rides too is a real game changer for me. There also seems to be a good community around the Fuji cameras, which has helped with both learning the new system and motivation. I also mentioned that I would like to get my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, which I did.

Learn to juggle

Fail! Juggling well and truly fell by the wayside after about March. I’ve only recently found my juggling balls after Owen hid them for a few months.

Looking at my Strava statistics, through the handy Veloviewer graphic below, I beat my active days from last year, although I think that if I ignored commuting I would be way down. I matched 2017 for elevation, but I have a feeling Strava counted the elevation from the Basque MTB uplift van, even though I paused Strava whilst in the van. Just missing out on 100 active hours was annoying, I must admit I did consider sneaking in another ride to get a round number, but I will have to leave it as a goal for 2019.

Even with all the crap that has been happening in the news, 2018 has been a pretty good year for me. 2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow, but work, personal projects, mountain biking, photography and of course Owen have kept me busy and on my toes! Having the last few weeks at home with Jen and Owen, to relax and catch up on some jobs has been very welcome. Now we are up in York spending New Years Eve with some of our friends.