Parental Leave: Week 2

Roof down selfie

My second week of parental leave was better than the first, we seemed to have more of a routine and kept ourselves busy. Jen only being at work for four days helped too!

The week started off with another hospital visit, this time to UHCW, where Owen was born. The timing of Owen’s appointment worked well, as we were able to attend the Neonatal unit’s coffee morning. We also had time to pop up to the Neonatal unit to hand in some tiny hats that my Mum had knitted for them, and to see their photowall, which features this photo of Owen, holding a photo of himself when he was on the unit. At his appointment, Owen charmed the doctors, except when they needed to get equipment near to his face, in which case he kept trying to play with it.

On Tuesday my Mum and Dad came to visit, which meant I got to sneak out on my bike – the weather was pefect and I had an awesome ride! I also got to take the MR2 for a drive, unfortunately it was to collect my BMW from the garage, with a large bill to pay. Jen’s Mum came to visit on Wednesday afternoon, which meant I could get some jobs done whilst she looked after Owen. There was no swimming on Thursday, due to the school holidays, so Owen and I had a lazy morning, before meeting Jen for a McLunchdate. As it was only a short trip I decided to try Owen in the MR2 with the roof down, as you can see from the photo above – he loved it!

Friday was the start of the bank holiday, so DIY time. We got our jobs done fairly early on in the day, so I managed to escape for a short bike ride. Jen’s mum came over in the evening to look after Owen, so Jen & I could go out for dinner. As it was just the two of us we took the MR2 – it has been quite a while since we’ve been out in the MR2 together! Saturday was more DIY, along with a lunch trip out to see Jen’s friend Jo.

On Sunday Jen looked after Owen, whilst I met my Dad at Silverstone to watch the first round of the World Endurance Championship. The LMP1 cars looked so fast and the race stayed exciting right up to the end, with the lead Porsche being caught, and overtaken by the #8 Toyota with only a handful of laps remaining.

Next week is going to start with more work on the 119 Project, but after that I haven’t got anything planned when Jen is back to work, but I’m sure Owen will find plenty to keep me busy!

Parental Leave: Week 1

Monday

My first day of parental leave started on an ominous note – Owen refused to eat his breakfast, preferring to blow raspberries at me. Normally we could just wait for him to be hungry, but we had an appointment at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, to look at the hemangiomas on his eyelid, so had to get a move on!

Jen joined us for the trip in to Birmingham; we had hoped to take Owen on his first train journey, but couldn’t get parked at the station, so drove into central Birmingham, which worked out to be quicker anyway. He will get to go on a steam train with his granddad soon enough and that will be more special as a first train journey than the London Midland train to Birmingham!

We had a bit of a wait at the hospital, but came away with some Timolol gel (usually used to treat glaucoma) to rub on Owen’s eyelid, which should speed up the healing process for the hemangiomas. We made it into the city centre in time to meet my friend Partho for a burrito – Owen seemed happy to see him, but not as pleased as he was to see a big bowl of guacamole!

As Jen was off work, I took advantage of having someone to look after Owen and took the MR2 for an MOT, which it passed!

Tuesday

Our first day flying solo! We just had a quiet morning at home, Owen had a bath, then a nap, which left me time to get on with some jobs. In the afternoon we went to buy Owen a bike helmet, then watched Top Gear, whilst Owen practiced his new skill – going from lying on his belly to sitting up. I could get used to this!

Wednesday

Wednesday started with some complicated logistics to drop my BMW off at a garage in Warwick. This wasn’t helped by Owen doing everything possible to delay us getting out of the house, deploying both hunger strikes & dirty protests! He was fine once my Dad picked us up in Warwick, and on his best behaviour as soon as we got to Chipping Norton and he saw his grandma!

My Dad and I spend the afternoon sorting out the lawns at their house, which Owen played inside with his grandma. Then we all met Jen for dinner at the Hatton Arms. After an afternoon raking lawns I felt like I’d earned my steak pie!

Thursday

Swimming day! Swimming is probably Owen’s favourite half hour of the week, he splashes, smiles and squeals with joy when he is in the pool! It also really tires him out, so I can get a lot done during his post swim nap. After the exciting morning we just hung out at home and in the garden, followed by a trip to the supermarket, where Owen seemed to be a hit with all the female staff! In the evening we strapped Owen on to the back of my bike and rode around the block a few times. I don’t think Owen was as excited by this as I was, but I’m sure he’ll get used to it.

Friday

Another day where Owen didn’t want to eat breakfast, I think he’s gone off Weetabix. A similar performance followed at lunchtime, leaving me deciding between giving in (and Owen realising that he can cause trouble and get what he wants) or let him be difficult and go hungry. This hassle meant that the day went slowly, and mid afternoon – when I’d normally be finishing work and going on a bike ride, I began to question my decision to take parental leave. Fortunately Owen cheered up, which meant I cheered up!

Saturday

The day started off well – after Owen’s breakfast we went to a small car show at Fargo Village, Coventry’s trendy market area. It was great to walk around looking at the various cars and small shops/studios. We bumped into my friend Dan with his bright green bike engined kit car, which looked awesome. Before we left we had some cake and a milkshake from Spangles American Diner, although after seeing what the next table ordered I should have gone for one of their freakshakes – a milkshake topped with a piece of cake!

In the afternoon we set up Owen’s beach tent on the lawn so that Jen and I could crack on with some gardening, we managed to get most of our jobs done, but it was hot work and I was really suffering with hayfever. Jen went out for the evening, leaving me to wrangle Owen. I think he may also have been suffering with hayfever, as he had a really rough night, alternating between crying and coughing for a few hours, only stopping about five minutes before Jen got home, then sleeping soundly until the next morning – I’m beginning to thing he is just doing it to annoy me!

Sunday

Sunday started well – I had a bit of a lie in, whilst Jen sorted Owen out. Then, when she brought him through in to our room and put him on the bed next to me he said “Daddy”! We thought he may have said it before, but weren’t sure, but this time there was no mistaking it, so I’m calling that his first word – a proud Dad moment! He did follow that up by eating all of his Weetabix without any fuss for Jen, something he’d refused to do for me all week. We spent the rest of the day at my parents’ house, with my brother and his wife – Owen was once again the star of the show. We had a lovely lunch, sat outside in the sunshine.

My first week of parental leave has absolutely whizzed by, I’ll admit it is harder work than I was expecting, but I’m sure both Owen and I will get into more of a routine over the coming weeks and things will get easier. Hopefully leaving more time for bike rides and drives out in the MR2!

Family Portrait 

Family portrait

As I mentioned in my last post, we were at Richard and Anna’s wedding this weekend. My friend Ali took this photo before the ceremony, it is my favourite from the weekend – we scrub up well, don’t we!

It was a lovely day, we were well fed and the new Mr & Mrs Long make a great couple. Owen was on his best behaviour and everyone commented on how good he looked in his outfit.

Ali seems to have a natural talent for photography, whenever I hand him a camera and ask him to take a photo of me I get back some of my favourite photos of me. This one from mountain biking in Wales is a case in point.

Parental Leave

Owen dressed as Woody

Otherwise known as Daddy Daycare! I have finished work for 9 weeks to spend some time with Owen, as my wife Jen is off back to work after her maternity leave. As I mentioned in my looking forward to 2017 post, we can do this due to some relatively new legislation – in fact I am the first person from my work to opt for this. As it is still uncommon for Dads to take parental leave, I thought I would do a series of weekly blog posts with my thoughts on the experience, what we have been up to and use it as an excuse to share more cute pictures of Owen!

Our first week is already looking busy, with a visit to Birmingham Children’s Hospital – to be combined with an exciting lunch out and possibly Owen’s first trip on a train. We’ve also got a day out to visit my parents planned and the small matter of tasks from Jen’s handover document…

Before we get to that though, we will be spending the weekend in Chester, as our friends Rich and Anna are getting married. This will be our first wedding as a family and we have got Owen a little suit to wear – hopefully he doesn’t steal too much attention from the bride!

Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2017

The annual Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase is the highlight of my mountain biking year – it is a chance to check out the latest kit, and try a few bikes on trails I know fairly well. As I don’t need to take my own bike, it means I can drive to Cannock Chase in the MR2, which makes it even more fun!

Whyte 905

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte 905

After signing on I went to the Whyte stand, as the T-130 was top of my list of bikes to try. Unfortunately they were all out being ridden, so I opted for a 905, which is a much better version of my current bike. I thought it would be a good bike to base all the other reviews on. The 905 did feel better than my bike, but the SRAM gears took a bit of getting used to. I was struggling on the bumpy trails, especially the long rooty section at the end of the lap, I thought I was just unfit/out of condition, but didn’t have the same issues on the full suspension bikes I rode later in the day. If I was looking to replace my current bike, the 905 would be a top contender.

Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Cube Stereo 140 HPA Race

The 120mm travel version of this bike is high up my list of possible next bikes, but they only had 29” or 140mm suspension versions to demo. I opted for the 140mm 27.5″ wheeled model to demo. I rode last years version of this bike at the previous demo day. I was on the 16” frame version, which felt quite compact, I later sat on the 18” version which fitted me well – this isn’t always a given, as I have a long body and short legs.

Dropping in to the Son of Chainslapper section, which is a lot bumpier than I remember, the Cube felt so much more planted than either then Whyte 905 or my hardtail. Within seconds I knew my next bike would have both front and rear suspension! What I hadn’t expected was how much smoother the rooty climb would be on a full suspension bike. I arrived back to the demo area feeling a lot better than after riding the Whyte 905 and it wasn’t just down to the 2×11 gearing! On the subject of gears, the Cube was the only bike I rode with Shimano gears, it may be down to familiarity, but I just cannot get on with SRAM shifters. The downside to the 2×11 setup was that the dropper seatpost level wasn’t easy to reach, on a couple of occasions I went for the left shifter instead of the dropper post.

Orange Four by Hope

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Hope Orange Four

After lunch I planned to take a walk around the various stands, but spotted an Orange Four on the Hope stand. An Orange Four, especially one dripping in Hope bling is my dream bike. As it was in my size it would have been rude not to see if it lived up to my expectations! Aside from the colour, the only thing I would spec differently would have been Shimano, rather than SRAM transmission. I could feel the quality of the bike from the first few pedal strokes and it was a dream on the rough downhill sections. It also climbed as well as the Cube, despite only being 1×11 – the Hope 44 tooth cassette helped there! I must admit that when I got home I had a look at the Orange website to see if I could afford a lesser specced Four – unfortunately even the cheapest model is significantly above my budget. I have certainly found a bike to benchmark all other potential new bikes against though!

Whyte T-130s

Leisure Lakes Demo Day - Whyte T-130s

My fourth, and final, ride of the day was on a Whyte T-130s, I had high expectations for the full suspension Whyte. These were compounded by the fact it took my three visits to the Whyte stand to find one in medium, which I thought would be my size. Unfortunately, the medium frame was too big for me, the seat wouldn’t go low enough. Luckily I was able to take our a small frame instead, however it felt ever so slightly cramped. I don’t know if it was how the suspension had been set up, but the rough sections, especially braking bumps, didn’t feel as smooth as with the Orange or the Cube, yet it managed to feel bouncier than either on the climb. I don’t know if riding the T-130s after the Four had recalibrated my expectations, but I found that the Whyte didn’t live up to the hype.

Conclusion

I don’t think I’ll be buying any of these bikes, unless I win the lottery, in that case I’ll have an Orange Four, with all of the Hope bits. However, I have got a much better idea of what I want when I start bike shopping in earnest – short travel full suspension with Shimano 1×11 transmission and a dropper post!

Owen in the MR2 and other news

Owen enjoying the MR2

The last few weeks since my visit to Prodrive seem to have been non stop in all aspects of my life – I have a few things to blog about and others will come to light soon. However, today was an important milestone for Owen (and me) – it was Owen’s first ride in the MR2! I had been excited about sharing my love of sports cars with him ever since we found out we would be having a baby, so I was relieved that Owen seemed to enjoy it. I think he especially enjoyed being sat next to me and able to see where we were going.

One project I have been working on recently is this blog – you may be able to see a few subtle changes, but the big one is that I have moved it to a new server (Amazon EC2 for any other geeks reading), so there may be a few glitches to iron out. Once those have been sorted there will be a few more tweaks and updates.

I haven’t been doing too well on the goals I set myself in my new year post, although my weight has been less than 90kg for over a week, so I’m on my way to the first goal. Hopefully after that some of the others will start falling in to place.

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive

Prodrive Factory

Prodrive are a company that I’ve admired for years – they ran the Subaru Impreza rally cars that Colin McRae drove in the ’90s. So I was excited to hear that Pistonheads were holding their first Sunday Service event of 2017 at Prodrive’s new HQ in Banbury.

Before I could go I had the small matter of finishing my winter jobs on the MR2; in summer it makes sense to put off these jobs until the winter, when the car isn’t being driven, but the reality of lying on a cold concrete floor is less appealing at the time! With all the jobs, and a brief shakedown completed yesterday – I was ready to join up with some friends early this morning for the drive down to Banbury. Via the country roads of course.

At Prodrive I met up with my Dad for a look around the factory – I was surprised to learn that they do some much more than building race and rally cars. What initially started as something to keep their motorsport engineers busy during the off season has evolved to 60% of their business! Motorsport is what I am interested in though, so seeing numerous Aston Martin GT cars in various states of build was a highlight. The workshop looked so much more appealing to work in than my garage too.

Their heritage collection brought back memories from my childhood, alongside a few Impreza WRC cars there were Honda Accord and Ford Mondeo BTCC cars and a Metro 6R4. My favourite however was the ’80s 911 Safari Rally car in Rothmans livery,

Being a Pistonheads event the car park also had some interesting cars, alongside the usual selection of Porsches, BMWs and Loti there was a lovely little Connaught sports car but it was another Porsche that I’d have loved to take home – a 356 Speedster. It was parked between a Cayman GT4 and a 911 GT3 RS, but they barely got a glance, to me the little Speedster is the coolest car ever.

Top five from 2016

I have just posted my contribution to the “Your Top 5 From 2016” thread on PistonHeads.com photography forum. as with my top 5 from 2012 I thought it would make a good blog post.

 

Owen

Owen in Weymouth – this was taken, and processed on my iPhone and is the background on my phone.

 

Owen posing

Owen at home – Owen doesn’t always have his tongue out I promise! Part of the triptych I posted last week.

 

MR2 Sunday Drive

MR2 Sunday Drive – This photo just makes me want to get out and drive my MR2!

 

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia – I only rediscovered this image whilst looking through Lightroom for my top 5 pictures. It was taken at Charlecote Park, when Jen and I hired a classic FIAT 500 for our first wedding anniversary.

 

Ryton Reflections

Ryton Reflections – I blogged about this image last week, I really loved the winter light.

2017

Happy new year! 2017 is another year with lots for me to look forward to. I am most excited about taking April and May off work to spend time with Owen – thanks to the newish shared parental leave policy in the UK. Owen should be big enough to go in a forward facing child seat, meaning he can join me in the MR2. I also plan to get a trailer or child seat for my bike, so Owen will be able to get an introduction to cycling too. Even if Owen/reality don’t share my sportscar/cycling vision for our 9 weeks together, I’m sure it will be great father/son bonding time.

We already have a couple of trips away planned for 2017 – our usual trip to Croyde, which will be our first as a little family. Jen and I are looking forward to introducing Owen to our favourite places in North Devon. Then in October, we are going to Cyprus  – which will be Owen’s first trip on an aeroplane!

The reason for our trip to Cyprus is that my best friend Partho is getting married and his fiancé is from Limassol. I will be best man at the wedding and will have my work cut out as Partho did such a good job of being my best man. Another good friend, Rich, is getting married in April, so that will be Owen’s first wedding. Two weddings also means two stag dos – I am especially looking forward to Partho’s, which I am organising.

Work is going to restart on the 119 Project, the plan is to restyle the garden and tidy up the back of the house. Hopefully this will get done whilst I am off work in the spring. I might even get phase 2 of my garage project finished…

Another task I have for 2017 is to redesign my website. I have already made a start on this and you will hopefully see some changes in the next few weeks.

This year I have got a few goals/resolutions, making them public should make them easier to meet:

  1. Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there. Jen bought me some brilliant Withings connected scales for my birthday, so this will be easy to track. This morning I weighed 90.8kg (down from 91.6kg a few weeks ago), so I haven’t got too far to go, keeping my weight down will be the harder bit.
  2. Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2.
  3. Ride my bike at a new trail centre.
  4. Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride.
  5. Get out on my bike with my camera.
  6. Make yoga a part of my weekly routine.

After seeing my 2016 cycling data infographic I’d like to clock 100 active days and get at least 1x Everest of climbing, after I missed by 5% last year – I can’t believe that some people can do as much climbing in one ride as I do in a whole year. To help with my cycling goals I am going to buy a new bike, as I’m still on the cheap bike I bought to see if I would regularly use a mountain bike – over 3,500km later I think it is safe to say it has had a lot of use.

Like the start of 2016, the weather has been rubbish today – we haven’t even left the house. We have managed to have a productive day, tidying and childproofing our front room. As Owen is going to be crawling any day soon I’ve had to pack away my surround sound system, which has speakers on little stands – perfect for little hands to pull over. I have replaced it with a Goodmans Soundbase, which sounds great considering the £75 price tag. I did manage to find time to take a silly selfie with Owen.

A look back at 2016

Owen

Despite all the bad press, 2016 has actually been a good year for me – mostly down to the arrival of Owen!

My plans for 2016 didn’t exactly go as expected, Jen and I did get to Croyde, but I didn’t get a mountain bike trip to Scotland, nor did I hire a Morgan 3 wheeler – hopefully both are on the cards for 2017!

The year started with Jen’s 12 week scan – our first chance to see Owen! Then the Autosport Show and Leisure Lakes Mountain Bike Demo Day, both of which are regular features in my calendar.

The first few weeks of April were great – a trip to Santa Pod for my first experience on the drag strip. There wasn’t much rest for the MR2 – the next weekend we took it Croyde, a last minute decision, because I wanted to use it as much as possible whilst we were still a twosome! I had brilliant drives over both Exmoor and Dartmoor, we may have been restricted on luggage space, but the decision to take the MR2 really made the holiday for me. After being thrashed up the drag strip and a 600 mile road trip; it was service time for the MR2 – because I had a trackday booked the next month and wanted the car in top shape. The weekend after getting back from Devon, I had motorsport filled weekend: I met my friend Phil and his son William at Donington Park for the BTCC; then the next day I went to the FIA WEC at Silverstone with my Dad.

May started with another weekend away in the MR2 – up to Stockport to stay with our friends Rich and Anna, then over to Bakewell, via the Cat & Fiddle pass, to meet up with Helen and Hayley for Jen’s baby shower. The highlight of May was the track day at Donington Park – my first wet trackday, I had a fun lap following an Austin A35 race car. It dried off in the afternoon and I really felt like I was faster than my previous Donington track day. May was also the start of ante natal classes – things were starting to feel very real!

We didn’t get to our last ante natal class, as Owen arrived on the 6th of June, about 6 weeks early. This was a bit of a shock to us – we hadn’t finished decorating the hall, stairs and landing, let alone started on getting ready for our new arrival! He spent a few weeks at hospital, which felt horrible at the time – we just wanted to get him home, but looking back on his time there, we learned a hell of a lot from the nurses and I think we coped well when we eventually got Owen home! The rest of the year was dominated by Owen; watching him grow and develop into the cheeky little boy he is today – the last few days he seems to be sticking his tongue out at everybody! We have taken him on trips away to Church Stretton – with my family and Weymouth – our first holiday for our little family, where the photo at the top of this post was taken. Owen is the star attraction wherever he goes – especially since learning to smile, which he does a lot!

To celebrate our first wedding anniversary, Jen and I hired a classic Fiat 500 and spent the day touring the Cotswolds, whilst Owen enjoyed some time with his grandparents. In October a got the MR2 on track again, this time at Silverstone – once more I felt like my driving had improved since my previous visit to the circuit. The MR2 also made it into the Pistonheads Carpool in December and I seem to enjoy it more each time I drive it.

On my bike, I was never going to beat my 2,015km in 2015, in the end I only clocked 1,281km in 2016 – about the distance from home to Barcelona. The highlight of which was conquering my nemesis – “Cardiac Hill” at Cannock Chase. Annoyingly, I was 64km short of my friend Partho’s 2016 total – although he did need to ride all the way to Paris to beat me!

Owen is tucked up in bed, and we have a few friends coming round to see in 2017 with us (quietly), so I wish everyone reading a happy new year!