Social Distancing in the Woods

Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.

As getting outside in the fresh air is still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online so avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together, even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature has not quite matched the sunshine!

After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!

We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than we anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. we inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!

Both Jen and I have said how good the day was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.

Henry’s First Birthday

Yesterday was Henry’s first birthday! It is crazy to think that it has been a whole year since he was born – the time has flown by! He is growing to be a right little cheeky monkey – even cheekier than his big brother! In some ways Henry seems more advanced than Owen was at that age – he has more teeth, and his gross motor skills are ahead of Owen, probably from copying him. However, Henry is yet to start talking, whereas by one Owen had a few words, which he used in the correct context. Henry just makes sounds. I have loved watching him grow up over the last year, especially the last few months, where I have been on parental leave to look after him.

We had a small party at home to celebrate, just close family and a few friends. Jen made some amazing cakes, including a “1” shaped birthday cake, which Henry could not wait until we had finished singing “Happy Birthday” to taste! It was so nice to have everyone round, although a bit overwhelming for Henry at first. Although he soon realised that lots of people meant lots of drinks to try and steal! And unlike Owen he managed to stay awake for the duration of his party!

The sad news is that Henry’s first birthday marks the end of my parental leave – I will be starting back at work tomorrow after more than twelve weeks off…

Parental Leave II: Week 8

My penultimate week of parental leave was also Owen’s pre-school half term. Initially I was dreading this, as it would mean a full week wrangling both boys, but it turned out to be a really fun week! Monday morning set the tone – I was washing Henry’s bottles in the kitchen and Apple Music shuffled to “Sometimes” by Sound of Guns, which Owen correctly identified as the soundtrack to Martyn Ashton’s Road Bike Party film and asked if we could watch it! As soon as Henry saw the bike riding, he crawled over to his bike and tried to climb on to it! Proud Dad moments on both counts! When my Mum and Dad got here, I headed off to fill up the van (over £100 of diesel!!!) and go to the supermarket – because there was no way I was going to attempt to do the big shop with both boys in tow! After lunch, I needed to go to the butchers to get some of their amazing scotch pies for dinner. Mum brought Henry along in his pushchair and Owen rode his bike – I am pretty sure that the 3.68km is his longest ride to date. I was particularly impressed at how he stood up on his pedals to go over a bump. Before cooking dinner, I managed to squeeze in an hour of studying, unfortunately it is not looking like I will have completed my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner before I co back to work (this was one of my goals for 2020).

On Tuesday, as we had exciting plans for the afternoon, we just had a quiet morning at home. I tried to give Henry cows milk, rather than formula, for his mid morning milk. However he was not convinced by it, especially not as it was in a new cup (as we had been advised to try by the health visitor). The exciting plan for the afternoon was that Owen and I were going for a bike ride! First we had to drop Henry off at his Nanny’s house, then we carried on to Hicks Lodge. Owen was a bit unsteady at first, probably because he is used to riding on asphalt, rather than off road, but soon got going. By the time we had climbed up to the start of the section of trail I had scoped out, he was raring to go! He tackled the trail confidently considering it was his first time on real mountain bike trails! There was only one roller which he did not have quite enough speed to get up. When we got to the bottom of the trail, Owen immediately asked if we could ride back up and do it again! On the second run he was even better – clearing all the rollers and needing less stops. A successful ride! After riding and getting changed in the van, Owen had a quick play on the playground before heading back to find Henry. Rather than coming home straight away, Jen joined us at her parents for dinner and pancakes. Jen was meeting her friends in Nuneaton, so we got the boys into their pyjamas and I took them back home. I was expecting them to both fall asleep in the van, but Owen stayed awake the whole journey, which made getting them from van to beds easier!

Wednesday was the only day with nothing planned. After the excitement of bike riding and pancake day, we had a chilled out morning at home. Henry’s nose was really runny, he seemed alright in himself though. After lunch Owen and I got our wellies on and I put Henry into his running buggy, so that we could explore our local woods, which were very muddy! So muddy that at one point Owen lost one of his wellies in the mud. It was nice to get out of the house, although I am looking forward to some less muddy trips in the coming months! After our walk we watched Top Gear together, which is becoming Owen’s favourite TV show. With no Ready Steady Riders session we had a quiet evening at home.

Jen had booked Thursday off work, so that I could take Henry swimming whilst she looked after Owen, but as Henry’s runny nose had developed into a full-on cold we decided it would be best not to take him. Jen had booked Owen into a creative workshop with Ella, so they went anyway and I ended up with a few hours to myself when Henry had his morning nap. I did not know what to do with myself! In the afternoon we took the opportunity of both being at home with nothing planned to crack on with some jobs – I even managed to combine some errands with a bike ride!

The boys gave us a bit of a lie in on Friday morning, they probably subconsciously knew that we had to be out of the house early… Our first stop was Jen’s hairdresser in Rugby, the plan was for me to take the boys to the park (which has a sandpit with mechanical diggers – heaven for Owen), but the weather have other ideas, so we just hung out at the salon while Jen got her hair cut. From there we drove, via my old house in Naseby (and a further detour through Sibbertoft due to a tractor with its trailer in a ditch blocking the road) to Mini Meadows Farm. Unfortunately the weather still was not cooperating, so we mainly viewed (and fed!) the indoor animals. My favourites were the litter of piglets, but Owen seemed to like the giant rabbits the most – especially as we could go into their enclosure with them! They gladly ate the bits of carrot that Owen placed on the floor for them. To start with he was not sure about letting the animals eat from the palm of his hand, but I eventually got him to brave feeding one of the goats (the biggest/greediest one) and he kept asking for more! Then he discovered the undercover sandpit and finally got to do his digging. The only way we could get Owen out of the sandpit was to tell him about the softplay. By chance, one of his friends from pre-school was also there, it was nice for Owen to have someone to play with! As if the day could not get any better for Owen, we stopped off at his favourite place on the way back to Coventry – “McDonalds with the softplay”! I cannot remember what we did when we got home, but I expect we were all very tired after a busy day!

After the excitement of Friday, we had a day at home on Saturday, and Jen’s friends Dom, Els and Ellie came to visit us. Els is expecting a baby soon so was able to provide a home for a lot of the things that Henry has grown out of – travel system/car seat/clothes etc. It was nice to have a catch up and get excited about the new arrival!

Owen and I had been looking forward to Sunday for a while – the Ready Steady Riders road trip to Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby. We loaded our bikes into the van (there was a possibility that I could ride in the afternoon) and set off on the M6/A14 – a journey that I used to do daily. The combination of light Sunday morning traffic and the new Catthorpe Interchange, meant that it was a smooth journey, much better than I was used to on my old commute! I was unsure what to expect when we got to the skate park, but was relieved to see that Coach Kazzi had coned off a track in the “Action Space” part of the skate park. The course made use of the most suitable obstacles, whilst avoiding the ones that would be too dangerous for the mini shredders. The first hour was designated balance bike hour, to allow the riders to get used to the track and in particular the surface, which was slippier than they are used to. Despite barely riding his Strider, Owen really enjoyed himself and even won a race at the end of the session! I got to wander around with my camera taking photos of him, so I had a good time too! The second hour, on the pedal bikes, did not go quite so well. Owen was struggling on both the downhills and uphills. I think it was because he had just jumped off his balance bike and was trying to use his feet to slow himself down, then either falling off or being unable to get his feet back on the pedals quick enough to generate enough speed to get back up the hills. After a few laps he was asking for his balance bike back, but I managed to get him to do a few more laps on his pedal bike – and he improved with each lap. I am sure he would have made it round a full lap if he had continued, but as he had tried so hard I let him go back on his balance bike, which he whizzed round on and won another race. It is a tough balancing act between wanting him to push himself and improve, or letting him just stay in his comfort zone and enjoy himself. Owen tends to be happy in his comfort zone, and reluctant to try anything new, if anything this has got worse over the last year, not just with his biking, but with everything. At the end of the session he was very pleased to get a special shiny sticker from Coach Kazzi for “being brave and doing more laps on his pedal bike”, he chose to stick it on the top tube of his bike, where he can see it and remember being brave at the skate park. On the way home we took a detour via Rothwell, and another of my old houses, making that three visits to places I used to live in one week! As I had missed my usual Sunday morning bike ride, I managed to get out for a ride before dinner. As the local trails are so wet, I opted for a hill repeats session, so by the time I got home I really felt like I had earned the tasty roast dinner than Jen had cooked us!

What I had expected to be quite a difficult week actually ended up being really fun and surprisingly busy! Heading into my last week of parental leave I was getting concerned about how I was going to fit four days at work into my week given how busy I had been…

Parental Leave II: Week 7

With my parental leave rapidly coming to an end, the weeks just seem to be getting busier – I do not know how I will be able to fit everything in when I go back to work! The week started with my Mum and Dad coming to visit/look after the boys. Before they arrived I managed to get Henry to take a few steps whilst holding on to his hands. Unlike Owen, who would walk everywhere when I held his hands, Henry takes more convincing. I have found the best way is to be on my knees facing him, holding his hands and shuffling backwards as he walks towards me. I had a few jobs to do in my garage, mainly clearing out the BMW, before trading it in. Owen and my mum had their wellies on and were splashing in puddles, until Owen managed to fall in the mud, needing a trip straight to the bath! After lunch, and all cleaned up, my dad and I took Owen to Coventry Transport Museum to check out the Taking Flight exhibition. Owen had been hoping to see some Spitfires, as I have been telling him about them whenever we drive past Spitfire Island on the way back from his Ready Steady Riders sessions, but unfortunately he had to make do with jet engines. There was a cool installation where visitors could design their own flying machines on to pre-made templates, which were then scanned and added to a skyscape projected onto the wall. The different templates gave different flying characteristics – Owen based his on a hot air balloon, because “Daddy and Grandpa used to fly hot air balloons”, which he made sure to tell everyone! I chose a rocket, because it looked like the fastest! Owen’s balloon floated over the virtual landscape, which he really enjoyed, whilst my rocket-powered design whizzed past! We also checked out the rest of the museum, as even though we visit regularly there are often new exhibits. As we were walking out of the museum Owen said he wanted an ice cream – he has learned that we usually go to Sprinkles Gelato opposite the museum afterwards. Naturally neither Dad or I took much convincing…

On Tuesday morning Henry debuted his newest skill – as Jen and Owen were leaving for work/pre-school he started waving! Then continued when I carried him through to the front room to wave out of the window. He is such a clever boy! We had a quiet morning at home, and just as I finished my morning jobs and was wondering if I had time for a shower Henry woke up from his nap. Walking in to his room I could smell that he would be needing a bath, so decided to risk having a bath with Henry – killing two birds with one stone. It worked surprisingly well, other than Henry tickling my feet the whole time! He loved splashing me and was contained in the bath whilst I got dried/dressed in the bathroom. Bathtime is Henry’s favourite time of day, he loves being in the water! Maybe he was angling for another bath when he spread his lunch all over himself within minutes of being washed and changed into clean clothes… After a quick wipe down with a flannel, which Henry seems to hate, we went to the supermarket for the big shop, then collected Owen from pre-school. I made chilli nachos for dinner, one of my favourites, however Owen was not quite so sure – annoying as he loves eating tortilla chips and chilli separately.

Wednesday started with a lie in – a rare treat! It meant that Owen was a bit late getting to pre-school, but as there was no Ready Steady Riders session (due to half term in Birmingham) we were in no rush, so I let Owen ride in on his pedal bike. Henry had some more tricks to show off this morning, first he started copying me when I stuck my tongue out at him. He threw my iPhone over the back of the sofa, then reached over to retrieve it, with the inevitable fall (with me holding on to his feet), he thought this was fun, so has kept trying to do it. I expect he has learned this from Owen, who needs to be reminded daily about the “no climbing on the sofa” rule. Then, when I was preparing his milk for the day, he crawled into the kitchen, made a beeline for the cupboard where we keep his food, opened it, grabbed his bag of baby crisps, opened them and started feeding himself! I was not sure if I should be proud at his independence, or shocked at his cheekiness! He repeated this stunt later in the day too, confirming it was not a fluke! Unfortunately he also tried it with our Royal Doulton crockery, breaking three bowls in the process – I seem to remember Owen doing something similar when I was on parental leave with him too. As a side note, I have enjoyed looking back through the posts I wrote in 2017 and seeing how similar the boys are, they seem to get up to the same tricks. I will try to do a comparison post with pictures of them at the same ages. The excitement continued when I took Henry upstairs to “help” me set up Owen’s new airbed, in advance of our weekend away. The normal airbed mattress goes in an outer section, I assume to stop small children falling off, so when I had inflated this outer section, which looks a bit like an inflatable boat, I put Henry in it and added Owen’s squishy sloth toy, creating a wrestling ring – Henry loved it (and was contained for a while for me to do some other jobs). After lunch Henry succeeded in one of his main missions in life – he pulled the drawstring out of one of my hoodies, afterwards he sat there with it in his hands and mouth with a look that said “so what do I do now?”. Hopefully he is less successful in his other goals which are crawling out of the front or back doors, or rubbing his hands on the toilet seat. We had another shopping trip, to Aldi (pizzas, nappies and wipes), Screwfix (tools), B&M (Creme Eggs) and Smyths Toy Shop (birthday presents), Henry slept through most of the excitement though. At bedtime, Owen wanted to try out his new airbed by sleeping on it, it must have been comfortable as he managed to sleep through Henry screaming for a few hours! Usually Henry is a good sleeper, so this was very out of character, eventually we got him to settle down by giving him some Calpol.

With no swimming lesson this week, due to half term in Leicestershire, where the teacher lives, Henry and I had a quiet morning. The main thing of note was that Jen had bought Henry a special new reusable nappy, this was the first time that Henry had worn it – so of course he christened it with a mega poo! We had planned an early afternoon trip to collect my new van, but the van was delayed by a few hours. In some ways this worked well, as Henry had a really long nap – it almost got to the point where I did not know what to do with myself! Swapping cars coincided with the boys both hitting the weights needed to move up a grade of car seat – in Owen’s case, I just needed to convert his seat from using the integral five point harness to a booster seat using the car’s three point seatbelt. Henry was really good when we went to collect the van together, especially as there was a bit of waiting around due to my bank blocking the payment, until I had called them to release the funds. The downsides to the delay were that we missed picking Owen up from pre-school (he had been looking forward to a ride in the van) and we also hit rush hour on the drive home. As it would be Henry’s last ride in his rear facing infant seat, I had him up front next to me (with the airbag turned off) which he seemed to enjoy!

On Friday we went on a road trip to York. Despite having just purchased the perfect vehicle for a road trip, we took Jen’s Yaris. We did not take bikes etc, so all our stuff for a weekend away, including beds for the boys, just about fitted. Henry was promoted to the forward facing child seat – he had used it in my MR2, but this was the first time on a long journey. He seemed to like it and I appreciated being able to see his face in my rear view mirror. We were going to York to meet up with Jen’s university friends and their families, it was great that all the children, ranging from ten years old to Henry, played together nicely. Although Henry struggled to join in, he seemed to enjoy being with all the others. The girls particularly liked having a baby to fuss over. I had to take Henry out for a walk, as there was too much excitement for him to have his afternoon nap. We do not see these friends as often as we would like, but it is always great when we do see them, especially watching the children playing together. When Jen first introduced me to her friends, the eldest child was about the same age as Henry is now. Now he is 10 and he is a nice young man, who was particularly good playing with Owen, showing him all of his toy cars etc.

Despite allowing the boys to stay up later than usual, they still woke up early. I guess the unfamiliar but exciting environment did not help. After breakfast (and more playing for the boys) we walked to the National Railway Museum. Owen liked it, his favourite train was the recreation of Stephenson’s Rocket, but his favourite bit was playing with the wooden trainset in the play area (despite having one at home). There was so much to see, but it was tricky with an excitable small boy in tow, however I am sure we will visit again in the future. From the museum we walked in to town for lunch – it seems like everyone had the same idea, so finding a table for eight was a bit tricky. When we eventually found a restaurant our food took ages to arrive, we were all ravenous by the time the food came out. The wind had really picked up when we were walking back to the car, I was finding it tough to walk against, so it must have been even worse for Owen! We were later leaving York than we planned and it was no surprise that the boys both slept for most of the drive back to Coventry.

Sunday was our first family trip out in the van! Jen and the boys had a first birthday party to go to in Nuneaton, from where they would walk to Jen’s parent’s house. I loaded my bike into the back of the van, and dropped them off on my way to Hick’s Lodge cycle centre. Owen and I had been previously, but did not even make it to the start of the trails, so I wanted to do a solo trip to find out if it would be suitable to take Owen on his pedal bike. I had also been told that it still runs well in the wet, which is more than can be said for my usual trails in Coventry! I did a lap of the blue trail, which I found to be quite flat but with lots of standing water. The full trail was too long for Owen, but shorter trails could be made. Next I went for a lap of the green (easy) trail – not something that I would usually ride, but I wondered if it may be more suitable for Owen. However, I thought it was too easy/simple for Owen, the corners were all flat, rather than bermed – which looks less intimidating, but offer no support, making it trickier to carry speed. Not my usual Sunday ride, but given the recent weather is was nice to get out on the bike! After the ride it was good to be able to get changed in the back of the van, although I had not worn my waterproof shorts, nor packed a change of pants, so had to drive back with a soggy bottom. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Jen’s parents house. Gill had made an amazing Victoria sponge and the boys got to play with their Auntie Heather. We had pizzas when we got home and Owen and I watched Guy Martin’s Spitfire. Owen really enjoyed the programme, there was even a piece to camera filmed at Spitfire Island, which Owen really appreciated, because it was seeing the statue there that sparked his interest!

Farewell to the BMW 120i

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

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

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

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

Parental Leave II: Week 6

After staying up late to watch Top Gear (where my previous post left off), it was not surprising that Owen had a bit of a lie in, but I was not expecting Henry to also – it was a nice start to the week! My mum and dad came to look after the boys, which allowed me to get some jobs done in the morning. Last week I had read about the bakery near my house doing Nutella doughnuts on the Food Covolution blog, so decided to check them out! It was also a good opportunity to get Owen back out on his bike. Mum and Henry came along for the walk too. Despite the worst of Storm Ciara having past, it was still really windy outside, however this did not faze Owen! He was riding really well, listening to our instructions, using his brakes to stop and I even saw him coasting with level pedals – which I have not seen him do before! Stoke Bakery had a great selection of cakes in addition to the Nutella doughnuts that had inspired this trip. As he had been riding so well I let Owen choose himself a cake – he went for a huge cream filled chocolate doughnut! He had earned it though. After lunch (and doughnuts) I did some studying, before taking advantage of a gap in the rain to cycle to the butchers, where I picked up some of their new lamb and feta stuffed peppers, which Jen and I have been drooling over on their twitter feed. I cooked them for dinner and they were every bit as good as we had been expecting! Henry seemed to make some big developmental steps – first he climbed the stairs all by himself. Luckily I had spotted him heading to the stairs and followed him up, realising that my life had just got a bit more complicated! Later he started pushing Owen’s old trolley along the hallway whilst standing up – one step closer to walking!IMG_1662On Tuesday morning I was in the kitchen and Henry crawled off. Concerned that he was heading upstairs, I went looking for him, and just as I asked “Where is Henry?”, Owen asked “Where is my other slice of toast?”. You can see from the photo above what the answer was! Henry looked so pleased with himself – Owen on the other hand was upset and I had to make him more toast. After dropping Owen off at pre-school, Henry and I went to the supermarket, which is becoming our Tuesday afternoon routine. In the evening Jen and I had a rare night out – her mum came to babysit the boys (who behaved well for her), and we went out for dinner and to the theatre. Dinner was at a new steak restaurant that we had been wanting to try for a while, the food was nice, but I doubt we will go back. I really enjoyed seeing Crongton Knights at the Belgrade Theatre though – you can read my review here.

The boys did not have a good night – possibly because we were not there when Owen went to bed, but he ended up in our bed at 4:00, and Henry followed at 5:30. We were all so tired by the time we had to get up. Henry and I had a quiet morning at home – he had a long nap, where I was able to get some small DIY jobs done and deal with some HR stuff from work – the first time I had switched my work phone on for almost two months! Expecting Owen to be tired in the evening, I decided not to take him to his bike training, so Jen, Henry and I all collected him from preschool. My hunch was correct, as Owen fell asleep on the sofa eating his dinner at 5.30!

Thursday went much better – I took Henry swimming and he had a great time splashing around in the pool. In the afternoon we messed about together at home, then walked into Earlsdon to run some errands, collecting Owen from pre-school on the way back. Jen was out for the evening, so I cooked dinner for the boys – looking back it is funny that Henry managed to eat a whole omlette by himself, but I had to spoon feed Owen his scrambled egg. Obviously at the time it was pretty frustrating. At least Owen was a good boy going to bed, as solo bed times can be tricky!IMG_1676Friday was a busy day! Henry had his twelve month developmental check, which clashed with Owen’s swimming lesson. Jen was off work, so she took Henry for his check and I took Owen swimming. It was his final lesson with Paula from Little Ripples, because when I go back to work next month I will have both boys on Fridays. Owen has made great progress since I last took him swimming before Christmas – his kicking and confidence in the water has got so much better. We need to get him booked onto the next stage of lessons (in the water without us) so that he does not lose confidence again, as happened when he had a long break from lessons over the summer holiday. After lunch we all went shopping for a replacement for my BMW, which is getting too small for us as a family of four. On the way home we called in at Ali’s Chippy, a “new” fish and chip shop that I had noticed around the corner from our house, although it turned out it had been open for about a year – the food was good, so I am sure we will be going back. Recently Henry has been keen to get his hands on drinks, he does not care whose drink it is, or even of the drink is empty. We have to be careful what we leave within his reach, but it was inevitable that he got his hands on my empty beer bottle…Heeding the warnings about Storm Dennis, we did not have anything planned for the weekend. Coventry seemed to get off lightly – it was not even raining first thing on Saturday morning, so Owen and I got outside to play in the garden/jump in puddles/clean bikes. Owen is always keen to help me clean bikes, and to clean his own bikes, and it is nice to have him there with me. We had a family trip to the supermarket, which I think Owen enjoyed a bit too much, looking at the toys, trying sushi and running around – not so fun for Jen and me though! We had an afternoon in the kitchen, Jen and Owen made some amazing chocolate and cherry brownies, I prepped the chicken wings for dinner and Henry supervised from his highchair!IMG_1681.jpegSunday started with bacon sandwiches – a nice start to a stormy day! Jen started making a chilli for dinner, before heading off to the gym, leaving Owen and I to add the remaining ingredients. Owen did a good job of scraping the ingredients into the pan and stirring them in, he is picking up Jen’s interest in cooking which is nice to see. Henry also shares Jen’s interest in recipe books, although he prefers to eat them than read them! After lunch we braved the storm to drive to Nuneaton. The weather did not seem that bad, but there was a lot of flooding on the roads. We had a nice afternoon at Jen’s mum and dad’s house, Henry was being his cheeky self, getting into all sort of mischief. When we got home, Owen ate all of his chilli for dinner, which I was proud of, as he usually just picks at the beans. He was also good about going to bed, although I did sort of miss him watching Top Gear with me, as he had done the last few weeks.It felt like a really long week, possibly as I crammed in a lot at the start of the week, followed by more of a low key weekend. Henry seems to be getting more confident, standing unsupported for a few seconds at a time, usually without realising it – he will be holding himself up, then takes his hands off to pick something up and all of a sudden he will be standing, before falling down again. However he seems to be standing for longer and longer each day. He is also getting more confident – if Owen is on the floor, Henry will climb on top of him and wrestle him – I guess this is what I have to look forward to for the forseeable future…

Parental Leave II: Week 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Babies in Sportscars – Throwback Thursday

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

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

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

Parental Leave II: Week 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Radio Controlled MX-5 Rebuild: Chassis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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