Back to School 2022

This year it is not just Owen going to school – Henry is starting at the preschool at Owen’s school. So I have changed the format of my “back to school” posts, with sections for each of them and a photo of the two of them together in their school uniforms, which is easier said than done!

Owen’s First Day of Year Two

Owen’s school holidays have gone fast! Back in July I was concerned about how we would keep him occupied for six weeks, but we have managed to pack the holiday full of activities! There have been family holidays, bike festivals, bike trips, school holiday club, Parkruns, a new website, play dates and even the odd quiet day at home for Owen! However I think it will be good for Owen to get back in to the school routine, and for him to hang out with his friends more – they were all so excited to see each other on the way into school this morning!

Like last year, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Owen some questions, to record how he changes over the years:

Henry’s First Day at Preschool

Henry has been keen to go to the same school as Owen pretty much since Owen started, and in the summer holiday he got his first chance as he was able to go to the holiday club! He was slightly nervous going in, but Owen was able to stay with him for a bit. When I collected him, Henry said that he had had a good day! Unfortunately there is a drawn out settling in process for preschool, so Henry’s first day consisted of a half hour session, where there weren’t even any other children. Still he was excited to put his school uniform on! Due to the settling in process at the school preschool, he has also started preschool at his nursery, but that will only be for two weeks.

Henry also answered the questions, for the first time:

  • Height: 101cm
  • Shoe size: 8
  • Bike: Pedals – Frog 43/Balance bike – Strider Sport
  • Favourite colour: Orange
  • Favourite food: Ham sandwiches
  • Favourite book: Peppa Pig – he could not pick one, as we usually get a couple out from the library each time we visit.
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Also Peppa Pig
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Our family holiday to Staithes
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? A digger driver

Trip to Wales with Owen

Owen has had a busy end to his summer holidays – a visit to the Malverns Classic MTB festival, a trip to Skegness with his mum and grandparents, and then a trip to Wales with me. The main reason for the trip was that our friends Nicki and Mat were over from Australia to compete in the Dragon’s Back race from Conwy Castle to Cardiff Castle, running the whole length of Wales, via many mountains! They were visiting us in Coventry, so rather than letting them get the train to Conwy, I drove them up in the van and Owen came along for the ride! We dropped Nicki and Mat off in Conwy – it looked like a lovely little town, and I would have liked to stay there for dinner, but had already promised Owen a “traditional British seaside” experience, so we set off across the estuary to Llandudno. Conwy has jumped to the top of my places for a weekend away with Jen though, as I know she would love the castle and town walls in the historic town. I’d also like to drive the MR2 around the Great Orme.

Our first stop in Llandudno was fish and chips. Owen wanted to go to a sit down restaurant, so we did that, even though the takeaways looked better. Owen did get an ice cream to eat at the beach. After the beach we went to the arcades – Owen’s favourite part of a seaside visit. He was especially excited to find the Luigi’s Mansion arcade game – he loves all things Super Mario. After the arcade we got some doughnuts to eat as we walked along the pier, where we got a nice view of the sunset.

We stayed overnight at the Premier Inn, and set off early for Coed-y-Brenin, after a McDonald’s breakfast. The weather forecast had been for rain over North Wales, but despite some overnight rain, the sun was out and there was barely a cloud in the sky. It was a great drive over, although would have been better in my MR2. The last time I rode at Coed-y-Brenin was eventful to say the least – whilst warming up on the blue graded Minotaur trails, my friend Partho overcooked a small jump and broke his jaw, requiring an ambulance, a North Wales hospital tour and his jaw being wired shut for six weeks. Since Owen learned to ride a bike there has been banter about who would complete the Minotaur trail first. Partho and I had been planning a return trip in April 2020, but we all know how that panned out. So it was Owen that had the first shot.

Owen smashed it! Including a stop for photos on “Partho’s jump”. Owen rode all of the descents really well, although he still needs to work on climbing, as he would rather get off and push the bike than change down a gear to make it easier to pedal. Since my last visit a fourth loop has been added to the trail, mostly on fireroads, with a waterfall viewpoint, so we thought it would be worth investigating. Other than a few climbs on the fireroad it was easy riding, and it was good to see the waterfalls. Towards the end of the extra loop there was a fun bonus singletrack section. The climb back up the hill to the visitor centre was a bit of a slog, especially for Owen, but we got there in the end and treated ourselves to hotdogs on the visitor centre balcony. The ride was exactly fifteen kilometres, one of Owen’s longer rides, so it was no wonder that he was absolutely shattered afterwards.

Owen is interested in Spitfires, and enjoyed a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford last year, so on the way home from Coed-y-Brenin we stopped at the RAF Museum at RAF Cosford, near Wolverhampton. It was only a brief visit, as we arrived just over an hour before it closed. The first exhibition we visited was the Cold War hangar – I liked how some of the aircraft were suspended at various inclines, especially the English Electric Lightning pointing vertically upwards, as if performing its vertical climb party piece. However, the Avro Vulcan was my favourite plane on display – I remember seeing them flying when still in service with the RAF, so it was great to be able to get up close to one. We had a quick tour of Hangar 1, which had a varied selection of planes, including James May’s life size Spitfire Airfix model – I think Owen would enjoy watching that programme. What Owen wanted to see though were real Spitfires, so we cut though the Test Flight hangar, and went to the War in the Air exhibition, which had two Spitfires, a Hurricane and a Messerschmitt BF109. This was Owen’s favourite part of the museum. Even with traffic on the M6, it only took us an hour to get home from the museum, so I am sure that we will visit again, and make a full day of it, so that we can see all the exhibits properly.

Henry has Learned to Pedal

Henry has learned to ride a pedal bike! It has been a long time coming – last summer I felt like I needed to refurbish Owen’s old Frog 43 ready for Henry, as he was making such good progress on his balance bike. But when he was tall enough for the Frog 43 he seemed to hit a plateau – he was confident on his balance bike but too nervous to try pedalling.

Over the past few months, he had a couple of goes on the pedal bike but was reluctant to turn the pedals. He had since got the hang of pedalling trikes and his toy tractor, so I was confident he knew what to do. The day after Owen and I returned from the Malverns Classic MTB festival, Henry declared at breakfast that he wanted to try and ride his pedal bike. Although he had talked himself out of it by the time he had finished his toast. I was not going to let him get away that easily though! We all went to the War Memorial Park in Coventry, for Owen to take part in Junior Parkrun and for Henry to try pedalling…

At the park, Henry was happy scooting along on his bike, but reluctant to put his feet on the pedals – he scooted all the way to the skatepark. At least on Owen’s first attempt to pedal, at the same park and on the same bike, he tried to pedal, there were tantrums, but out of frustration of not being able to do it.

After Owen had finished his run, in a very respectable 25th place, Jen tried to help Henry pedal on the smooth concrete of the skatepark, but with not even an attempt to pedal from Henry. So I took the boys to play in the sandpit, whilst Jen ran a lap of the park. Then we got breakfast at the new Park Bistro. On the way back to the car park, we tried again to support Henry on the bike and encouraging him to pedal, first Jen, then me.

All of a sudden, Henry’s legs started going, and I could loosen my grip on him, when I was sure he was balanced I completely let go and ran alongside him, snapping the photo at the top of this post. His smile said it all, he was so happy to have conquered his fear and be riding! He rode all the way back to the van, still with a smile on his face. Definitely one of my proudest dad moments. It was not lost on me that on Owen’s first trip to the park on his bike, it was only after a stop at the playground that he got his first few pedals in unaided.

Henry has clearly got the bug, as he asked to go out again the next day. We went to Spencer Park, which has a flat asphalt area, with a roadway painted – perfect for those first rides. I felt confident enough in his abilities to let him ride laps on his own, without me running alongside him. Henry does still have some work to do though – he does not want to touch the brakes, which is less than ideal when it comes to stopping, at the moment I need to catch him. Obviously, this really restricts where he can ride.

Hopefully, he will be able to overcome these issues, as it would be good for him to be able to ride to school with Owen, and it would be really good if he can get on to some easier mountain bike trails e.g. Hicks Lodge by the end of the year!

Malverns Classic 2022

Over the bank holiday weekend, Owen and I went to the Malverns Classic – a mountain bike festival at Eastnor Deer Park in Herefordshire. Last year, we went as a family, on the way back from our holiday, for Henry’s first bike race, but this year Owen and I just went for the day. We did not have any races planned but did have a rough plan of attack to make the most of our day.

Our first stop was the Steel City Rippers skills area, to get Owen booked in for a skills session, as he was disappointed to have missed out last year. Fortunately, we were able to get him in for the 15:00 slot. From there we went to the pumptrack, bumping into some of our Little Rippers MTB friends in the queue. In a change from last year, pumptrack riders needed a number board, so I had to rush to the signing-on tent to get one for Owen, making it back before he got to the front of the queue. Owen rode well and got faster with each lap.

After the pumptrack, it was time for the highlight of the day – watching Danny MacAskill’s Drop and Roll show. Owen has been a fan of “Danny” since he was a baby, so to be able to see him riding in real life was incredibly exciting! He managed to get a spot right at the barrier, which he was only just able to see over… The show lived up to our expectations, with great riding and playing to the crowd. We were in the prime position for the drops off the van and the end-of-show “banger” – a backflip ending right in front of us.

After the excitement, we had a look around the trade stands, trying unsuccessfully to find Owen some new kneepads, but it was nice to catch up with our friends at Little Rider Co. We also saw Kazzi and Sophie from Ready Steady Riders (Owen and Henry’s balance bike coaches) in the pizza queue, so it was great to catch up with them. The pizza was good too!

Owen had been keen to do some riding, so we set off on the new-for-2022 “Fun Loop” – a singletrack loop up to the obelisk and back to the arena. It was a tough climb up, alongside the downhill trails, but the descent was more than worth it! It felt like we were riding an enduro stage – as the fresh, natural trail was taped like a race trail. There were a few bits that were too tricky for Owen, but he was looking far enough down the trail to realise this and stop, then walk down them. Which I would much rather than him just hucking off everything.

The ride and the hot sun had tired Owen out, so we ended up chilling out in the shade before Owen’s skills session. We watched the dirt jumpers practising their tricks on the huge jumps, and the livestream of the downhill world championships on the big screen. It was probably good to have some downtime, as Owen rode so well in the skills session – conquering each new feature as it was added to the loop. I was particularly impressed with how he handled the “skinny seesaw” – of the riders in his group, only Owen and an older girl managed it the first time without any help, and Owen hit it at a decent speed too (although I think they may have been told to ride up it slowly).

Owen seemed rejuvenated after his skills session, so we decided to watch the Drop and Roll show again. This time the crowd was bigger, but Owen managed to squeeze to the front. I was a few people back in the crowd, but I have never known Owen to wait for anything so patiently, especially as the show was late starting because everyone was glued to the climax of the world championships. We had chosen one of the corners of the arena where the riders congregated between runs, so Owen was really close to his heroes. The show was mostly a rerun of the morning show, but Danny did get out his gym ball, for one of his signature stunts, and the other riders added some new tricks.

We took a leisurely drive back to Coventry, stopping for a KFC, and Owen almost made it home without falling asleep! He said he had an amazing day, with the ride down from the obelisk being his highlight. My highlight was seeing all of the mountain biking families – the future of mountain biking seems to be in safe hands! The event is not exclusively aimed at families, but the organisers have made such a big effort to ensure kids are welcomed and entertained. It was even better than last year, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for 2023, because I will definitely be going!