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!

Parental Leave II: Week 1

This first week of parental leave has felt long, but only because it has actually been eleven days! Jen also had last week off work, our third week off together in a row – it has been amazing spending all this time together! This post has ended up a lot longer than I was expecting, I guess we managed to cram a lot into our week (and a bit)…

The week (and a bit) got off to an ominous start. When I gave Henry his first nappy change of the day he weed on me, and then I had two dirty nappies to deal with by 9:00. We spent the morning hanging out at home, then in the afternoon I managed to get out for a bike ride – definitely better than being back at work on the the second of January!

One of the downsides to being off work looking after the boys, is that my friends are at work. However in these first few days of the year our friends Ali and Jaymi were off work! So after a quiet morning at home, we met them for a walk at Kingsbury Water Park. We brought Owen’s bike and he rode round the park – his confidence on the pedal bike is coming on leaps and bounds! He was standing up on his pedals and at times we had to run after him! I also got to use my new 55-200mm lens – the photo of Owen above is one of my favourite photos, and now the lock screen on my iPhone. My friend Partho needed some help fixing his bike, so after the boys were in bed I thought it would be a good excuse to take the MR2 for a spin to help him… Henry even cooperated by falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but unfortunately the MR2 did not cooperate. The battery was flat – totally my fault for neither driving it recently, nor plugging in the battery conditioner. In fact the battery was so flat that the battery conditioner would not recognise the battery. So I stayed at home and printed some photos for Owen’s pre-school homework instead.

Getting back into our regular routine, on Saturday we went to parkrun at the War Memorial Park in Coventry. Jen ran with Henry in his running buggy, so that I could concentrate on helping Owen on his bike, and as he was gaining confidence we decided to hit the skate park. Owen soon discovered that switching to a new bike was a bit of a learning curve – where he would be whizzing round the skate park on his Strider, he struggled to get up the ramps on his pedal bike. I am sure he will get the hang of it soon enough though. The boys and I have also been featured on the War Memorial Ramp Renovation campaign blog. After parkrun Jen went away for the weekend with her friends,  and I had to take Owen to a party, so my Mum and Dad came round look after Henry. I had so far managed to avoid children’s parties, so was not sure what to expect. Owen was also confused when we got there – it was a superhero themed party and all his friends were in fancy dress, so he was unsure of who was actually there! He still got stuck in on the bouncy castle though. There was an entertainer, a clown/magician, which Owen loved – he was the first to get involved with any audience participation, including volunteering to assist with plate spinning and magic tricks! After the show, the kids were allowed to play with the circus equipment, Owen made a beeline for the pedal gos and I impressed him by showing him that I could do plate spinning. Owen almost stitched me up, by telling everyone that I can juggle – which I cannot, despite learning to juggle being one of my goals for 2018 – fortunately nobody asked to see my skills. After the party food, there was more running around and bouncing on the bouncy castle – which especially after the bike ride in the morning was showing positive signs for an easy bedtime routine! Well, for Owen at least – Henry had been asleep in his cot the whole time Owen and I were out! After my failure to fix Partho’s bike the previous day, Partho and his wife Marilena, came round to see us. It was good to catch up, as they had not seen the boys for a while. Owen was keen to show off his new toys and not to be outdone, Henry busted out his best climbing up the the coffee table moves! Partho and I, with help from Owen, managed to get the cassette off his crashed wheel, so he can fit it to his indoor smart trainer – his latest tactic to attempt beating me on our annual Strava distance challenge!!! I cooked a gourmet dinner for the boys – fish fingers, chips and beans – which seemed to go down a treat! I let Henry try a bit of a fish finger, and he ended up eating all of it! Jen and I usually put one boy to bed each, swapping each night, it is a routine that works well for us, but means that solo bedtimes can be especially tricky as the boys are used to undivided attention! I got Owen to read Henry and I a story whilst Henry drank his milk, then I read them both stories after cleaning their teeth. After the stories Owen seemed much more tired than Henry and took himself off to bed, whilst I stayed with Henry, who thinks climbing up in his cot is hilarious! Owen was fast asleep well before Henry, unsurprising given his busy day!

Fortunately the boys gave me a Sunday lie in, well relatively speaking… We just had a quiet day at home waiting for Jen to come back, we had planned a trip to the woods, but by the time Owen had finished messing about Henry was asleep, so we stayed at home watching Disney films – I have been really impressed with the Disney Life subscription service, it is definitely getting more use than Netflix and it is great introducing Owen to some of the films that Jen and I watched when we were children, and of course watching the Pixar back catalogue! The downside to a relaxed day at home is that Owen woke when I went to bed and was awake for hours, yelling for his Mum and being disappointed whenever I went to see him. After three changes of pyjamas he finally went back to sleep.

Of course the disrupted sleep meant that Owen had a lie in, which always seems to happen on the odd occasion when we have somewhere to be in the morning! As it was Owen’s last day of holiday before returning to pre-school we decided to go to Birmingham to visit the Legoland Discovery Centre and the Sea Life Centre – hoping that as it was termtime they would be quiet. We made it to the Legoland Discovery Centre just before opening time, to discover that we were not the only people with that plan – there was a queue to get in! Owen loved it though – first we went on a ride, where we had to zap baddies! Next we visited “Miniland” a Lego recreation of Birmingham’s main attractions, which was particularly impressive. Then it was on to the main room, with softplay, cafe, Duplo area and Owen’s favourite the “Lego Racers: Build and Test”. Normally you cannot get Owen out of softplay, but all he wanted to do was race his car down the ramps – we started off building our own cars separately, but I ended up helping Owen to modify his and we ended up with the two fastest cars there (the key is to get the wheels locked onto the axle to avoid rubbing). Henry liked playing in the Duplo area where they had some big soft bricks in addition to the usual Duplo. Unfortunately Henry much prefers knocking things down to building them! We ended up spending well over two hours there, and I am sure Owen could have spent more! Naturally we had to exit via the gift shop, so we treated Owen a little Lego monster truck, which he has been playing with a lot, and I managed to find the elusive mountain biker Minifig! Before crossing the canal to the Sea Life Centre, we went to Ed’s Diner for lunch, the plan had been to meet Partho, but he was stuck on a conference call. Owen and I had hot dogs – Owen did really well eating his, as it was a lot of food for a little boy. Henry was being his usual self trying to steal chips – he did not seem to care that mine were covered in chilli!

The Sea Life Centre was great – Owen really liked the penguins, chatting to them through the glass. I thought this was interesting, as he has never seemed that excited by penguins when we have been to zoos previously. Henry particularly liked the clown fish (Nemos!!!) and the octopus, he was just staring at them and smiling! The boys both seemed to enjoy the 4D cinema, I sat with Owen, but Jen said that Henry was smiling and clapping along with the songs. After the 4D cinema I think Owen was getting bored of fish, as he just wanted to rush through the rest of the exhibits, so we only got a brief glimpse of the turtle and sharks in the underwater walkway. As one of the enclosures was being refurbished, in anticipation of sea otters arriving later in the year, we got a ticket for a free return visit -which I am sure we will make use of. Jen and I loved seeing the sea otters when we were in Monterey on our honeymoon! At bedtime Owen was keen to have a bath, to try out the turtle bath toy we had bought for Henry, but despite all of the excitement during the day Owen struggled to go to sleep…

While Owen struggled to go to sleep it was Henry that was waking up in the middle of the night, the only thing that would settle him was bringing him into our bed – usually he is a pretty good sleeper. With Owen back at pre-school, and Jen enjoying her last week off, Henry and I had a quiet morning at home, Henry enjoyed watching the bin men – giving them big smiles when they waved to him. In the afternoon Jen wrangled Henry, whilst I made some progress on my 2020 goals, before picking up Owen from pre-school.

On Wednesday, we all walked Owen to nursery. Then Jen, Henry and I carried on to Earlsdon, to call in at the butchers, the bike shop and to stop for coffee. We walked back via Go Outdoors, to buy Henry a bag for nursery (their £3 “Freedom trail” rucksacks are just the job) and a sledge – probably guaranteeing a snow free winter for Coventry! It was nice being able to spend the morning together. Jen’s Mum came round in the afternoon, so Jen and I were able to spend an hour tidying up the veg plot in the garden, then I managed to change the brake pads on my hardtail, bed them in and squeeze in a quick bike ride round my Earlsdon Loop before picking Owen up for Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday indoor bike training! This is Owen’s favourite bike session, but usually we cannot go, as I would need to leave work at 16:00 to get to Sutton Coldfield in time, so this is something I had been very excited about being able to do. Especially this first week as Coach Kazzi was not aware that Owen had learned to ride his pedal bike since she last saw him! Owen rode well, I found it interesting that he did not want to ride over the ramps, as he did not feel confident enough over them on his new bike – he did try a few times with Kazzi’s help though. At the end of the session Owen got his “Pedal Medal” for successfully learning to ride his pedal bike, he had a proud coach and an even prouder Dad! After all the sleep issues, and a full day at pre school on top on an hour riding his bike, I was expecting Owen to fall asleep in the car on the drive home, but he must have been so excited for riding that he stayed awake the whole way chatting to me! Whilst Owen and I were out the tiny jump start box that I had ordered to fix the MR2 was delivered.

After the success of Wheelie Wednesday, Owen asked if he could take his bike to nursery, but as he is still not fully confident at stopping, and he is getting quite fast at riding, I did not think it was a good idea. However, we agreed that he could take his balance bike – which he had not touched since getting his pedal bike at Christmas. He rode it to nursery and I had to run to keep up with him! As this was Jen’s last Thursday off work, we decided to delay swapping our swimming lessons routine, so Jen took Henry to his lesson, whilst a used my new jump start kit to revive the MR2 and take it for a long drive – I had to drop some tools off at my in-laws, so took the long way and enjoyed hooning the MR2 down some b-roads – it was good to be back in the little roadster! The drive charged the battery, so it was just down to lack of use. Jen, Henry and I spent a lazy afternoon together at home, before I went to collect Owen from pre-school – having to run all the way home to keep up with Owen!

On Friday morning I took Owen to his swimming lesson, he did really well, putting his face in the water and blowing bubbles whilst kicking his feet, and swimming round the pool floating on a woggle. After swimming we made the most of our last weekday all off together by taking Owen for lunch at his favourite restaurant – “McDonalds with the softplay”, we have to drive past at least three other McDonalds restaurants to get there, but Owen loves the softplay – and Henry is happy wherever there are chips to steal. As Henry is a bit more active than on our last visit, he got to play in the softplay too, but he was happiest stuffing his face! On the way home from lunch we ran a few errands together, then I went out in the MR2 for more errands – I was happy that the MR2 worked perfectly on my four stop trip around Coventry, proving that it was lack of use, rather than a duff battery to blame for the issues. After dinner, Owen helped me rebuild the front suspension on my radio controlled MX-5, he has been keen to drive it since seeing it in the box, and he seemed to enjoy helping me – slotting bearings into place and tightening screws. Once the boys were in bed I pushed ahead with the rebuild, sorting the rear suspension and regreasing the gearbox. Usually I would have felt like a massive geek working on a model car on a Friday night, but Jen and some of her friends were in the other room doing jigsaw puzzles…

Rather than going to parkrun or Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday, on the Saturday morning we had other plans – breakfast at Hickory’s to celebrate Partho’s birthday! He thought he would just be meeting myself, Jen and the boys, but his wife (who Partho thought was at work) and a group of his friends also turned up, including Baby Evan, who is even younger than Henry. Henry is used to being the smallest, so it was funny seeing him watching Evan, particularly when Evan was having his bottle of milk (identical to one of Henry’s bottles) – Henry looked jealous! We all had a good breakfast, followed by birthday cake, so it did not matter that it was well past lunchtime when we got home! After such an exciting morning, we just had another quiet afternoon at home.

Sunday morning is usually my time to get out on the bike, but the weather was rubbish, so I stayed at home and did a few bits on the little MX-5, in between helping Owen rebuild his Lego monster truck, which seems to shatter into loads of tiny pieces whenever it does a stunt – hours of fun for Owen, but we do need to be careful to make sure Henry does not get his hands on it! When the rain stopped, Owen and I went up to Hearsall Common to test the radio controlled car and to do some bike skills training. I packed Owen’s marker cones, to lay out tracks for both car and bikes. Owen started off doing the throttle for the radio controlled car (whilst I controlled the steering), and he did surprisingly well! There were definitely fewer crashes when Owen was in charge of the speed, than when I was driving on my own! I offered to let Owen do the steering too, but he was not interested. The car seemed to be running well, so that is phase one of the rebuild complete. The bike skills training was not quite as successful, Owen was not interested in learning to use the brakes on his bike, or to roll with his pedals level. We go through this sort of thing whenever we teach Owen to do something new, once he masters the key skill he is not interested in making any further improvements. At least I felt like my manuals were improving – I was trying to roll through a section of cones on one wheel, while Owen was meant to be rolling through without peddling! Owen was just happy riding round the course as fast as he could. When we got home, we had tea and cake, then watched Toy Story 3, with Owen dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and Henry dressed up as Woody (the photo at the top of this post). Henry did not quite last the whole film though, falling asleep half way through…

This first week (and a bit) has not really felt like I have been on parental leave, it has felt more like a holiday, as Jen was off work too. Spending time together has been great – I think we had one day of handover with parental leave for Owen, and that was only because he had a hospital appointment in Birmingham, so the extra time together as a family has been great and I would recommend any parent taking shared parental leave to consider it!

Parental Leave II

As I mentioned in my 2020 post yesterday, I will be taking nine weeks parental leave to look after Henry, when Jen finishes her maternity leave and goes back to work. Today marks the start of my nine weeks! Technically I have already had two weeks off work, but that was annual leave/bank holidays. In some ways the timing has worked well, allowing me to run it back to back with the Christmas break, but on the other hand the weather will not be as nice as when I took parental leave with Owen during April and May 2017. Bike rides and open top car adventures will be a bit trickier this time around, so here’s hoping for some unseasonably warm months!

There will be a few differences for my parental leave this time, the obvious one being that I will also have Owen to look after – although he will be at nursery three days a week. Jen has delayed her return to work by a week at the start of my parental leave, in all we will have had three weeks at home together. Unfortunately we will not be taking a week to go on holiday – having said that, I am not too sure that a week at the seaside in February would be all that appealing. Lastly, this time I will not be checking my work emails – I kept getting drawn into them last time, but this year I have told work I will be fully offline for the duration, luckily I am confident that the guys covering my role will do a good job!

Since my parental leave with Owen, I have noticed a few other Dads taking parental leave, but it is still far from the norm. So, like last time, I will be publishing weekly posts about my experience and what Henry and I have been up to. Officially my leave runs Thursday to Thursday, but I will most likely post on Sunday evenings, with a long first week! Hopefully my posts will inspire other parents to take up the option of shared parental leave!

Reading back through my posts from parental leave with Owen, as research for this post, has brought back some great memories and made me realise that Henry is more advanced than Owen. For example I wrote in the first week that Owen’s new skill was “going from lying on his belly to sitting up” – Henry has been doing this for over a month! And likewise in the ninth week I noticed Owen’s fifth tooth – Henry already has five teeth! It will be interesting to see which developmental steps Henry will take while I am looking after him – will he be walking by his first birthday?

2020

Happy New Year!

2020 is going to be an exciting year! Once again I will be taking nine weeks parental leave – officially starting tomorrow! It will also be exciting for Owen because he will be starting school in September. Henry will be starting nursery in March. We are looking forward to going back to Bluestone in May and have a trip to the south coast with my family too. Now that Henry is a bit bigger, we have more options for family days out – hopefully on the bikes. I will also be able to take him out in my MR2 – like I did with Owen.

We saw in 2020 at home, with Jen’s friend Jo. We got a takeaway from Rainbow Dragon, and just about managed to stay awake until midnight! In my case, by working on my Instagram Best Nine 2019 post. However, at midnight Owen was woken up by the fireworks, so by 00:01 I was upstairs with him, and he was awake until about 03:00 – welcome to 2020! Fortunately Henry slept like a log.

We had a quiet day today, only leaving the house to visiting Ryton Pools Country Park. Owen rode his bike to and from the adventure playground and really seems to be getting the hang of his new pedal bike, which I need to do a bike check for! We had a relaxed afternoon at home, watching Disney films, with the fire on. Henry even fell asleep in my arms – it has been quite a while since he last did that!

Like the last few years (2017 & 2018) I am setting myself some goals for the year, I was a bit lax in achieving my goals last year, so hoping I can do better in 2020!

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from the last few years, but I have had a bad year, particularly over the last month. Hopefully being off work for the next few months will give me a kick start and I will be able to keep up with it when I start back at work. I have realised that I really need to be focusing on my nutrition, rather than trying to out-exercise a bad diet!

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Again, copied from last year, but I have been a bit slack on this. I have bought myself a better front light for my bike, so have less of an excuse now! I am going to try and get out at least three Wednesday evenings a month!

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Something else carried over from last year, which should also help my weight-loss goal! As part of the strength workouts I also need to focus on “kneehab” – the rehab exercises for my ruptured ACL, which has been causing me some pain over the last few weeks. I have managed to get morning yoga sessions into my weekly routine, so I know this is achievable!

New blog server and theme

I got most of the way towards a new blog server last year – as far as setting it up on a virtual machine on my iMac. I just need to replicate that on AWS. My goal is to get that done in January. The theme I am using on my blog is approaching ten years old, so that really needs an update too, so that will be my next WordPress task.

WordPress custom stories project

For a while I have wanted to be able to link groups of posts, such as multi location trips, or my weekly parental leave posts into a cohesive story. I think I have worked out a way to do this, so want to get this set up on my blog. A stretch goal would then be to roll it into a WordPress plugin that anyone could use on their blog.

Become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

I have been using AWS for a few years now, for various personal projects, but am self taught. I would like to get a formal qualification, and in the process identify any areas I have missed whilst learning.

Build an iOS app

I have been dabbling in iOS app development, but I feel I have got to the point where I need to build an app from scratch! I have got a few ideas, current apps from the App Store that can be improved, and things I am using web apps to do for myself. Initially the app would just be for myself to use, but obviously the stretch goal would be get it into the App Store and ideally monetise it!

Tidy my desk

My desk has become a bit of a mess, since this time last year when my office was annexed to make room for Henry and I was relocated to the dining room. The problem is twofold – it makes the dining room look messy and it is easy for people to add to the mess and treat it as a dumping ground! Part of this project is also to create a proper home for my camera kit. I am thinking of something along the lines of a box with foam cut-outs, or even grids with foam/felt lining. I am sure I will post about the solution when I finish it!

Tidy my garage

In a similar vein, my garage has ended up in a bit of a mess after too many bike projects!

Ride more with Partho

As I mentioned on my Instagram Best Nine 2019, riding with Partho last year was great – we have both agreed that we need to do it more! I would like to go to Nant Y Arian in mid Wales and I think Partho would like to conquer the Minor Taur trail at Coed Y Brenin – ideally before Owen does… As I have been writing this post we have been discussing dates for a trip back to Coed Y Brenin and it looks like we are set for April!

Obviously we will have our annual Strava competition – to see who can log the furthest distance in the year.

Do some night photography

This was a goal last year, that I just about passed. However I did plan some ideas for shots. Hopefully it will be easier now that Henry is a bit older and in more of a bedtime routine. My friend Rich has also expressed an interest in joining me – so I will be taking him up on that!

Fix up my radio controlled MX-5

When digging my Scalextric out of the loft to play with Owen, which was a big success, I found my Tamiya 1:10 scale MX-5. I would like to get it out of the loft and recommission it so I can play with it with Owen. If it goes well I would like to get Owen a radio control car for himself and possibly a more rugged, off road buggy for myself.

I have left some goals off, as hopefully they are ones that will happen organically, like getting Henry on a bike, continuing to regularly ride at the pump track (I know Owen will be keeping me in check on that one!) and replacing my iMac – which I will do, when Apple release a new version. I am also sure that new things will pop up during the year!

Instagram Best Nine 2019

I enjoyed doing my Instagram Best Nine 2018 post earlier this year, so thought I would do one for 2019 too. Like last year I used the bestnine.net app to rank my Instagram posts from the year by likes.

Here are the individual posts with some more detail:

My best friend, Partho, finally bought himself a mountain bike, so we took our bikes over to Cannock Chase, to give it a shakedown. I love riding my bike, but riding it with a friend is even better!

I went to Llandegla on the May bank holiday. It is one of my favourite trail centres and worth driving for an hour past Cannock Chase! I fitted some purple parts to my Orange Four for 2019 and really like the new look.

Baby Henry was always going to be a popular post! He looks so small in these photos!

Ten days after Henry was born Owen and I were meant to go for a Little Rippers  MTB Facebook group ride at Hicks Lodge, but Owen struggled, so we came home and I went out on my bike. And fell off – on a drop off that I have ridden loads. I guess my Instagram followers liked me falling off!

We were more prepared for this Little Rippers MTB Facebook group ride at Cannock Chase – I had the Mac Ride fitted to my hardtail and Owen had new wheels, with pneumatic tyres, fitted to his Strider! Jen and Henry came along with their running buggy. I really enjoyed the day, and I’m sure Owen did too. He rode really well, trying some tricky sections of trail on his balance bike. My lasting memory from the day is when I was tucking Owen into bed that evening he told me he was going to dream about having a pedal bike.

Owen loves his #supersaturday sessions with Ready Steady Riders, and sometimes I bring my Fuji camera kit along to shoot some photos of him. This week the light was particularly good and Owen was riding well!

This was the first day when Owen used his Strider as transport, rather than just on a bike track – it was by far his longest ride at the time. I rode some of those trails yesterday and they are so muddy and flooded in places – definitely not passable for a balance bike!

I love photos of me and Owen riding together! My Mum came along to the pump track to wrangle Owen, so that I could ride too. She was surprised at how fast Owen was riding, but managed to grab these photos of us riding together.

This post ends the same way it started – with a photo of Partho on his mountain bike! This time at Sutton Park, his local trails. Being able to get out on the mountain bikes with Partho has made for my favourite rides of the year – we have already agreed to get out more together in 2020!

A look back at 2019

The main thing that happened this year was that Henry was born – going from a family of three to a family of four was a pretty significant change to our lives! Fortunately Henry has mostly been a chilled out baby, with lots of smiling and letting us deal with his big brother, as he went through the issues of being a “threenager”. However in the last few weeks, since Henry has learned to crawl/climb, his cheeky side is coming out – he is always up to something!

Our year started off quietly, getting the house ready for a baby – relocating my office into the dining room to make room for a nursery etc. Then when Henry was born I was either wrangling Henry, or Owen – my theory that two little boys actually means four times as much trouble has been proved right! My day job has also been really busy, so personal projects took a back seat, although I did start to get involved with Coventry Bloggers – the first event I did with them being the opening of MOD Pizza in Broadgate.

When I have had to opportunity I have tried to focus on improving my AWS skills and learning iOS development with Swift. I am partiularly proud of the workflow I set up to push Git updates to my AWS S3 web hosting. Away from my desk I also learned to wakeboard.

Photography wise I have continued to enjoy my Fuji kit, adding a new lens in the last few days (blog post coming soon!). More often than not I have taken the camera with me on days out, or even bike rides, meaning that I have captured more images in recent years. Two of my school friends, Partho and Rich, have also bought/upgraded their cameras and a few weeks ago we met up in the Peak District for a photography session. I messed up on the location, so we missed the best light, but we all enjoyed getting outside together.

My 2019 best nine on Instagram gives the impression of a year of bikes with my boys – including my friend Partho, who snuck into two of the shots. Like last year, I will do a separate post with more background to each of the nine photos.

Owen on the podium

Whilst Henry is the headline, Owen has also had a great year – getting a little brother was obviously a big change for him, as he was no longer the centre of our attention. He seemed to cope with it really well though – we have had some great adventures together, on the Mac Ride (which was definitely my best purchase of the year) and on his Strider. His highlight of the year was our holiday to Bluestone in Wales, including the stops at Flyup 417 Bike Park and Pedalabikeaway in the Forest of Dean. He has well and truly mastered his balance bike, even if he may not be cut out to be a racer and is now starting to get the hang of his new pedal bike.

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

Get my weight down to 85kg

Massive fail! – I have actually ended the year heavier than I started. I have been eating too much nice food, especially over the Christmas period.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Fail! – This was probably a bit optimistic with a newborn and a massive project at work. I did get out for a few mid week rides, and in the summer a few Friday rides, with Owen on the Mac Ride, but neither were a regular thing. I also managed to commute to work by bike at least once most weeks. The flip side is that I learned more programming skills than I was expecting to.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Fail! – I probably only used my weights about ten times and my resistance bands a handful of times. I did manage to do yoga most weeks. Again, this was probably optimistic with a newborn. I suspect this could be why my dodgy knee has been giving me gyp the last few weeks.

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

Yes! –  This was probably the easiest goal to achieve! Especially as towards the end of the year Owen could join me. In addition to our local pump tracks we also had good sessions at Flyup 417 Bike Park’s indoor pump track (which I have dubbed “the barn of dreams”), the pump track at the Forest of Dean and Leeds Urban Bike Park, which was awesome – we met our friends from York there and had a great day! I was so busy riding and wrangling Owen that I barely took any photos – hence the lack of blog post. I did not make my stretch goal of clearing any tabletop jumps or manualling through rollers. My jumping has improved, but I still cannot hold a good manual – I had to stop practising when I was riding with Owen as he was trying to copy me on his balance bike.

Ride at a bike park

Yes! – Twice in fact! Flyup 417 Bike Park is my new favourite place to ride. I have been twice now, both times were midweek and I was lucky enough to have both the bike park and the uplift service to myself. There are only a few trails, but it is great for focusing on technique – which is something I need to do!

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

Fail! – The final tally is 94h 17m. On reflection expecting to clock more hours than last year with a newborn was not realistic. I am actually surprised that at the halfway point of the year I was over 50 hours! Maybe I am being unfair to Henry using him as a scapegoat, when it has actually been the last month or so, when the weather has been terrible that has done the damage.

However, on the Strava based goal that really counts – I managed to comprehensively beat my best friend Partho, by logging 1,223km to his 955km in our annual Strava challenge.

New blog server

Fail! – I was over confident in this, and planning on doing it at the last minute, but I ran out of time. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it off this week.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

Yes! – Well I am going to claim it as pass, I am down to under 100 open tabs across my three Apple devices.

Replace my ageing iMac

I am not quite going to call this a fail, as I have decided what I want – a new iMac. I am just waiting for Apple to release one! I ruled the MacBook Pro out as I can buy a well specced iMac AND a MacBook Air for the price of a well specced MacBook Pro and monitor.

Do some night photography

Yes, but only just! – I had a few shots planned, and even read up on astrophotography, but generally, by the time the boys are in bed I am too tired to think about heading out to take photos. Especially when I expect to be woken up early in the morning. I did get out to take a photograph of the Hearsall Star – a local festive season landmark.

Detail my MR2

Yes!I ticked this one off early in the year. However, it could probably do with another wash again, but is at the back of the queue behind my BMW and Jen’s Yaris.

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

Fail! – Just like the MOT… Fortunately after a good Italian tune up the MR2 was able to pass the emissions test. It passed 60,000 towards the end of the summer. Embarrassingly I cannot actually remember the last time I drove it…

Drink more whisky

I have certainly drank more whisky than previous years, so did not fail in that regard, however I only emptied one bottle, which was then replaced at Christmas, so not sure I can claim success either. At least Jen’s gin collection is catching my whisky collection…

2019 feels like it has been a year of change, Henry being the biggest, but best change to our lives. Owen has also grown up – at the start of the year he was sleeping in a cot and wearing nappies – now he sleeps in a proper bed and takes himself to the toilet when he needs to! It was also the first year since 2008 that I did not visit Croyde in North Devon, nor did I leave the UK – I cannot remember the last time that happened!

Highlights from the last ten years

I will post my usual year in review post tomorrow, but as we are at the end of a decade, I thought I would look back at key points of what has been an amazing ten years. Of course being me, the key points are cars, cameras, bikes and holidays in addition to the big life events!

To set the scene, I started 2010 single, living in my bachelor pad in Rugby. My life pretty much revolved around cars and photography, especially car photography. At work I was in the middle of a big product launch that went on to set a sales record for our company.

2010

The most significant thing that happened in 2010 is that I went for a date with a girl called Jen – and that pretty much set the course for the rest of the decade! We had a great holiday to the Basque Country and at the end of the season I gave up motorsport photography.

2011

Jen moved into my flat in Rugby, and we had some great trips – to Barcelona and Cyprus. Sadly my old MX-5 turned to rust and I had to replace it, of course I went for a new silver MX-5!

2012

Jen and I had some great holidays – Costa Rica was definitly the holiday of a lifetime, but Croyde with our friends and a roadtrip round the Outer Hebrides were both pretty special too. We also decided to buy a house together and the 119 project started!

2013

We moved into 119 – albeit with a lot of renovation still to do! Fortunately we were still able to get away for a few city breaks – Paris in the snow in March and New York in the snow to celebrate our thirtieth birthdays. My new MX-5 went back to the lease company, and now that we were living less than a mile from my office I could not justify another new car, so bought my MR2 Roadster!

2014

2014 was a quiet year for trips – Jen and I had a long weekend in Copenhagen, I also went to Le Mans with my Dad and on our annual trip to Croyde I proposed to Jen! The big project for the year was building my garage, but the thing that made the biggest change to my life was buying a mountain bike!

2015

Jen and I got married!!! We had an awesome honeymoon cruising round California in a Dodge Challenger. After ten years of daily driving sports cars, it was time for me to buy a sensible car. I also achieved my goal of cycling 2,015km in the year.

2016

 

The first part of the year was pretty quiet, we had a trip to Croyde in the MR2. Then on the sixth of June our lives changed forever – Owen was born!

2017

2017 was a special year – I got to take two months off work for parental leave, hanging out with my little wingman! We had our first family holiday abroad – to Cyprus to celebrate my best friend getting married. I also bought my dream bike!

2018

It was Owen’s turn to get a bike! We had a great holiday to San Sebastian with our friends Nicki and Mat! We also went to France and Croyde with my family. Jen bought her Toyota Yaris – which replaced the FIAT 500 she had since before we met. And after more than ten years shooting with Canon cameras I moved to a Fuji system.

2019

We became a family of four when Henry was born! I will post a more detailed year in review post tomorrow, but the key points are that I started working with Coventry Bloggers and we had a great holiday to Bluestone in Wales.

What a decade it has been! From living on my own in Rugby, we are now a family of four, living in the house we renovated (well have almost finished renovating), in Coventry. Photography and cars are still important parts of my life, but have been joined by mountain biking and two small boys! At work, I am still working for the same company, on another big project. I do not know what the next decade will have in store, but I doubt my life will change as much as it has in the last ten years.

Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding at Pier 52

Photo © Richard Long 2019

For years my main sport was snowboarding, although I also dabbled in other board sports such as surfing, skateboarding, mountainboarding, kite boarding and kite surfing. Wakeboarding had been on my radar, but I had never had the opportunity to try it – until this year!

The first opportunity was on a rainy weekend in August with my closest friends on Ali’s stag do. I knew that Ali also wanted to try wakeboarding, so we decided to book at Sheffield Cable Wake Park, and planned a big night out in Sheffield afterwards. Unfortunately our booking was cancelled at the last minute, due to algae or something. So we ended up at Pier 52 near Cannock, which ended up being a blessing in disguise, as their two pier set up is better suited to beginners than the larger set up in Sheffield.

We had exclusive hire of the cable for an hour, between four of us, with the cable operator also acting as instructor. None of us knew what to expect, but Richard stepped up (down?) and got into the water first. The three of us on the dock were pleased to see him standing up on the board and getting to the end of the cable fairly quickly. However it did look like it was hard work!

After Rich it was my turn to lower myself into the cold reservoir, lie on my back with my arms stretched out and hold on for dear life! On my first attempt I went straight over on my face. The second attempt went better and I was up on the board, heading towards the pylon at the end of the cable. Once I was up on the board it felt like riding a snowboard on a bumpy piste, I could move the board left or right and adopted a kite boarding position, to the left of the cable. Then I realised that I did not know what to do at the end of the cable, so when the cable stopped I dropped down into the water and floundered about in the water trying to turn round, whilst my feet are attached to a board and without dropping the wooden handle – all whilst quite a way from the shore! After getting back to the pier, I was given some pointers – to stay under the cable – and dragged back out to the middle of the lake for another dunking. This all makes it sounds bad, but when I was up on the board with the spray on my face it felt great! Towards the end of my first session the instructor tried to explain what I needed to do at the end of each run to turn around, however I was too tired, from being dragged around the water, to understand it. Partho and Ali went out after me, with similar results – after our session we were all tired, but in a good way! We compared notes, and watched some other riders, and all went into our second session feeling more confident!

We switched over to the longer “Bay cable” for the second session. Rich went first again and made good progress – I think he got the best turn out of the four of us. I was up next and liked starting sat on the dock, rather than lying in the water. The water felt choppier on this side of the pier, but the longer cable felt faster and therefore better! The best bit was on the first run, when I was still dry from the dock start – it felt like I knew what I was doing, until getting another dunking at the end of the cable. I got quite close to making turns, particularly at the pier end of the cable, but as I slowed down the board sank into the water slightly too much. By the end of the session I knew exactly what I needed to do, but lacked the energy/strength in my legs to complete the turn. Ali went out and had a good session, but Partho had a stinker – with the biggest and most spectacular slam of the day, which marked the end of our session. After getting dried off and warmed up we drove up to Sheffield for the night out part of the stag do! We have all vowed to have another wakeboarding session, as it was so much fun and we all left with unfinished business – nailing those turns.

My next opportunity to get on a wakeboard came the next month when I was on holiday at Bluestone in Wales. Pembrokeshire Wake Park snared me with their clever targeted advertising on Facebook – pointing out that they were located right next to the Bluestone resort. As much as I wanted my next wakeboarding session to be with my mates, I was right next to what looked like a decent wake park, the weather was lovely and it felt like too good an opportunity to miss! After the success of the previous trip, I booked two sessions, thinking it would be a case of one to remember how to do it and one to nail the turns.

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I cycled round to the wake park, I thought this would be a good warm up, and less hassle than taking the car. The wake park seemed perfect – a chalet with a cafe and changing rooms next to a purpose built lake with two tow-pier cable wakeboarding set ups with the Serendome at Bluestone, where Jen and the boys were spending the afternoon, visible past the end of the lake! The sun was out and the water was flat calm (I later learned that this was due to the island in the lake spearating the two cable runs) – the complete opposite to the conditions on Ali’s stag do.

I explained to the instructor that I wanted to work on turns and that I thought I knew what to do, but struggled to actually do it. I strapped the board to my feet and assumed the position, lying on my back in the water. When the cable started to pull me along, I managed to stand up and was whizzing down the lake, towards the Serendome in the distance. When I passed the last obstacle on the left, I dug my heel edge into the water and carved towards the bank, the cable sped up, then when it slowed down again I rolled to my toe edge and all of a sudden I was heading back towards the dock. I had nailed a turn on my first run – I could barely believe it! Then I repeated the turn at the dock end and again at the Serendome end. I was stoked, feeling like I had wakeboading nailed! I went to do another turn at the dock end, but the instructor put the brakes on my fun, stopping the cable, pointing out that I had obviously nailed turns and should work on something else!

I spent the remainder of the session working on riding switch (swapping from left foot forwards to right foot forwards) – the idea was that I would ride towards the Serendome end, turn, try to ride back switch then swap back to left foot forwards before turning and doing it again. It was easier said than done! Pretty much each attempt at riding switch ended up with a spectacular slam, initially on the swap to right foot forwards, then riding right foot forwards, then on swapping back. I probably managed it sucessfully once, but I ended my session happy!

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I had a short break to recharge before my second session, and it was lovely sitting by the lake in the sun! For the second session the instructor suggested trying ollies – getting some air between the board and the water! Again I was to ride towards the Serendome end, turn then try the ollie on the way back towards the dock. I found it hard to get the board out of the water – it is the same technique as on a snowboard, but the action needs to be exaggerated. On the times I did get the board out of the water I had to be careful on landing – if the front of the board dips too far into the water you are going to get dunked! I felt shattered by the end of the session, but I had just about managed a half decent ollie – and landed it. I was most pleased by the fact I had nailed all of the turns at the Serendome end, although I struggled to understand how it was so much easier than at Pier 52!

For the ride back, the guys at Pembrokeshire Wake Park told me about an offroad “shortcut” back to Bluestone, except that I must have missed a turn, I ended up dropping a lot of vertical and having to climb back up to Bluestone – not an easy feat after a couple of wakeboarding sessions! Then I ended up going for another long ride, with Owen on the Mac Ride – I slept well that night!

I am really hoping that I can get out for another wakeboarding session in 2020, ideally with the lads! I want to get ollies and riding switch nailed!

Forest of Dean Pump Track


After the success of our stop at the Flyup 417 Bike Park pump track on our way to Bluestone in Wales, we decided to have another pump track stop on the way home – at the Cannop Cycle Centre in the Forest of Dean, which is one of my favourite places to ride. We got there in time for lunch at Pedalabikeaway – their wild boar burgers are amazing! We also had a look around the shop, which has a great range of kids MTB kit.

After lunch Jen and Henry went for a walk, whilst Owen and I had a quick session on the pump track. To get to the skills area where the pump track is located meant riding along the first section of the blue Verderers trail – which was Owen’s first time on a proper mountain bike trail! It is only a tame section of trail, but Owen coped well on his tiny Strider bike.

At the pump track Owen got stuck in straight away, lapping the track, only stopping to ask me to chase after him – I found that if I gave him a half lap head start I would just about catch him up by the last corner. We had the track mostly to ourselves, but occasionally people would join us and Owen got quite a few compliments on his riding.

At one point Owen got a bit too cocky and had a big crash going in to the first berm, so we decided that it would be a good time to progress to the jump line in the skills area, well the bottom part of it anyway, which was just one table top into a berm. Owen enjoyed this line, as it was slightly bigger than the pump track, but still within his ability.

After a few laps of the jump line it was time to head back to the car – which was via a red graded trail – a level of difficulty up from the blue trail we had ridden to get to the skills area. The first section was flat, but quite rooty and rocky – easy on a full size mountain bike, but not on a balance bike with 12″ wheels! After I had coached Owen through this section, which he handled really well, we pulled over to let another rider past – it was @pinkmtbr, who I follow on Instagram. She stopped to give Owen a high five for his great riding, which was really nice! The last few sections of the trail were quite steep, but short descents. I rode ahead and waited at the bottom each decent so I could direct Owen down the smoothest lines – he coped brilliantly and was so pleased with himself having made it to the bottom!

As with Flyup 417 Bike Park, the Cannop Cycle Centre is a great place to stop for lunch and a pump track session to break up a journey. Owen and I have watched a few GMBN videos filmed there, and Owen always recognises it and asks when we will be able to go back. He is really going to love it when he can start to explore the trails as well as the pump track.

Bluestone Wales

I have been visiting Croyde in North Devon annually for ten years, but last year felt different. Jen and I decided that in 2019 we would like to try somewhere new for our family holiday. As we would be travelling with a six month old baby, we also wanted to go somewhere that would be easy, with lots to occupy the boys, especially if the weather was bad! A few people had recommended Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, a part of Wales I had never visited. It seemed to have plenty of onsite activities and was fairly close to the seaside – so we booked up!

The drive from Coventry to Pembrookshire is about three and a half hours, roughly the same as to Croyde – easily the longest car journey of Henry’s life. I planned our first stop at Flyup 417 Bikepark, as I had been wanting to take Owen to the indoor pump track there for a while, which I covered on another post. The rest of the drive went well, with a brief McPitstop to coincide with Henry’s next feed, and we arrived at Bluestone late afternoon, in time to settle into our little upside down house (bedrooms downstairs/living area upstairs), check out the resort and get fish and chips for dinner.

Our first full day in Wales looked like it would have the best weather, so we headed to the beach! Barafundle Bay had been recommended, but when we got there both boys were asleep and we thought that the long walk from the car park may have been a struggle, so we drove to Freshwater West, a surfing beach, instead. Owen had a great time paddling in the sea and building sandcastles, while Henry hid out in our beach tent and tried to eat sand. We finished the afternoon sat in the dunes over looking the beach eating ice cream sundaes from Cafe Mor (I would love to go back and have lunch there).

On Sunday morning I managed to sneak out for my usual Sunday morning bike ride, but Canaston Woods, next to Bluestone, was more fun than my usual trails in Coventry! Even better, I met Jen and the boys in the Bluestone village for a post-ride milkshake. The afternoon set the tone for the rest of the holiday – we visited the Serendome, Bluestone’s large undercover activity area. Owen absolutely loved both the sand play and the building blocks area – we spent a lot of time in the Serendome, filling buckets of sand or building assault courses, robots and dens with the building blocks!

The other main attractions at Bluestone were the Adventure Centre, which had a couple of softplay areas, including one for babies, which Henry enjoyed, and the Blue Lagoon waterpark, which we visited a couple of times. There are a selection of restaurants in the village, but my favourite was Camp Smokey, a Wild West themed shack at the bottom of a ravine specialising in BBQ food and with a fire pit for toasting marshmallows. The best thing about the resort was that, other than checking in/out, it was car free! You can hire golf buggies but we just walked or cycled everywhere – with Owen either on his Strider or on the MacRide. There was an autumnal theme to the resort when we were there (mid September), with Halloween themed scarecrows around the resort – with a challenge to find them all – Owen particularly enjoyed this. I think there was also a festival/parade linked in to it too. Pembrokeshire Wakepark is right next door to Bluestone, so I managed to fit in a wakeboarding lesson, which I will write about in another post soon!

We could easily have spent the whole week without leaving the resort, however it would have been a shame to visit Pembrokeshire, which is a really beautiful part of the world, and not explore further! So, on our last day we visted Tenby. The weather was lovely, so after exploring the old town, we grabbed some food from The Stowaway – a funky underground cafe/takeaway, and sat on Castle Hill for a picnic with a seaview. Then we went to the beach for more paddling in the sea, digging in the sand and eating ice cream bought from a Land Rover ice cream van! We all had a great time in Tenby and it is definitly somewhere we would like to visit again! On the way back to Bluestone we stopped in Narbeth, however the boys were both asleep, so I stayed in the car with them whilst Jen had a quick explore.

We had such a great time that it was disapointing to leave. To lessen the blow I had planned an exciting stop on the way home – at the Forest of Dean, which I have already posted about. We also took the “Head of the Valleys” road, rather than the motorway – not much longer, but far more interesting. Henry was not pleased to be heading home, it felt like he was screaming most of the way back from Ross-on-Wye.

I am a bit late publishing this post – life has been busy! However it has given me a chance to reflect on the holiday more than if I had blogged whilst I was away. It was great being able to spend time together as a family of four, with very little planned, nor needed to be planned. Travelling with two young children can hard, so I am glad that we had plenty of options, even if the weather was bad, mostly within a five minute cycle! Jen and I also had a good time, the boys being occupied goes a long way to achieving that, but we also got to do some exploring, fit in some training and ate some nice food. After wrangling the boys all day I was happy to chill out in our little upside down house in the evenings, sorting through my photos from the day etc before turning in for an early night.

I think this will be the first holiday that Owen remembers – he had such a great time, and regularly asks when we will be going back to “our holiday house with the sand play”. At six months old Henry just went with the flow, he did hit one developmental milestone while we away though – he rolled over for the first time, then quickly realised that he could link rolls together to traverse a room! It will be good to go back to Bluestone again when the boys are slightly bigger and can do more of the activites, I think Owen will also like the familiarity of it. There is also a lot more that I would like to see in Pembrokeshire, so I have a feeling we will be returning…