A Look Back at 2023

2023 has been a mixed year – the first nine months were pretty good, but the end of the year has been hard for all of us, as Owen has been ill. He seems to be over the worst of it now, so I will focus on the good stuff! The highlight of my year was our road trip to the Lake District, Scotland and Saltburn-by-the-Sea – it was not the big European trip that we had planned, but nonetheless, it was our best family holiday to date. In the spring we also had trips to Somerset and another to Legoland and to visit my brother in Kent. This month Jen and I both celebrated our fortieth birthdays, although our plan for a long weekend away in Rome had to be postponed. At home, the year started off with a new sofa, which then kicked off a full redecoration of the living room, including a new carpet, after a central heating leak. Clearing the room out, and only bringing back what we need has made as much of a difference as the new decor, but we still need to sort out all of the other stuff stashed around the house…

2023 has been a fairly good year on the bikes! And also in the workshop as I am ending the year with three working bikes! I started the year with only my hardtail Clockwork Evo, and pretty much rode that into the ground. Which forced me to pull my finger out and get my Orange Four ridable again. Some of my favourite rides of the year were: Llandegla with Owen, the first ride back on my Four at FoD, Sherwood Pines with Partho and Owen, and riding at the Golfie but most of all, I loved all the family bike rides we were able to go on. I also got myself a new bike for riding around town, which has proved more fun than I was expecting.

I have also had a good year behind the camera, shooting more mountain bike races, and even a bit of motorsport. I went on a landscape photography workshop in the Peak District, but sadly had not yet got around to processing and sharing the images, as it was the week before our summer road trip. The boys continue to be my main photographic subjects, usually on our regular walks in the woods up the road from our house.

Although my website, in particular this blog, have had a rubbish year, with a lot of downtime, I feel like I have progressed a lot as a developer this year, both at work and on my personal projects. The main thing that I want to keep on with is using Infrastructure As Code, in particular AWS CDK to define the infrastructure for my projects.

Owen is growing up and starting to get his own interests – mainly computer games, reading and history. Sadly for me he seems to be drifting away from MTB, he often takes some convincing to join me on rides. Then gets upset that he does not get to ride much. Hopefully the new bike he got for Christmas will spur him to ride more next year. His main riding goal for the year was to ride twenty kilometers, which he achieved in September. He also joined a karate dojo, and was making good progress with that before being taken ill. He will be able to restart karate in the new year and work towards his yellow, and hopefully orange belts. Of course the main thing that happened for Owen his illness and subsequent hospital visits. Thankfully we are over the worst of it now though.

Henry has also had a big year – starting school being the highlight, I think he preferred nursery, but he is doing well with his reading and writing, and seems to be making friends. Outside of school he has joined our local Cycle Speedway team and enjoyed going to the weekly training sessions. He continues to be a right little diva – he knows what he wants, and he makes sure everyone knows about it.

At the start of the year, I set myself some goals. I posted a halftime update in June September, but here are the final results:

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

Pass – This goal was carried over from 2022, but I managed to get it done in the summer. I then started studying for the AWS Security Specialist Certification – I was almost ready to take the exam when Owen got admitted to hospital.

Rebuild my Orange Four

PassIt was so good to be back on the Four! However, I was not expecting to be the bike I rode the most all year.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

Fail – I did look in to this, but was disappointed that there was not much manual customisation available on the Adobe Portfolio service, which powers my photography portfolio. I have started to select some new images for the portfolio, but did not get very far.

Photograph more bike races

Pass – I shot four bike races this year, the Cannock Chase Winter Classic XC race, and three downhill races at Sitle Cop downhill trails. This is by far my favourite type of photography, and I am glad that I have been able to do it more often. I even sold a few images, not quite enough to pay for my new lens though.

Take a wildlife photo I am happy with

Fail – I put this on hold, as I have realised that to get an image that I will be happy with will require time, in addition to a much longer lens. Whilst I could have borrowed the lens, time was the bigger constraint, so I made an effort to concentrate on sports photography.

Complete at least three 50km bike rides

Fail – I did not manage one. I had planned one, including route and childcare, but the weather forecast was rubbish, so I wimped out. I did manage one ride over forty kilometers, with the Godiva Trailriders, and given that was at a much faster pace than I am used to, I am sure that fifty kilometers is doable.

Ride 20km with Owen

Pass – After a few failed attempts, we managed this, at Sherwood Pines towards the end of September with Partho, when I had borrowed the Fuji X-H2S. It was one of my favourite rides of the year.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

Fail – Owen did not ride much earlier in the year, so I did not feel that he would have the bike fitness for a summer trip to Bike Park Wales. We had booked to join the Little Rippers Halloween ride there, but had to cancel as Owen was admitted to hospital.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Fail – This one is on me. I still want to ride there, I just need to pick a weekend and go! I will be carrying this goal over to 2024 for sure.

Ride some more of the “10 of the best XC trails in the UK” with Partho

Fail – We did not manage to get too many full days together to ride, so it was just the odd ride at our usual spots, Cannock Chase and Sherwood Pines, as always though, it is just good to be abke to get out together,

Tidy my office

Pass – Given the current state of my office, I am only just scraping a pass. But for most of the year, it has been a lot tidier than it was. My excuse is that towards the end of the year I need some mess in there to disguise the christmas presents I have stashed. Ideally I will give it a quick spring clean tomorrow before I restart at work though.

Tidy my garage

Fail – I have got too many bike projects on the go, and too many bikes in general. This year I think I sold two, and added three, only one of which was for me. This is another goal that needs to be carried over to 2024.

MR2 jobs

Fail – Again, I had too many bike jobs, so wil need to carry these over to 2024.

Van upgrades

Pass – I had the interior of the van insulated and carpeted, a Loaded Bikes system installed to transport the bikes securely and an awning rail fitted. The interior is a nicer place to be and it is easier to get the bikes in and out of the van. However, we have not managed to have the days out in the van that we would like. The boys and I (minimal help from the boys) managed to get the awning set up to give us some shade on a very warm visit to Mallory Park. I think it is one of those things where we need to get dates in the calendar reserved for van days out, otherwise something else always crops up. The van was great for our trip to Scotland though.

Monthly blog posts

Fail – My blog was offline for two months, so those months were missed. I feel like I have been getting better towards the end of the year, so hopefully I can carry the momentum forward to 2024.

Flagged emails

Fail – I have just checked and I have 639 flagged emails, more than I started with. Hopefully none of them are too important… At least I have been making a concious effort to address them though.

Get my weight down to 85kg

Massive fail – Again! Looking at the data from my Withings Scales Amazon affliate link, I was losing weight for most of the year, but put a load back on this month. At one point, whilst Owen was in hospital, my weight dipped below 90kg, but I’m not sure that being so stressed you forget to eat is really a sustainable weightloss strategy.

Once again it looks like I have failed to achieve more of my goals than I acheived. I think for next year I need to try not to over commit myself, but given the past few months I am mainly happy that we are ending 2023 without daily hospital visits and two (mostly) healthy children.

Henry’s First Day at School

Henry, who still feels like the baby of the family, is starting school today! It is not as big a change as it was for Owen starting in reception, as Henry went to the preschool at school last year and went to holiday club in the classroom he will be in this year. It was nice walking to school and seeing all of Henry’s classmates from nursery, most of whom he had not seen all summer, it was also reassuring that he would have some familiar faces in his class. Henry only went to school for a few hours this afternoon, and I was surprised that parents were bringing the children into the classroom and getting them settled – Owen’s first day was in 2020, during Covid, so we just left him at the door. Having us there seemed to make it worse for Henry, but he soon settled down and was telling the teacher about our recent bike ride at Sherwood Pines, despite us not having ridden at Sherwood Pines for months. Hopefully, this was nerves, rather than mistrust of the teacher! I was quite proud that before we left him, he had already written his name in the writing area.

As with Owen, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Henry some questions, to record how he has changed over the years:

  • Height: 107cm
  • Shoe size: 11K
  • Bike: Frog 48
  • Favourite colour: Blue
  • Favourite food: Spaghetti bolognese
  • Favourite book: The Adventures of Paddington: Hide-and-Seek
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Alice‚Äôs Wonderland Bakery (an Alice in Wonderland spin-off on Disney+)
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Going to Saltburn-by-the-Sea
  • What do you want to be when you grow up? He does not want a job, he wants to be a princess.

Owen’s First Day of Year Three

This year Owen and Henry are starting school on different days, so I am doing separate back-to-school posts. Stay tuned for Henry’s tomorrow – in the meantime, Jen and I are taking Henry for a special day out in Birmingham, before he starts school tomorrow.

Once again, the school holidays have flown by and Owen has gone back to school, starting in year three. Of course, after six weeks of waking up early, he decided to have a lie in this morning. I am sure that moving up to the “Junior” part of the school will be exciting for Owen, as they start to learn more exciting things, such as computer programming, there are also more options for extra curricular activities. I am sure that Owen will also be excited to see his friends again, he did see some at holiday club towards the start of the break but has not seen anyone for a couple of weeks whilst we were on our summer road trip. Towards the end of last term, there was a lot of karate talk between Owen and his friends, so we have started taking Owen to karate lessons. He has only been to a few so far, but seems to be enjoying it.

As usual, in addition to the mandatory photo by the front door, I asked Owen some questions, to record how he has changed over the years:

  • Height: 128cm
  • Shoe size: 13.5K
  • Bike: Orbea MX20 with a Haro Frontside 16 BMX for riding to school and a Vitus Nucleus 24 that he needs to grow a tiny bit more before he can ride it.
  • Favourite colour: Red
  • Favourite food: Pepperoni pizza with olives and pepper
  • Favourite book: The Beano Annual 2023
  • Favourite thing to watch on TV: Ninjago
  • Best thing we did over the summer holiday: Bike ride at Sherwood Pines, completing the red-graded “Outlaw” trail
  • When I grow up I want to be a: Coder

2023 Goals Update

I usually like to check in on my goals for the year at the end of June, but due to the issues with my blog server, I have reviewed them two-thirds through the year, rather than halfway through. You would have thought that would have given me more chance to check off goals, but we will see…

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

Done! I cannot be too smug though, as it was a carryover goal from last year. Given how much time this took in the spring, I am not sure why I have committed to doing another certification, AWS Certified Security – Specialty in the Autumn.

Rebuild my Orange Four

Also done! Again, a recycled 2023 goal, but it has been great being back on the Four, especially at the Golfie earlier this week. I have been riding it so much that it needs a service now. The Clockwork Evo is also due a big rebuild – it was a good job I got the Four finished when I did. Fortunately, I now have Maurice, my new-to-me urban bike, for running errands around town, as the Four is too valuable to leave locked up outside shops. Currently, I have a commuter bike in the work stand for Jen, it was a freebie from a friend, but is taking a bit of time to rebuild, as I am not used to a lot of the road bike/SRAM components and everything needs a thorough clean.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

Not yet, but this is a good project for when the weather is rubbish.

Photograph more bike races

Another goal that I have achieved – I photographed the Cannock Chase Winter Classic cross country race in February, which I did not get around to blogging about, and the Racer’s Guild Downhill at Stile Cop in May. I hope to shoot a couple more races in the autumn too. Henry has joined the local cycle speedway club, so I expect that I will also shoot some cycle speedway races.

Take a wildlife photo I am happy with

I am not sure that this photo of a bee on a sunflower in our garden really counts… I have got better at spotting wildlife, both small ones in the garden, like the bee, or bigger ones when out and about, including a couple of herons and a buzzard.

Complete at least three 50km bike rides

This one is going to be a big fail – I have not even done one, nor am I sure when I will do one. I feel like I have been riding more often though, fitting shorter rides into my week. My longest ride of the year so far did not even reach 30km and that was on the 8th January. The Clockwork Evo is a better bet for long rides than the Four, so really should get that back on the trails again and see what I can do before the trails get too muddy again.

Ride 20km with Owen

Another fail, we have done a couple of 17km rides, at Llandegla and Sherwood Pines, but the full 20km has eluded us. It is getting increasingly difficult to get Owen out on the bike, although he enjoys it when we do get out. I am sure that he could do a 20km ride if he wanted to though.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

The plan was to go to Bike Park Wales in the summer holidays, but by the time I should have booked it, Owen had only done 2 MTB rides and I was not sure that he would have been able to safely ride downhill trails, so I had to give up on that idea. He has asked to go to 417 Bike Park though, which we may do between Christmas and the new year, as he will have a new bike to try out.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Not yet, but still on my radar. Partho and I had a trip planned earlier this month, but the planned full day trip turned into a brief trip to Cannock Chase, then we cancelled as the weather was rubbish

Ride some more of the “10 of the best XC trails in the UK” with Partho

At the start of the year Partho we doing well at getting out for monthly rides together, but life has started to get in the way. The closest I can claim to riding any of the “10 best XC trails in the UK” are riding some of the Glentress Blue trail earlier this week, and a few rides at Cannock Chase, including a full lap myself, and most of a full lap with Partho.

Tidy my office

Well it must have been tidy at some point, as I treated myself to a new keyboard and desk mat. It has got messy again though.

Tidy my garage

With all the ongoing projects this has not happened, nor have the 3 extra bikes to squeeze in to the garage. Although a tidy garage may help with the projects, so I should probably crack on with this…

MR2 jobs

The poor MR2 has been a bit neglected this year, at the bear minimum it needs a good wash.

Van upgrades

The van interior was insulated and carpeted earlier in the year. I also fitted a Loaded Bikes rail with fork mounts in the back, which makes transporting bikes easier. I also bought an awning. We have had some good roat trips, but other than testing the awning with the boys at Mallory Park, we have not had any day trips to set up the van and have a barbeque or picnic.

Monthly blog posts

Given that my blog was officle of the best part of two months, this is obviously a big fail!

Flagged emails

I had been making good progress on getting through my flagged emails, but currently I am on 595 (up from 536 at the start of the year), but my excuse for that is that I am on holiday from work and have recently been flagging a lot of emails to deal with on my return to work.

Get my weight down to 85kg

I think this is going to be a tough ask, I think I will be happy to get under 90kg by the end of the year! The trend of the year is downwards, but my last weigh in was before setting off on holiday and eating out a lot…

Life just generally seems to be busier this year, especially as the boys are getting more into their own things. Later bed times for the boys, and often having to work/study in the evenings after collecting the boys from school are reducing available free time, so next year I may need to slim down my goals accordingly.

2023

Happy New Year!

2023 did not get off to a good start for me – being woken up by Henry before 8:00, then getting punched in the eye for not being his favourite parent – it was Jen’s turn to have a lie-in, which Henry did not appreciate. After that Hen went back to bed in a sulk to wait for Jen to get up.

Once again, Jen and I saw it the new year at home, but this year Owen managed to stay up for midnight with us! Owen and I have been working our way through the Star Wars movies, so watched Return of the Jedi – I was impressed at how he was able to stay awake and pay attention to such a long film. The film got us most of the way to midnight, and although Owen wanted to go to bed just before the clock struck twelve, we managed to keep him up to see in the new year and watch the fireworks on TV.

After the initial commotion, we had a quiet morning at home, even managing to get a few jobs done around the house and garden. After lunch we drove to Leamington Spa, to meet my parents. We parked at Newbold Comyn, and walked into town, via Jephson Gardens. Then my dad treated us to ice creams. After walking back to Newbold Comyn, the boys had a roll around the skatepark. Owen said that he had had a “lovely walk and a lovely ice cream”, which pretty much summed up our afternoon. We also had a quick peek at the new mountain bike trails under construction. The trails looked good and are one of the things I am most excited about this year – great trails within a thirty minute drive means that Owen and I will have a new regular riding spot.

We have not got much planned for the year – we had been thinking about a road trip to France, but with the new Entry/Exit System for the EU looking like it will cause chaos at the channel crossing, so we will wait and see how that pans out. We have got a few shorter trips pencilled in – Lego Land, a VW Show in Weston-super-Mare and hopefully a visit to my brother’s house in Kent. But before all that, we have a new sofa arriving next week! Something that I am not looking forward to quite so much is turning 40 in December!

As in previous years, I have set myself some goals for the year ahead:

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

A recycled goal from 2022 – as although I did a lot of studying I did not take the exam. I need to pass the exam in the next few months, as my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner certification from 2020 will lapse. And I promised myself a Fuji X100V when I passed – I have already bought it…

Rebuild my Orange Four

Another recycled goal from 2022, although I do not know if it is still a rebuild, given that the frame was replaced under warranty, so I am technically building up a new bike. Fortunately, I am most of the way there! I am waiting for my Four to be built up to ride the new red-graded trail at the Forest of Dean.

Once the Four is back on the trails, the Clockwork Evo is probably due a thorough service, after hard year in 2022.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

I have been using a Bootswatch theme on my homepage, which still needs a backend refresh, and I would like to carry that theme over to my photography portfolio website, which is hosted on Adobe Portfolio to tie them together. I could also do with updating the images, to include some more recent ones.

Photograph more bike races

Photographing the British Downhill Series mountain bike race was one of my highlights of 2022, and I would like to do some more this year.

Take a wildlife photo I am happy with

This was a failed goal in 2021, and one that has been in the back of mind since. My plan is to borrow a long lens from Fuji and spend the day at a nature reserve.

Complete at least three 50km bike rides

Rather than setting myself a year long cycling goal, I have decided to switch things up and target some longer rides. My longest ride to date is 48km, so 50km is achievable, but multiple rides should make it more of a challenge. I have got a few ideas for routes and hopefully my friend Partho will accompany me for some of the rides.

Ride 20km with Owen

This is more Owen’s goal, as he wants to beat his longest ride to date, which stands at 16km. I have no doubt that Owen will be able to beat this – I just need to find the right route. He rode 15km, on some of the toughest trails he has ever ridden at Coed y Brenin last year, but I do not want to make it too hard (hilly) or boring (riding along a straight/flat disused railway) for him. So I am thinking a return visit to Sherwood Pines may be in order – Owen has ridden the 14km blue-graded “Adventure Trail” there, so I am sure we could add in some loops of their red-graded trail to bring it up to 20km easily.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

Bike Park Wales is the biggest bike park in the UK, but well set up for kids. Owen and I have watched a few videos from there, and the trails look fun. Annoyingly we have missed the last few Little Rippers MTB group rides there. After our North Wales trip last year, I thought that a South Wales trip, with a possibly making a weekend of it with a return visit to Dare Valley Country Park to ride the main trails, as it looked like a good set up when we called in on the way to Bluestone in 2021.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Bwlch Nant yr Arian in Mid Wales has some great looking trails, and is also known for their daily Red Kite feeding – which is enough of an excuse for me to go for a ride. And may help with my wildlife photography goal. It also seems like somewhere that might be worth visiting with Jen and the boys as part of a Mid Wales trip.

Ride some more of the “10 of the best XC trails in the UK” with Partho

My best friend Partho shared an article with me called “10 of the best XC trails in the UK“. I have ridden a couple of the trails, and parts of a few more, but we have decided to try to ride a few more together.

Tidy my office

I spend most days working in my office, and other than what can be seen by my webcam, it is a complete tip. I still have my old iMac set up on my desk – it did not even get switched on last year, so I need to clear it down and get rid of it. I also need to move the artwork I hung on the dining room wall when I had my desk there a few years ago. As an incentive, I am going to treat myself to a mechanical keyboard when it is done, as I have been using the same keyboard at home since 2008.

Tidy my garage

As above, my garage is also a bit of a mess, with bike parts all over the place and not enough room to work on my MR2 Roadster.

MR2 jobs

This year marks ten years since I bought my MR2 Roadster, for the most part it has been cheap motoring, and very reliable, but I have neglected those little jobs that will prolong it’s life, things like cleaning the drain holes. The wheels could also do with a thorough clean and a good coat of wax. However, I’ll need to get the garage tidied first… There are also a few blemishes on the paintwork that I would like to get addressed.

Van upgrades

It is hard to believe that I bought my van three years ago – my plan had been to run it for a year to see how I got on with it, then make the interior a bit nicer, with carpet and insulation etc. The van has proved itself, and fits into our family life perfectly, so the interior upgrades are well overdue. It could also do with new tyres, possibly on bigger wheels, and I would also like to fit an awning rail to the side, so we can have some shelter when we park up. Family days out in the van are something that we want to do more of as a family.

Monthly blog posts

I feel like I have not been blogging as much as I would like the last few years, so in 2023 I plan to post at least once a month. Even if they end up being shorter posts, just sharing a photo and a few words.

Flagged emails

I currently have 536 flagged emails in my inbox, spanning the last ten years. At somepoint I have thought that there is something I need to do as a result of these emails, but either have not done, or at least have not subsequently unflagged the email. I am going to try to get this down to a list of tasks I genuinely need to do. I will attack it from both the top of the list, and the ten year old tasks at the bottom of the list, which I hope were not too urgent…

Get my weight down to 85kg

I have had this as a goal for many years, but never seem to make much progress on it, despite feeling like I am making more sensible choices when it comes to food. I am going to try to get a decent midweek bike ride in every week this year – working from home gives me the flexibility to take a long lunchbreak, so I am going to try to use that for bike rides, to hopefully help towards this goal.

Based on all these goals, it looks like 2023 is going to be a busy year for me, which should hopefully give me plenty to post about on here! Given my poor success rate last year, I have set up a document to keep track of them.