Owen Tries Cycle Speedway

On most of our bike rides from home, Owen and I pass the cycle speedway circuit on Hearsall Common, and Owen usually asks if he can ride it. On our ride last Tuesday (with Jen and Henry too) we stopped to watch the racing – their first meeting of 2020. Later that evening I noticed on the Coventry Cycle Speedway Facebook page that they would also be restarting junior coaching sesssions on Saturday morning. Owen was very excited – he has been missing his Ready Steady Riders sessions over the past few months and must have been looking forward to bike coaching from someone other than me!

For those who do not know what cycle speedway is – it is a form of cycle racing held on small shale oval tracks. Four riders, two from each team competing, race against each other in a short sprint race. Oh, and the bike have no brakes! (Owen was riding his regular bike, with working brakes).

After a rush to leave the house, we ended up being the first to arrive – a novelty for Owen and I, but when people arrived they were friendly – Owen loves telling people about his bike! It was good that Owen was not the only first timer, nor was he the only under five. Like everything these days, there had to be coronavirus measures, so each of the riders had a cone in the centre of the track to stand by when they were not riding. I think our only newbie errors were wearing shorts and me keeping Owen’s drink, rather than sending him on to the track with it – given the speed of the riders, I can see why they do not cross the track to get drinks etc.

As soon as Owen got on the track he was off like a shot, putting in laps with the other riders – with a huge smile on his face! Owen’s first test of listening to the coach, Myke, was when the group got split up, with the older/faster riders going first (the session covered from preschoolers to teenagers!). Of course Owen wanted to ride with the fast ones, rather than his allocated group. His listening was much better when he got out onto the track for the younger riders’ structured warm up – speeding up and slowing down as instructed. I always find it interesting watching the boys when they are with somebody else – usually it is only the moments before I am spotted at nursey pick up time, so it was good to watch Owen from the spectator area. He was taking instructions and participating in the group – he is definitely more outgoing than I was as a child!

The main area of coaching for the session was line choice in the corners – something that will transfer well to Owen’s riding on mountain bike trails. Cones were set up to mark the entrance, apex and exit of the corner and the riders took it in turns to ride through on the racing line. Owen got the hang of this quickly, (including the queuing system with two metre gaps due to help with social distancing). I also noticed that on the run from the corner exit to the back of the queue he was practicing his mountain bike “attack position” (pedals level, knees and arms bent) – a proud Dad moment for sure!

The last part of the session, was Owen’s favourite – races! Again the riders were split into their groups, and some given a handicap, starting further around the track. Owen did some great defensive riding, taking wide lines to prevent other riders from overtaking. I have no idea if it was intentional, maybe he picked it up from watching the racing earlier in the week, but it was impressive! Being the smallest rider, he came last in the races, but what matters is that he was trying hard and having fun!

After the session had finished, we rode home through the woods, with Owen asking to stop and session a few trickier bits of trail. He was so pleased with himself after the ride and deservedly so – not only did he ride well, he listened to the coach and behaved well too.

Cycle Speedway is completely different from the mountain biking that I enjoy, and would like to encourage Owen to also enjoy. However a lot of the skills are transferable and any time on the bike is good. Having a good local club, means that Owen will be able to go regularly, so will benefit from the structure and commeraderie of training with a team. It would be a two hour round trip for any similar mountain bike coaching for him, which I think would detract from the fun. We will definitely be going back to more of the club’s cycle speedway coaching sessions.

Walk in the Woods with Henry

Henry and I had the morning to ourselves, as Jen had taken Owen out to buy his school uniform (ready for starting school in September) – so we decided to explore our local woods! I say explore, we actually know the woods quite well, it is our default place to go, usually after collecting Owen from preschool on a Friday, but Henry really enjoys leading us down whichever path he fancies! Our first stop was “the ramp”, where Owen and I practice our bike jumping skills – Henry loved running up and down the ramp!

Then we met a bulldog puppy, who wanted to be friends with Henry – unfortunately Henry was not so keen. He seems to like dogs from the safety of his pushchair – even when we met my friend’s tiny and friendly puppy, Otto, last week Henry did not want to play with him. I put Henry back in his push chair and we continued to explore the woods, with Henry getting out out to investigate the dens and fairy kingdom that have appeared in the woods since lockdown started.

It is always a struggle getting him back into his pushchair, especially when we are in the woods, but the excitement of our adventure must have tired Henry out, as he fell asleep on the short walk home. I was able to transfer him to his cot without disturbing him, so I was able to have a productive few hours getting some jobs done.

Owen’s Fourth Birthday

This weekend was Owen’s fourth birthday! It was a quieter affair than last year due to lockdown, we did not get to watch any monster trucks, but he did get a monster truck cake and t-shirt! Henry woke up really early, but I could not take him downstairs, as he would have unwrapped Owen’s presents for him! When Owen woke up, he rushed in to tell us it was his birthday and asked if he could open his presents. The Lego bulldozer and wrecking ball crane set affiliate link was particularly popular! We had planned to go for a bike ride at Hicks Lodge, but the weather was horrible, so we had a quiet morning at home, building Lego.

As outdoor gatherings are now allowed, both sets of grandparents were able to come round (separately), which the boys loved, even if we were outside in the cold and rain! It was really good to catch up, and it felt like things were getting back to normal. Some of Owen’s friends also came to drop off presents on the doorstep, which was really sweet of them. After all the excitement had died down, Owen stayed up late playing with his Lego.

The weather also stopped our back-up plan for a Sunday bike ride – I got out, but got soaked! Instead we had a quiet day at home, Owen played with his Lego some more and I built the boys a castle out of an old box. After dinner, Owen got his wellies on and jumped in some muddy puddles!

It was not the weekend we had expected for Owen’s birthday, even given the lockdown, but hopefully Owen had a good day. He will be back off to preschool tomorrow – but in three months he will be starting school!!!

Henry’s First Birthday

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

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

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

Parental Leave II: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

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…

417 Bike Park Pump Track

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Since my first visit to 417 Bike Park I have wanted to bring Owen to their pump track barn. I decided that it would make a good pitstop enroute to our family holiday in Wales, Owen and I could burn off some energy and Henry could have some milk, get out of his car seat and spectate.

The pump track is a full asphalt Velosolutions track – pretty much the best you can get! It is also under cover in a barn, with steet art on the walls and a bike shop above – I find it hard to imagine a better pump track!

I led Owen round his first few laps, to make sure he knew where to go, the only section he struggled with was getting the line into the big bowl/180º berm. He was taking the correct line out of the previous (right hand) corner, which was putting him into the centre of the bowl, when he should have been over to the right to take the high line.  He got there with some coaching though.

With Owen sorted, it was time to get on to my bike. I had never ridden a proper looping pump track before, only BMX style ones, which have a defined start/finish. However on this track once you get going you can keep going round and round – until your legs turn to jelly, or you catch up with your tiny riding partner! Fortunately Owen and I had the track to ourselves so we could go at our own respective paces. I felt like I was getting good speed out of the main berm, along the full length of the barn to the first lefthander, which I could then carry through the next few turns, before needing to brake for the fourth corner. The next two corners were righthanders, with the first almost immediately after the previous lefthander, with a hump in the middle – this was the section I found trickiest. Timing pumping and changing direction correctly takes more coordination than I have on the bike!

All of these back-to-back laps was also hard work, at least for me – Owen was fine! Every time I stopped for a breather, or to take photos, he would shout “Daddy, follow me!” Each time I started with Owen, it would take me two or three laps to catch him back up, athough passing was difficult with the back-to-back corners and Owen’s unpredictable lines through them. About halfway through our hour-long session, Jen and Henry returned from the cafe to watch – I took the opportunity to grab some snacks from the car to refuel and rest my legs, for a final twenty minutes on the track!

As the end of our session was approaching I challenged Owen to another race – except that when I caught him, that would be the end of our session. However, he was enjoying himself so much he snuck in an extra few laps! I have no idea where he gets the energy from, as I was shattered! Even Jen thought that the pump track looked fun, which is good because before long I am sure that Henry will be riding too and it would be great if we could all ride together!

Before we left the bike park, Owen insisted on being taken to the bike shop – what have I created? It did mean I got to see how the smallest Fox Racing gear would fit him, unfortunately for him, but not my wallet, he still has a bit of growing to do! I was also able to show him part of the Blue Racoon trail, which hopefully he will be able to try out once he has mastered riding a bike with brakes. In all, 417 Bike Park was the perfect place to break up our journey and burn off some energy – Owen slept like a log for most of the rest of our drive to Pembrokshire. It worked so well that we planned a pump track stop on the way home too…

Whenever I mention going to a pump track Owen always asks if it is “the indoor one” or “the one we went to on holiday”, so when a Little Rippers MTB Facebook group meetup at Flyup 417 Bike Park was suggested, Owen and I got our names down. In the end it was just us and one other little boy, on a pedal bike rather than a balance bike (his parents were there, but not riding), but Owen had a great time whizzing round the track again, especially with someone nearer to his speed to chase! Once again it was difficult to get Owen to leave the track after our session was up, especially as there was another rider on the track who did not have to stop yet. Eventually I convinced him that we needed to look for some new gloves in the bike shop. Owen loved being at the bike park, saying hello to everyone (and telling anyone who would listen about his new wheels), looking at all the bikes and watching people riding in the dirt jump barn. An hour each way in the car seems slighly exessive to ride at a pump track, but it is an extremely good pump track and Owen absolutely loves it! I am sure we will be back over the winter – in fact I have just mentioned to Owen that I am writing about “the pump track barn” and he said “we have been two times, can we go again?”