Remote Learner of the Week

The start of 2021 has been tough, we were expecting restrictions, but not another lockdown. Since the first lockdown Owen has started school, which means that in addition to our own jobs, and looking after the boys, we need to help Owen with his school work.

First off, I must say Owen’s school have been great! Despite the late announcement, and staff self isolating, there was a lesson online for Owen’s class less than twelve hours after we were told that schools would close. The PE teacher has also been using the school’s Twitter account to run a challenge for pupils to log enough exercise for a trip around the globe. It has certainly helped encourage Owen to get out on his bike.

The first week was a case of all of us learning as we went along, but Owen coped well and got settled into his new way of working. Which involves typing on his iPad, or writing/drawing and Jen or I taking a photo of it and uploading for his teacher to mark. However, with Friday being my day off work, I had a bit more time to help, so encouraged Owen to make a film for his maths work – counting the different shapes. He seemed to be a natural in front of the camera, he did not get phased when I asked him a trickier question than he expected, and did it all in the first take! He is a better presenter than I am videographer for sure – more practice needed on my part!

The second week has stated better, as we are better prepared, both with our expectations and resources – Owen now has exercise books to write in and an iPad that plays the videos from school (thanks Grandpa!). Much to Owen’s delight the iPad also works with more games than my old iPad 2, from 2011, which he has been using. I was already proud of how he had been learning, and behaving (most of the time) but then he was recognised in the school newsletter as the “remote learner of the week” for his class! A definite proud Dad moment.

Henry has also been making me proud this week! On Wednesday Jen dropped him off at nursery and for the first time ever, he did not cry! When I collected him, he even needed to be coaxed out – until he saw that I was wearing my bike helmet and worked out that we would be riding home. Then he ran across the playground towards my bike! On the way home he learned to stand on the pegs of the Mac Ride when we go over bumps. This is usually accompanied by Henry saying “bump”, another new word. As important as bike skills are, I am really glad that he has settled in to nursery and enjoys going. The day and half he is there allow us to focus on Owen’s school work and I know how nursery brought Owen on a lot socially. The friends he made at nursery he still considers to be his best friends, and soon that will be Henry too.

Instagram Best Nine 2020

As in previous years (2018 and 2019), I thought it would be interesting to look at each of my best nine performing Instagram posts in a bit more detail. Unfortunately Facebook/Instagram have broken the Worpress embeds for Instagram posts, which is really inconvenient, and partly to blame for the delay to this post.

This was from parental leave with Henry, when we went for a drive in the MR2 together. Henry loved being in the sportscar.

One of the benefits of parental leave was that I could take Owen for midweek mountain bike rides! This was from Owen’s first ride at Hick’s Lodge – somewhere that we loved visiting in 2020. On this trip we only rode the final section of the blue trail – now Owen can ride the whole trail.

At the start of March, Owen’s balance bike club, Ready Steady Riders, took over Adrenaline Alley skate park in Corby. Owen loved it! I had fun too, I took loads of photos on my Fuji X-T2, and it was the first “big” trip in the van. After spending 2007 and 2008 commuting between Kettering and Coventry, it was the first time in two years that I was excited to do that drive.

Another shot from a ride at Hicks Lodge! This was just before lockdown, Owen and I rode our bike, but Jen and Henry also came along for a picnic and walk. I blogged about it at the time.

This photo is from Henry’s first bike ride – sat on his Thule Yepp Mini bike seat Amazon affiliate link on the front of my bike. It was just a short loop from home, but it opened up a whole world of family bike rides. Henry has now grown out of this seat and is on the Mac Ride, which will open up more technical trails.

I did get out on some solo bike rides in 2020! This photo was from a particularly satisfying ride. During lockdown I had given my Orange Four a full strip down and service, this was the first ride back. Working from home in the summer, I really enjoyed going for a short post-work ride on a Thursday evening. A sort of commute/celebration of the end of the week.

I may have been a bit premature celebrating Henry’s first ride on his balance bike, as it has not been repeated since. I am trying to get him out on the balance bike as much as I can. Even at Henry’s current age Owen was not regularly riding his bike, I had to keep trying him on it, and all of a sudden it clicked. Hopefully Henry will get the bug soon and we can go one rides together.

I was slightly surprised to see that my old Vitus Nucleus made the cut for the top nine, but the Orange Clockwork Evo that replaced it did not. I had many adventures on the Vitus, but it has donated most of its parts to its replacement, and the frame is hanging from the garage ceiling to remind me of the 6,256km we shared.

This is really the odd one out – there are no bikes or boys! It was taken on a photowalk in Sutton Park with my best friend Partho. It was a really enjoyable morning, we had breakfast and strolled around the park with our cameras. I need to remember to make time for this sort of thing and hopefully we can do more 2021.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2020

At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.

We have formed a childcare bubble with my Mum and Dad, so it was nice to be able to get out for a walk around Coundon Park with Jen’s parents between Christmas and New Year. The boys loved seeing their Nanny and Granddad. I had never really explored the park further than the playground and it was good to see the Peace Orchard and Coundon Wood. We will likely head back in future.

Another walk in the woods! We did a lot of this in 2020. Of course, Henry loves the puddles! Another, less photogenic, time, he managed to fall in to this puddle. Then Owen’s welly got stuck in the mud and he stepped into the puddle in just his sock. That walk got abandoned quickly…

On New Years Day, I decided to fit the Mac Ride to my bike, this is a selfie from Henry’s first ride. He loved it! As he is able to hold the handle bars, and move around a bit, he seems to feel more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

After our ride together, Henry helped to clean my bike. Both the boys seem to love using the Muc-Off spray and brushing the bikes. I even bought Owen a special Muc-Off x Frog Bikes kit for Christmas.

2021

Happy New Year!

I am going into 2021 with low expectations – hopefully it means I will not be disappointed. We have got a few trips tentatively planned, a rescheduled return to Bluestone in Wales and a visit to our friend’s holiday cottage in Staithes, North Yorkshire. Partho and I also need to plan our return to Coed Y Brenin in Wales. I would like to ride there with Owen too. Closer to home, my parents bought us a family membership to Twycross Zoo, we had one when Owen was Henry’s age and we all loved it, so I am looking forward to returning.

Work is going to be interesting for me, as the project I am working on will finally launch. Our office in Coventry is closing, so I’ll either be working from home or commuting to Milton Keynes – hopefully the former. Fortunately I also have a few projects outside of work to keep me occupied: bike builds, and web apps – which I hope to convert to iOS apps once I have bought at new Mac. I am waiting for Apple to release the workstation class version of their M1 processor, to replace the ten year old iMac I use for editing and software development – so leap in performance will be something to look forward to!

We saw in 2021 the same way we’ve seen in the last few years – quietly at home. Not that we had a choice in the matter. Some of our neighbours decided to let off fireworks in the street – to be fair it was a pretty good display and as the boys sleep at the back of the house they did not get woken up (unlike last year). Given the combination of tier 4 lockdown and rubbish weather, we seized a window of blue sky in the morning to get out for a short family bike ride. I had fitted the Mac Ride to my Clockwork Evo, as Henry is now big enough to graduate from his baby seat. I was unsure of how he would cope on the Mac Ride, so we stuck to a short loop, but he did really well, and seemed more involved in the ride than on his old seat.

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

Catch up on blogging

I have loads of posts, either half-finished drafts, or ideas on the kanban board I use to track ideas for this blog, that I need to get published. Following on from last year, I also need to set up the Organize Series plugin, and apply it to my old posts, so I can finally have the structure to series of posts that I have wanted for a number of years.

Publish more of my software work

A lot of the projects that I am working on just reside on virtual machines on my Mac for my own use. I need to set them free! Either getting them on a live server, sharing them on my Github or even just blogging about them. Not only will it push me to give projects that final polish, hopefully it will act as a bit of a portfolio for my software development work.

Take a good wildlife photo

Looking back through my Lightroom catalogue, most of my photos from 2020 were of Owen and Henry. As cute/wild as they are, in 2021 I would like to take a good wildlife photo. Ideally I would like this to be in my local woods, as I regularly see wildlife there, but am usually on my bike, or accompanied by two small children, so the animals do not hang about for long!

Ride 1,000 miles

I usually measure cycling distance in kilometres (it is the rules), but the 1,552km that I rode last year was just short of 1,000 miles, so I will put in the effort to hit the 1,000 mile goal. I have made a start, only about 997 miles to go…

Of course, my annual challenge to ride further than my best friend Partho still stands. He does not appear to have ridden today, so I am already pulling out a slight lead…

Ride somewhere new with Owen

I would like to take Owen for some slightly bigger days on the bike, possibly in Wales. I think he would manage the blue trail at Llandegla or Coed Y Brenin. I have also heard good things about Nant Y Arian’s new blue trail.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

I used to really enjoy cleaning cars, but with three cars and two small children it has become increasingly difficult. Multiple cars need to be moved to get one on the drive, and running a hose to the drive means leaving both front and back doors open which is not ideal with Henry in particular, who likes to escape. I have recently bought myself a Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) cordless pressure washer, which will run from a water butt and should mean that I am able to clean cars with the house doors shut.

First on my list is the MR2, it has not had a wash since May 2019, and I have a car cover to put on it, but do not want to do that until it is clean. I plan to get this done by the end of January – after all, there is not much else to do!

Declutter/sell stuff

I have got stacks of stuff that I have been meaning to sell for ages, 2021 needs to be the year that it goes! I also feel like it is going to be an expensive year – I need to buy a new Mac, which will also likely mean buying more back up drives etc, so any extra funds will help!

Tidy my garage

This is a carry over from 2020. The garage has got to a point where it is full of bikes, bike parts and bike boxes – I need to have a sort out! I have got a tip slot booked (in the Yaris, because vans are not allowed) on Sunday, so that should at least allow me to get rid of the bike boxes. Then after I have finished rebuilding Owen’s next bike, I will sort out the workbench and storage areas. I am going to force myself to do this before starting any major jobs on bikes. This year started hanging bikes on the wall, I need to rejig how I have got them arranged, to make it easier to get the bikes in and out.

Get my weight down to 85kg

Another carry over from 2020 (and 2019), but this year I am hoping that I can keep up the momentum from the last 5 months. Jen is on board, and is not going to bake any cakes, as we ate too much cake last year. I also have added motivation as my Dad lost a lot of weight last year and at this rate he will get down to 85kg before I do.

As always, I am sure that more goals will crop up as the year goes on. Hopefully Henry will start to ride his balance bike and to speak more than the odd word. I hope this is not a case of needing to be careful with what I am wishing for. I would like Owen to gain the confidence on his bike to ride up and down kerbs, however he has set his sights slightly higher – he wants to learn to do jumps (and whips) on his bike!

A look back at 2020

What. A . Year.

2020 started out well for me – I took January and February off work to look after Henry, as Jen went back to work after her maternity leave. It was a bit different to the parental leave I took in 2017 with Owen, as I also had a cheeky three year old to entertain. Fortunately he was at preschool three days a week, so I was able to get some one on one time with Henry. We cruised around in my MR2 Roadster, went to the park, met friends for lunch(!) and even collected my van together. Taking nine weeks off work was always going to be the highlight of the year, but it really does feel like a lifetime ago.

Little did I know that I would only be back in the office for four days, before being sent to work from home, which has since become permanent, with the announcement that the office I work(ed) from will close. However Jen and I have been lucky that we have both been able to continue working from home, if anything we have both been busier than ever at work. We found this particularly difficult during the first lockdown without any childcare, but things improved as childcare options reopened, and we got used to this new way of working. Being able to form a childcare bubble with my parents has been great, especially for the boys, as they love seeing their grandparents.

However, there has been enough negativity, so this post is going to focus on the positive things that have happened this year. The main one being all the extra time we were able to spend together as a family. Buying a van contributed to this, it was bought as we needed a bigger family car for holidays and bike trips, but even with holidays cancelled, it has been a game changer. We have done a lot of family days out this year, often with the bikes, and the van just makes it so much easier. To the boys, every trip out in it is an adventure, and Henry especially loves it – whenever we go out of the front door he stands expectantly next to the van. His absolute favourite thing to do is clamber into the driving seat to hold the steering wheel and play with all of the switches. He just about stays the right side of the line between cute and annoying because he is obviously enjoying himself so much.

In my look back at 2019, I mentioned that “Henry has learned to crawl/climb, his cheeky side is coming out – he is always up to something!” and over the year he has got cheekier and more mischievous! He learned to walk pretty soon after his first birthday and is always trying to escape, he is such a little explorer. Although he was walking at an earlier age that Owen, he is still not speaking properly yet. He has got the odd word – “Mama” (meaning Grandma), “va” (Van), “fire”, “ha” (hat, ofter accompanied by patting his head), “ba” (bye) and “Bapa” (Grandpa) – it is slightly annoying that he has names for my parents, but not Jen and I. Despite his limited vocabulary he is an expert in non-verbal communication – he is always clear about what he wants, or does not want. It is incredibly cute when he waves goodbye to anyone, if he particularly likes you he will even blow kisses. He loves dressing up, especially trying on everyone’s shoes. Henry has not quite got the hang of his balance bike, but he is starting to show an interest in mountain biking – as long as the bike has pedals. He will try to climb on to adult bikes and I have never seen him happier than when I pushed him around the pump track on Owen’s bike.

The main thing for Owen in 2020 is that he started school! He has settled in well, made some friends, learned lots and even landed the role of Joseph in the nativity play. He has also done a lot of bike riding – at the start of the year Owen had just about got the hang of riding his pedal bike, through the first lockdown we went out on the bikes most days and his riding really progressed. This has continued throughout the year. One of my highlights of the year was following him through the jumps at the bottom of “Cheese Roller” trail at 417 Bike Park, but we have also ridden blue graded trails and pump tracks together, done some night rides and ridden to school/nursery many times.

I have had also had a pretty good year on the bike – despite mainly riding locally, I feel that both my technique and fitness have improved. Building up my Clockwork Evo was a great move, it has been perfect for the sort of riding I have been doing this year. It has also been good to get out with other people: local rides with Owen, or Henry (on the front of my bike), family rides but especially getting out with my friends Partho and Ali, who now both have mountain bikes. In the workshop, learning to build wheels is one of my achievements of the year – I built the rear wheel for my new hardtail and almost 600km later is is still running well.

Off the bike, I rekindled my interest in radio controlled cars, renovating my Tamiya MX-5 and also buying/building a Tamiya Lunchbox, which I have painted to look like my van (I still need to blog about this). I also passed the exam to become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner and made good progress on some web projects I am working on – aided by discovering the Laravel framework, which I am now using for web applications.

Our planned trip back to Bluestone in Wales was cancelled, as was a return to Coed Y Brenin with Partho. However, we were able to go on our planned trip to Dorset with my family, albeit staying at a different place. Even though the weather was not the best, we had a fun time, the boys loved visiting the beach and spending a lot of time with their grandparents. Probably my favourite memory of the year was the first part of our family bike ride at Moors Valley – for me it does not get any better than riding dusty singletrack with Jen and my boys.

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

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail – I have lost some weight, but not as much as I would have liked – this morning I weighed 88.75kg. I had a good start to the year, but the daily afternoon tea and cake whilst working from home was probably the cause of putting on a load of weight. The trend line has been moving in the right direction, so hopefully I can keep that going in to 2021.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Narrow pass – Other than the last month, I have managed to get out on the bike at least once a week during the week. With working from home, I particularly enjoyed getting out for an end of the week “commute” – a half hour loop on local trails, after shutting down my work laptop for the weekend.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Massive fail – I have only done eight strength workouts this year. My (weak) excuse is that I have done a lot more riding, and yoga, than previous years.

New blog server and theme

Partial pass – I ticked off setting up a new blog server early in the year, I also set up a script to restart the server if I got an email report that the blog was offline – which I still need to document. I am still however using the same old theme I have been using for a number of years.

WordPress custom stories project

Fail – I finally found the Organize Series plugin that does most of what I wanted to do. I just need to set it up and go back and apply to all the posts.

Become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

PassI passed the exam in April.

Build an iOS app

On hold – I completed an iOS development course, and modified some code from Github, but have not yet built my own app. I put this on hold as my iMac does not support the latest version of Xcode and if I am making the effort, I would like to learn/use the latest technology. A new Mac has been on the cards for a while, but I am waiting for the workstation grade Apple silicon Macs to be released.

Tidy my desk

Pass – I think I tidied it a couple of times, but since working from home is the “new normal” and my desk has become my main workspace this has become more important. Over the summer, Henry moved in to Owen’s bedroom, which the boys both love, meaning I have reclaimed my old office. We took the opportunity to repaint and add more storage. Since moving back in, I have made a conscious effort to keep the desk clear. I still need to do a bit more sorting out, to regain some floor space.

Tidy my garage

Massive fail – It feels like 2020 has been a constant stream of bike projects, in fact I still feel like I am chasing my tail. When I have finished Owen’s next bike build I am going have to take a step back and have a good sort out in the garage. The one change that I have made is to start hanging bikes on the wall, making it easier to get to any individual bike, and also cleared some floorspace.

Ride more with Partho

Pass – Although we did not get our planned trip to Wales in April, we probably rode together more than any previous years. Our trip to the Forest of Dean in January was a highlight, getting lost Sutton Park, then having to do a full gas sprint back to Partho’s house less so. We even got a ride out for my birthday with our friend Ali.

In our annual Strava competition, I thought I was going to lose when Partho bought a smart trainer at the start of the year. However, my “little and often” technique has prevailed and I ended up riding over 500km further than Partho.

Do some night photography

Fail – Knowing that we would be going to Dorset on holiday – a known “dark sky” location, I put all of my eggs in that basket. I even bought a new tripod for the occasion. We did not have clear sky at night the whole time we were there. I really should have gone out one evening from home, but the last few months have been so busy that I have not had a chance.

Fix up my radio controlled MX-5

Scraped a passI got the radio controlled MX-5 running again in January. Owen and I took it for a shakedown, then lockdown hit and I bought a Tamiya Lunchbox (#lockdownlunchbox), which I could drive in the garden. I did repair the original body shell of the MX-5, but am yet to blog about it, I have also cut out and painted the new body shell, I just need to do the decals, which I have been dreading. I also managed to find a 1:10 scale MR2 Roadster body shell, although I am yet to do anything with that.

Whilst 2020 has been a difficult year, I appreciate that I am one of the lucky ones. We’ve all stayed healthy, Jen and I have been able to work from home and riding bikes in the woods was one of the few leisure activities still allowed. I realise that there are many people who have had a much worse year. If at the start of the year I have been told that we would all be healthy and that I would have my perfect car pairing (VW Transporter and MR2 Roadster) and bike pairing (Orange Four and Orange Clockwork Evo), I probably would have been happy with that.

Moors Valley

Whilst on holiday in Dorset, we wanted to have a family bike ride – the two most suitable places seemed to be Wareham Forest and Moors Valley. We chose Moors Valley, even though it was a longer drive, as there appeared to be more there, so we could make a day of it. Even as we arrived we could tell it was different to the Forestry England sites we are used to visiting – with a number plate recognition system to pay the more expensive than usual parking fees…

The area around the visitor centre was busy, but after we had ridden past the Gruffalo (and the Gruffalo’s child) and got on to the blue graded “Through the Forest” trail it felt like we had the place to ourselves! Owen was leading the way, followed by Jen, and Henry was on the front of my bike, mostly drinking from my Camelbak. For me, life does not get any better than riding single track through the trees with Jen and the boys. The trail was perfect for riding with Owen – flat and twisty. Some parts were through mature trees, others were smaller tress with purple heather and there were a few boardwalk sections over the boggy bits. It felt like a proper mountain bike trail, but without the gradient. Owen (and Jen) loved it! At one point we let some faster riders past, Owen commented about how fast they were, then followed them and he kept up well.

I had identified a decision point, where we could stop for a snack and decide if we would complete the trail, or head back to the van. This was a good opportunity to let Henry out of his seat, as at the moment he is just a passenger, and as much as he enjoys being on the bike, he really wants to be free to explore in the woods! After some jelly babies we decided to complete the rest of the trail, as Owen was riding so well. In hindsight this may have been the wrong decision as the boys started to struggle towards the end of the trail – but nothing that could not be remedied with an ice cream!

The ride was 7.8km, most of which was on the single track, another new record for Owen! I do not think it will be too much longer until he is able to do the full blue trail at Hick’s Lodge, which is our “local” family MTB trail, which is a bit longer and more technical.

After the ride we also visited the “Play Trail”, which surprisingly Owen still had energy left for. It made for a great afternoon, however I am sure that we could have spent all day there. I could tell where the extra parking fees went, the play trail in particular was very impressive – I liked how it got families away from the car park and in to the forest. I also noticed that despite a “no bins” policy, there was next to no litter in the car park nor on the trails. I would thoroughly recommend it as somewhere to visit for a family bike ride with younger children.

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.

2020 Goals Update

2020 has been a funny year, with parental leave and coronavirus lockdownI have only been in the office for four days. You would have thought that with all this time at home I would have been able to make good progress on my goals for the year…

Get my weight down to 85kg

All this time at home has meant mid afternoon cake most days, so despite not really eating out for the last few months I have not lost any weight. Getting a takeaway from Basement Browns (the best pizzas in Coventry) this evening probably won’t help – but it is ten years since Jen and I went on our first date (and had pizzas), so can be excused!

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Until Owen started back at pre-school at the start of this month we were getting out for lots of bike rides – but I could hardly call them cardio sessions! Some of the rides have been whole family rides, with Henry on the front of my bike. I did have a great midweek ride last week though – twenty kilometres around my local trails.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Strength workouts, and to some extent yoga, has defintely fallen by the wayside since I started working from home. I am so tired in the evenings, that I cannot face a workout. I did do some earlier in the year though and this has reminded me that I need to restart.

New blog server and theme

I have migrated my blog to a new server, and created an automated workflow to reboot the AWS EC2 instance I run it on if the blog goes offline. The new theme will have to be a job for the second half of the year.

WordPress custom stories project

I did start looking at how I could switch up the order WordPress arranges posts when viewing by tag, but have not yet had to time to try and code anything up. I did find a few plugins, but they did not do exactly what I wanted – which makes me even more keen to build my own.

Become an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner

I passed the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam in April!

Build an iOS app

I have decided to put iOS development on ice – partly because my ageing iMac cannot run the latest Xcode, but also because I want to concentrate on WordPress and web applications. Hopefully the logic/structure of the web application I am working on with transfer to an iOS app further down the line.

Tidy my desk

I tidied my desk during Henry’s naps when I was on parental leave, but since I started working from home my desk is overflowing – with at least two computers on it, multiple external hard drives, cameras, phones and paperwork. I think I may have to reclaim my old office from Henry.

Tidy my garage

Tidying my garage is one of my top priorities now, it has got so messy that I cannot get my MR2 out! I recently completed a full strip down and service on my Orange Four and I have an other bike to build up – but a tidy garage will help with that process.

Ride more with Partho

Coronavirus has definitely put a stop to this one! We had a great ride at the Forest of Dean in February, then did not get to ride together until the end of June – just a blast round Partho’s local trails in Sutton Park, followed by a road sprint back to the van. Our trip to Wales was cancelled, but we will be back there at some point. We have got plans to ride in the Peak District over the summer, which should be fun.

As it stands, Partho has got a 59 kilometre lead in our annual “who can ride the furthest” challenge – I had been leading for most of the year, until Partho put in a few big road rides.

Do some night photography

Another one that has completely fallen by the wayside – hopefully I will get a chance to do this if our family holiday to the south coast goes ahead.

Fix up my radio controlled MX-5

This is one goal where I am almost over achieving… Before the end of January I got the little MX-5 working again, and Owen and I took it for a spin. I have since repaired the body, but am yet to photograph/blog about it. However at the start of lockdown I treated myself to a Tamiya Lunchbox (a radio controlled stunt monster truck van) and new radio gear, the build was fun, but as with the MX-5 I am not fully happy with the body work – hopefully it will be appearing on the blog soon. I also managed to buy a 1:10 scale MR2 body, unfortunately I do not yet have a radio control car that it will fit on, nor is it a common size. So I have got a few eBay searches saved for a suitable chassis.

Outside of my goals I have replaced my BMW with a Volkswagen Transporter van, which has been a great purchase. I have also learned to build bike wheels, in anticipation of building a new hardtail mountain bike.Hopefully with lockdown starting to ease and things returning to a “new normal” I will be able to make progress on my remaining goals and be a bit better at posting on here, as I have a bit of a backlog to work through…

Lockdown

I have been meaning to write this post for the last two months, but could never find the right time – or given how busy things have been, the time full stop! However last weekend we had a great afternoon out in the van – riding bikes and enjoying a picnic. It reminded me of our trip to Hicks Lodge, just before lockdown started, but warmer. And given that the boys started back at nursery this week, I thought it was a good time to blog about what we have been up to during lockdown.

Fortunately none of us seem to have caught coronavirus, or “the virus” as Owen calls it, we have been keeping ourselves to ourselves and only venturing out for essential shopping and exercise. Given that the boys have not been at nursery, there have probably been less germs/illnesses that usual! However we did start lockdown with some sort of stomach bug, that we all seemed to get at different times. The worst part of it was that after Owen was sick on his bed, Jen’s iPhone managed to find its way into the washing machine hidden in his bedding. iPhones do not like washing machines. Even worse, was that Jen had not been backing up her data – so please, let this be a warning – back up your data!!! Fortunately Jen was already in the market for a new phone, so the hardware has been replaced (and a back up mechanism put in place). Other lockdown casualties have been my Leatherman Style PS multitool (Amazon affiliate link), which I have lost at home somewhere and our landline phone, which I think Henry has broken. Given that I have barely driven anywhere, I decided to SORN my MR2, which has been stuck in the garage since mid March. We also had a nightmare three days where our home broadband stopped working – talk about bad timing! We were able to rely on 4G data from our phones, but for one particularly important meeting, I had to drive my van to work, park within wifi range and convert it into my mobile office. Fortunately the BT engineers were still working and one came out to fix it.

As lockdown began I was already overdue a haircut, and managed to buy a set of clippers before they became a rare commodity. I had been toying with getting a “number three all over” for a while, but my hand was forced by the lockdown. My mates were in the same position and we have called it a “covid cut”. I am usually against home hair cuts, but was pretty pleased with how it turned out. I am probably about due a third “covid cut”. Owen’s hair was also getting long, Jen tried tidying it up, but it looked even worse, so he got a “covid cut” too. I thought it looked good, but Jen was not convinced, admittedly it does look better now that it has grown out a bit. Henry is still yet to have a hair cut and his hair is now getting quite long (and blonde), hopefully he can wait a little bit longer until hairdressers are open again!

Jen and I have both been able to work from home, which is easier said than done with two small children in the house! I am also busier than I have ever been at work, as the project I work on is about to hit some critical milestones. As I already spent most of my morning on Teams virtual meetings with colleagues in the Far East, working from home has not been much different – in fact being at my desk before 7:00, rather than at 9:00, after the nursery run, has worked well, giving me more contact time with my colleagues before they log off for the evening. It has cemented my view that I would much rather work from home full time – hopefully more telecommuting will be one of the good things to come out of all this! I do not think the same can be said for Jen, especially as it seems all the boys want to do is break into our bedroom, where she is working. They rarely seem to bother me in the dining room…

When we aren’t meant to be working, it has been great spending all the extra time with the boys – within a few weeks of lockdown starting, Henry had learned to walk, and now there is no stopping him! He is in to everything, especially my desk drawers, Jen’s dressing table drawers and the cupboard under the sink. He started walking a few months earlier than Owen, but Owen was speaking by this age. The nearest to a word Henry gets is a “gaga” sound, which he only makes when he sees my mum on our daily Facetime calls. He has also learned to blow kisses, which is incredibly cute! Despite not talking yet, Henry is good at getting his point across to us, and he is particularly vocal when it comes to food, especially when it comes to “asking” me to share my crisps or cereal! I think Owen has suffered more than Henry during lockdown, as he was used to going to preschool or to swimming/Ready Steady Riders, then all of a sudden everything stopped. We have been trying to get him out most days, and his bike riding has improved considerably. Early on during lockdown I tried him on a local bridleway, which Owen named “the scary hill”, but after a few days he was zooming down it! Jen and Henry have also been getting out for bike rides with us – Henry loves being sat on the front of my bike, especially when we are going fast! Over the last few weeks, as restrictions have eased, we have loaded the bikes into the van to check out some local riding spots as a family, which has been great. Something else that I hope will continue post-pandemic!

On the subject of bikes, I decided to bring forward the big annual strip down/service on my Orange Four, which usually happens in June. My logic was that as I would only be riding local trails I would not need to be riding it – and it had just clicked over 2,000 kilometres since I got it. I stripped the bike right down and sent the suspension back to Fox UK for a full service, their turnaround was longer than normal, but I have it back and almost have the bike rebuilt. I also accidentally picked up a few new projects – I have been considering a new hardtail, to replace my Vitus, for a while and had identified a few options – the Marin San Quentin (as ridden by my best friend Partho) and the 2019 Orange Clockwork Evo (I did not like the geometry on the 2020 version). With cycling being one of the few allowed activities, bikes have been flying off the shelves. I noticed that the Marin had sold out everywhere, and I could only find one 2019 Clockwork Evo frame available – it was in my size, it must have been a sign! So I bought it! It took a few weeks to arrive and being a frame means I need to build it up. The plan is to move the parts over from my Vitus, the exceptions being the headset and rear wheel which are different sizes. Not only did my local bike shop, Albany Cycles, have the correct headset in stock, they were able to fit it for me while I waited. I started looking at options for rear wheels, but struggled to find what I wanted and eventually decided that the best course of action was to learn a lockdown skill and build my own! I am able to true a wheel, and already had most of the equipment needed, I also had a spare wheel that I could strip down and practice on. So after a successful rebuild I ordered the parts needed – I managed to get what seemed to be the last Hope Pro4 hub anywhere online, and had to get the rim/spokes/nipples from Germany. So far I have laced and tensioned the wheel, I just need to finish truing it. I am waiting until the Four is back together and the wheel build is finished to start the strip down and build on to the new frame.

My other lockdown project has been building a Tamyia Lunchbox (the #LockdownLunchbox). I had already been rebuilding my Tamiya MX-5 (which I need to update on another post), but with nowhere to drive it, I wanted something that could be driven in the garden. The Lunchbox had not really been on my radar before my research started, but it quickly became obvious that a 1:12 scale stunt monster truck van would be perfect for wheelieing around the garden. I think Owen was even more excited than me when it arrived! The build went well, but I struggled with the painting – always my downfall with building models. The bike projects have taken over my time, so the build has stalled while I wait to order more paint (the MX-5 build is at the same stage). Owen and I have driven the naked chassis around the garden a few times, which was great fun. Once the build is finished I am sure it will be appearing on the blog! Owen and I also set up my old Scalextric set, which I tweeted about and got well over two thousand “likes”, probably my most popular tweet ever.

Other lockdown projects which have stalled are painting the kitchen and dining room doors – we got off to a good start on the first weekend of lockdown, prepping and undercoating the kitchen door. During the initial three week lockdown, I had planned to wash a car every weekend, however I only just got round to washing Jen’s Yaris this weekend – the van is next! I had also started learning the Laravel PHP framework, which I need to get back on with, as I have a few ideas for projects using it. However I did get to use some knowledge picked up whilst studying for my AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner qualification to get my blog server to reboot whenever I get an email alert from Jetpack saying my blog is offline.

I am mostly happy enough at home, venturing out for the odd bike ride, so my life has not changed too much, the main things I have missed out on are a couple of trips to Wales. I have postponed my trip to Coed y Brenin with Partho, but we have cancelled our trip back to Bluestone, as the whole plan was to go for a term-time holiday before Owen starts school. As it stands we are still planning to go away with my family in August. Hopefully we will also be able to fit in some longer day trips in the van. The van has not been getting much use at all, initially it was only used for essential shopping trips, but now also for taking Owen for bike rides. However, I noticed a few problems – a rattle from the roof console and a nasty smell from the air conditioning, both of which I managed to fix, with a little bit of help from Owen. One unexpected benefit of the van is that it is so easy to work on the interior due to the space – I could even have Owen in there with me. There is no chance of that happening in the MR2!

Our garden, like I am sure many around the world, has been getting a lot of attention. One of the last things we did before lockdown was go to the garden centre to buy vegetable seeds – now the plants are pretty big! I need to get the last few out of the greenhouse and find some space in the soil for them! Our strawberry crop has started to come through and it seems like it is a good year for strawberries. The main problems our plants face are the “two-legged pests” – Owen and Henry love digging, especially in the raised bed. This was fine in the winter, but now that there are plants in the beds, we have had to get strict with them. We have also had some visitors to our garden – a family of blue tits have moved into the nest box which has been on our shed for years. I had seen them checking it out earlier in the year, but it was only after we tidied up the shed, and attached a trellis under the nest box, that I found a tiny baby bird on the ground under the shed. It did not seem to be in a good way, but I scooped it up with one of Owen’s spades and returned it to the nest. Shortly after the parents started regularly flying into the nest regularly with food, which I took to be a good sign!

I will finish this post where I started – with our trip to Kingsbury Water Park! We had already gone for a few trips out in the van for family bike rides around Coventry, but with the lockdown restrictions relaxing and country parks opening we decided to venture out further afield to Kingsbury Water Park. We had to pre-book our parking ticket (we were able to do this 24 hours in advance), which meant it was not too busy, other than all the cars abandoned on the road outside where people had not booked. Part of the reason for choosing Kingsbury was that we could park up the van and have a picnic in the big field – something that we had been looking forward to doing since buying the van. We set up our picnic chairs beside the van and tucked in to our lunch, but Henry thought the next door picnic looked more appealing and wandered off, so he had to get strapped into his pushchair. After lunch I got the bikes ready, whilst Henry made friends with the dogs at the next door picnic – he has not met a dog since Christmas, but did not seem at all scared. We rode a big loop around the park, the trails were quite busy, but there was still plenty of room – it was great to see so many people outside enjoying the glorious weather we have been having! I also noticed the lack of litter which was a nice surprise given reports I had heard from other parks. Owen rode well and Henry enjoyed being along for the ride on the front of my bike. We even saw ducklings and goslings! After the ride it was time for a well-earned ice cream. The queue for the ice cream van was extra long due to the social distancing, but it was worth the wait. I got Henry his own ice cream, which he ended up smearing all over his face and pushchair, but it was worth it for how happy he looked when he realised he would have a whole one to himself!

Parental Leave II: Back to Work

After more than twelve weeks off, returning to work was never going to be pleasant! However the biggest hurdle seemed to be getting the morning routine sorted, not helped by Owen having a lie in! Luckily my parents arrived earlier than expected to look after the boys. I cycled to work – starting the year as I meant to go on! Unlike parental leave with Owen, I had not switched my work laptop on since finishing work on the 19th of December – so the IT department insisted on taking it away to be scanned/updated before I could see how many emails had piled up in my absence. When I eventually got my laptop back, the answer was 1,564, most of which were automated emails from our issue tracking system. Not too bad at all – I had them all sorted by the end of the day! Nothing seemed to have changed in the office, so it was back to business as usual. It was raining heavily at home time, so I got completely wet through riding home. After the boys were in bed I ordered myself some waterproof overtrousers to go into my work bag should I get caught out again.

Tuesday added another element into the mix – pre-school! Now we had to get Owen out of the house too, but of course he had another lie in! However the promise of being able to ride his bike to preschool got him moving and out of the house in record time! The ride to pre-school went well, and is something we will do again. However continuing the ride from pre-school to my office was not quite so successful – I took what I thought was a short cut, which looking back on a map I realised was longer, as well as being hillier than riding back and joining my usual route. I ended up a bit sweatier than I would have liked by the time I got to work. The day went well, I got my holidays booked and childcare payments sorted. After riding home I only had time for a quick change of clothes before taking Owen for his swimming lesson – something else which needs to be factored into the new routine! Fortunately Owen was cooperative getting changed and really enjoyed the lesson again. This week I got him changed into his pyjamas at the pool, so at least bedtime was easier.

The challenge for Wednesday was fitting Owen’s Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session in with full days at work and nursery! We are lucky enough to have flexitime at work – so as long as I was in the office by 7:30 I could leave in time to collect Owen from preschool early enough to get him to Sutton Coldfield by 17:00. Jen would then pick Henry up on her way home from work. Of course, because we needed to get up and go in the morning, the boys both had a lie in! I just about managed to catch Owen on my way out. It was strange being in the office so early, but at least the afternoon went quickly! I was able to leave at four o’clock on the dot, picked Owen up at ten past and made it to Sutton Coldfield with ten minutes to spare! Owen rode really well again – there was another little boy on a similar green Frog bike and they were at about the same level, so it was good to watch them racing each other around the track.

On Thursday I did the double – Owen and I rode to preschool, then I carried on to the office. Then after finishing work, I rode back to preschool to pick Owen up, and rode home together. I was proud of myself having ridden in three times in the week – especially as I took my lunch with me and did not visit McDonalds for lunch. Thursday ended up being my last day in the office, as I have continued not to work on Fridays, and then we were all asked to work at home due to the Coronavirus outbreak and I have been working from home ever since.