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.
The 417 bike park in Gloucestershire is one of my favourite places to ride my bike. Owen’s too, at least the indoor pump track anyway. So when a few of our friends from the Little Rippers Facebook group mentioned they would be riding there on my day off and the weather was forecast to be good – Owen and I had to be there!
It was also a good excuse for a boys day out in the van – I moved Owen’s seat to the front to make the most of it, which he absolutely loved. We enjoyed spotting diggers, dumper trucks and sports cars together on the drive down, before Owen fell asleep.
When we got to the bike park we warmed up on the pump track, where we met the Kostka girls. Not that we needed to warm up – the temperature was 34ºC! It was Owen’s first time on this pump track on his pedal bike – but you could not tell. He was whizzing round, doing lap after lap, as he did last year on his balance bike! It was also a good opportunitiy for me to try out my new bike (blog post coming soon!) on the pump track. Each time I suggested to Owen that we tried the main trails Owen responded with “just a few more laps Daddy…”.
Eventually it was time to return to the van for our picnic lunch. Rather than our usual picnic in the back of the van, we sat in the shade under some trees, as it was so warm. Whilst eating, Owen announced that he needed a wee (why do four year olds only seem to need the toilet when they are eating?), as I got up to take him to the toilet he asked if he could go on his own. As it was only across the carpark I let him, and I was told he looked so pleased with himself as he ran off to the toilet. In the end I had to go and help him, as he could not reach to turn the tap on to wash his hands…
Before returning to the pump track for “a few more laps” we scoped out the lower portion of the “Blue Racoon” trail. Owen seemed keen to ride it, but after the pump track… After a few more laps the rest of the Little Rippers crew let us know that they were relocating down to the “Green Caterpillar” trail at the bottom of the hill – so Owen and I quickly changed our plans to join them. But first, despite the heat, we went back to the van to swap in to our full face helmets. There was a group of fully kitted up downhillers milling around in the car park, and as he passed them, Owen pulled the biggest skid that I have ever seen him do, stopping perfectly by our van. I have no idea where he learned to do that, but the kid has style!
Rather than riding directly down to the bottom of the hill, we pushed back up the hill a bit, to ride down on the “Cheese Roller” trail. Before dropping in, we watched a few riders coming past. Owen seemed happy that he could ride the section of trail we could see, so when there was a gap we went for it! Owen rode so well, controlling his speed and picking good lines through the berms. When we got to the big berm in to the bottom field he pulled to the side of the trail and stopped – that particular berm looked a bit too steep for him. We walked around it, whilst I explained to him that it was a good thing that he realised that the berm was not for him – knowing your limit and stopping is as important as the skills to ride the feature. Rejoining the trail after the steep corner, Owen was away again. Over lockdown, the crew at the bike park have rebuilt the trail and it was running really well – especially useful for Owen on a bike with 14″ tyres! The last section of trail is a set of four increasingly large tabletop jumps (which means they can be rolled over). The larger jumps are defitely taller than me, but Owen did not even flinch, riding up, over and down each one perfectly! I was so proud to be following him down the trail! Then, after the jumps and on the gravelly flat section at the end of the trails, he had a silly little fall.
We walked back up to the “Green Caterpillar” trail, to hang out in the shade with the rest of the crew. It was lovely being able to sit and talk, whilst the kids (ages ranging from two to seven) played together, occasionally getting on their bikes for a few laps. It was a perfect way to cool down. We pushed our bikes back up the lower section of the “Cheese Roller” trail, to ride the jump line again. This time there was a big queue of people waiting for the minibus back to the top of the hill and I heard some impressed comments as I followed Owen through the jumps.
After a bit more chilling out, well as much as possible in over thirty degree heat, we pushed our bikes back up the hill for an ice cream, then more laps of the pump track. As everyone finished riding for the day they gathered at the pump track and a fun session ensued. Most of the kids had finished riding and were cheering us on, however Owen kept on putting the laps in – I had to stand in his way to get him to stop for the group photo at the top of this post! After the photo there were more laps until Owen went over his handlebars – even though I was right behind him I could not tell what went wrong, but he had a pretty bad cut on his chin. At this point I should mention that we had taken a decision together, not to wear our full face helmets on the pump track, on the basis it was too hot – I was more concerned about over heating than crashing – I think in future we will both be stricter about wearing full face helmets on the pump track. I got him off the track, and used his Buff (which I had in my pocket in case he needed a facemask) to stem the bleeding. I figured that he was OK, as by this point he was asking if he could get back on his bike and his crying had changed from “my chin hurts” to “I want to do some more laps”. We quickly gathered our things, put a plaster on Owen’s chin, said goodbye and set off to the nearest hospital. During this process I managed to put a rather large scratch on the frame of my three ride old bike, which was annoying, but obviously my mind was elsewhere.
Owen was very brave at the hospital in Cheltenham, and we barely had to wait at all – we were in and out within thirty minutes, with Owen’s chin cleaned, glued and stickered back together. As we were now going to be late for dinner we got a McDonalds drive-thru and ate it in the van, which Owen thought was brilliant. He even ate all of his food without a fuss! He got a Scooby Doo toy with his meal, so on the way back I told him about Scooby Doo, his friends and the “Mystery Machine” – Owen seems to love watching the televison programmes that Jen and I watched as children. Given it was past his bedtime, and that he had been riding in the heat all day, I was surprised that Owen stayed awake for the drive back to Coventry. It was great chatting about stuff with him – it feels like he has really matured over the last few weeks.
Posting this a few days later, there does not seem to be any lasting effects from his injury, he still enjoys riding his bike and does not seem at all scared, if anything we have to remind him to take it easy! He has also watched a lot of Scooby Doo cartoons…
Owen and I had a fun bike ride at the weekend – in our new Little Rider Co jerseys! We wanted to find the “Old MacDonald” trail, which is the latest themed trail in the woods opposite the War Memoral Park in the Earlsdon area of Coventry. I am not sure who has been making these trails in the woods, but they have certainly made lots of children happy! Henry also loves exploring in the woods, so Jen brought him along in the running buggy, as I currently do not have a bike suitable for riding with him on the front.
Owen rode really well up through the woods on the common and along the pavement to Earlsdon, so we got to the the woods on Kenilworth Road way ahead of Jen and Henry. To kill some time we went to take a look at the dirt jumps, these are only small jumps in some bomb holes, but they are fun to ride. Owen remembered having ridden them on the Mac Ride with me last year, although he did not seem to remember riding them himself on his balance bike. I asked if he wanted to give them a go, but he said he would just watch me, but after my first run through I looked behind me to see Owen dropping in! He did really well on the steep drop in, but did not quite have enough speed to get out the other side. We did a few more laps before Jen called to say she was at the trail, so we dropped in one last time, Owen followed me in and made it out of the other side – he was stoked!
We explored the “Old MacDonald” trail in the woods with Jen and Henry, finding the animals which did, or did not, belong on the farm. Then the boys had fun adding sticks to a large log pile before we set off back home. After riding really well on the dirt jumps and in the woods, Owen had a really silly fall on the way home, when he got mixed up between brakes and went over the bars at a road crossing. After a big cry, and a drink from his hydration pack he was ready continue, even bombing down the “scary hill” back to the house. At 7.7 kilometres I think this is his longest ride to date!
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!
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.
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.
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…
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!
Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that it would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.
As getting outside in the fresh air was still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online to avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together. Even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature had not quite matched the sunshine!
After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!
We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. We inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!
Both Jen and I have said how good the trip out was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.
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.
My last week of parental leave started with a solo visit from my Mum – Dad was working. The plan had been to take Henry swimming, to make up for his missed lesson last week, but the pool was closed due to a heating problem. It turns out we had dodged a bullet last week as the pool had been really cold – definitely not ideal with a poorly baby! We called in at the butchers on our way home from the pool, picking up some scotch pies for dinner. In the afternoon my Mum and I completed Henry’s paperwork to register him with the French consulate in London, then I serviced my hardtail.
Henry seemed to be feeling much better on Tuesday morning – he was less snotty and more energetic. He ended up having his nap later and longer than usual – he slept right through lunchtime! To the point that by the time he had woken up, got dressed and had his lunch, we only just had time to do the big shop at Sainsbury’s before picking up Owen from preschool to get him ready for his swimming lesson. After more than three years of swimming with Jen or I in the pool with him (with Paula at Little Ripples), Owen has graduated to solo lessons. We are using Laura’s Swim Academy, and as it was Owen’s first lesson we all went along to watch, and find out the logistics. Owen loved the lesson! Before getting in the pool he had a little wobble, but when it came to the start of the lesson he was so distracted by getting a swim belt fitted that he did not seem to worry. It probably also helped that the first thing they did was swimming with a noodle, which Owen loves anyway! There were two teachers in the pool for five children, so they managed to cram a lot in to the half hour session. Owen got stuck in trying the new things – Henry seemed particularly impressed when Owen swam on his back, he started clapping for his big brother! Owen was so pleased with himself when he got out of the pool. After the lesson I noticed that most of the other kids were getting changed into their pyjamas, which I noted for future lessons, as it ended up being a late night by the time we all got home.
Wednesday was a big day for Henry – his first settling in session at nursery! We are taking him to the nursery where Owen goes to preschool, where he has been since he was Henry’s age. In fact some of the girls in the “Baby Room” remember looking after Owen (and think that Henry looks just like him). Henry seemed to like being in the Baby Room, with lots of toys and friendly people – until it was time for Jen and I to leave. Understandably he was quite upset, however we had to do some paperwork in the office. Apparently Henry settled down fairly quickly and liked playing with the balls. However he was not impressed when they tried to move him to the food room – exactly the same as Owen on his first trip to nursery! He was very pleased to see us at the end of his hour though. When we got home Henry must have been too excited to sleep, even though it was well past his nap time. He eventually fell asleep eating his lunch! Because of his late nap, we ended up missing the Mini Museum Engineers session at the Transport Museum, which I had not been aware was open to babies under one, unfortunately they are only running on Wednesdays, so will clash with Henry’s nursery day going forwards. When Henry woke up we did some more walking practice with his trolley, I had to follow him across the front room, to turn him and the trolley around when they got to the opposite wall. He was doing really well and getting up quite some speed! After preschool, I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders session, however the traffic was terrible and we missed quite a bit of the session. Owen rode really well and did some good listening to Coach Kazzi, however it was another late night for Owen.
After his busy day, Owen had a lie in, but Thursday was to be Henry’s busy day! He started off with his usual swimming lesson – probably my last with him! He enjoyed splashing about and jumping in. After lunch, and a nap, it was time for Henry’s second settling in session at nursery. He was fine as we got into the building, but burst out crying when we got to the cloakroom for the Baby Room. Nor was he too happy when we left him. Jen had taken the day off and we were now in the strange situation of two hours to spare – with no children! So we went into town for some lunch – the Noodle Bar is one of our favourite places, and also not really suitable for children, so we went there. It was nice to be out just the two of us. When we picked up the boys from nursery, Henry was pleased to see us, but very tired, as he had not napped at nursery. This actually played into my hands, as Jen went out in the evening, so I had to do bedtime by myself.
Owen had another lie in on Friday, usually Fridays are lazy mornings, and we let Owen come downstairs in his pyjamas and dressing gown. But this week we had to drop Henry at Nursery for his final settling in session, which would last the whole morning. We all set off in the van, then after dropping Henry off, we continued to the War Memorial Park, for Owen and I to have a ride round, and Jen to do some running. Owen rode particularly well, controlling his speed and managing to ride up the hills. The main point of our ride was the skate park. On our previous visit, back on my first week of parental leave, Owen could not manage to ride up the smallest ramp, but this time he had it nailed – even keeping his pedals level as he rolled over the top. We must have done over twenty laps waiting for Jen to finish her run. My Orange Four was overkill for the small skate park, but it was fun chasing Owen around. It was lovely being able to spend the morning together in the park the three of us. We were told that Henry had enjoyed his morning at nursery, but he was certainly very happy to see Jen when she collected him! We spent the rest of the day tidying the house ready for Henry’s birthday party and playing in the garden together. Henry had his first solo venture into the garden – usually he stopped at the threshold of the backdoor, but this time he just went for it, crawling up the garden path all the way to the garage!
The big day – Henry’s first birthday, which I have already blogged about. We had a fun day, Henry got to open lots of presents – mostly assisted by Owen, we had visitors and cake! By the end of the day we were all a bit tired, despite not having left the house. So we all walked to the fish and chip shop to get dinner.
After all the excitement of Henry’s birthday, Sunday, my last day of parental leave, was a quiet affair. I tidied up my desk area in the back room, listed things on eBay and managed to get out for a ride at the pump track in Solihull. However the weather was rubbish and it was not the best ride, a bit of an anticlimax after twelve amazing weeks off work with the boys…
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…
With my parental leave rapidly coming to an end, the weeks just seem to be getting busier – I do not know how I will be able to fit everything in when I go back to work! The week started with my Mum and Dad coming to visit/look after the boys. Before they arrived I managed to get Henry to take a few steps whilst holding on to his hands. Unlike Owen, who would walk everywhere when I held his hands, Henry takes more convincing. I have found the best way is to be on my knees facing him, holding his hands and shuffling backwards as he walks towards me. I had a few jobs to do in my garage, mainly clearing out the BMW, before trading it in. Owen and my mum had their wellies on and were splashing in puddles, until Owen managed to fall in the mud, needing a trip straight to the bath! After lunch, and all cleaned up, my dad and I took Owen to Coventry Transport Museum to check out the Taking Flight exhibition. Owen had been hoping to see some Spitfires, as I have been telling him about them whenever we drive past Spitfire Island on the way back from his Ready Steady Riders sessions, but unfortunately he had to make do with jet engines. There was a cool installation where visitors could design their own flying machines on to pre-made templates, which were then scanned and added to a skyscape projected onto the wall. The different templates gave different flying characteristics – Owen based his on a hot air balloon, because “Daddy and Grandpa used to fly hot air balloons”, which he made sure to tell everyone! I chose a rocket, because it looked like the fastest! Owen’s balloon floated over the virtual landscape, which he really enjoyed, whilst my rocket-powered design whizzed past! We also checked out the rest of the museum, as even though we visit regularly there are often new exhibits. As we were walking out of the museum Owen said he wanted an ice cream – he has learned that we usually go to Sprinkles Gelato opposite the museum afterwards. Naturally neither Dad or I took much convincing…
On Tuesday morning Henry debuted his newest skill – as Jen and Owen were leaving for work/pre-school he started waving! Then continued when I carried him through to the front room to wave out of the window. He is such a clever boy! We had a quiet morning at home, and just as I finished my morning jobs and was wondering if I had time for a shower Henry woke up from his nap. Walking in to his room I could smell that he would be needing a bath, so decided to risk having a bath with Henry – killing two birds with one stone. It worked surprisingly well, other than Henry tickling my feet the whole time! He loved splashing me and was contained in the bath whilst I got dried/dressed in the bathroom. Bathtime is Henry’s favourite time of day, he loves being in the water! Maybe he was angling for another bath when he spread his lunch all over himself within minutes of being washed and changed into clean clothes… After a quick wipe down with a flannel, which Henry seems to hate, we went to the supermarket for the big shop, then collected Owen from pre-school. I made chilli nachos for dinner, one of my favourites, however Owen was not quite so sure – annoying as he loves eating tortilla chips and chilli separately.
Wednesday started with a lie in – a rare treat! It meant that Owen was a bit late getting to pre-school, but as there was no Ready Steady Riders session (due to half term in Birmingham) we were in no rush, so I let Owen ride in on his pedal bike. Henry had some more tricks to show off this morning, first he started copying me when I stuck my tongue out at him. He threw my iPhone over the back of the sofa, then reached over to retrieve it, with the inevitable fall (with me holding on to his feet), he thought this was fun, so has kept trying to do it. I expect he has learned this from Owen, who needs to be reminded daily about the “no climbing on the sofa” rule. Then, when I was preparing his milk for the day, he crawled into the kitchen, made a beeline for the cupboard where we keep his food, opened it, grabbed his bag of baby crisps, opened them and started feeding himself! I was not sure if I should be proud at his independence, or shocked at his cheekiness! He repeated this stunt later in the day too, confirming it was not a fluke! Unfortunately he also tried it with our Royal Doulton crockery, breaking three bowls in the process – I seem to remember Owen doing something similar when I was on parental leave with him too. As a side note, I have enjoyed looking back through the posts I wrote in 2017 and seeing how similar the boys are, they seem to get up to the same tricks. I will try to do a comparison post with pictures of them at the same ages. The excitement continued when I took Henry upstairs to “help” me set up Owen’s new airbed, in advance of our weekend away. The normal airbed mattress goes in an outer section, I assume to stop small children falling off, so when I had inflated this outer section, which looks a bit like an inflatable boat, I put Henry in it and added Owen’s squishy sloth toy, creating a wrestling ring – Henry loved it (and was contained for a while for me to do some other jobs). After lunch Henry succeeded in one of his main missions in life – he pulled the drawstring out of one of my hoodies, afterwards he sat there with it in his hands and mouth with a look that said “so what do I do now?”. Hopefully he is less successful in his other goals which are crawling out of the front or back doors, or rubbing his hands on the toilet seat. We had another shopping trip, to Aldi (pizzas, nappies and wipes), Screwfix (tools), B&M (Creme Eggs) and Smyths Toy Shop (birthday presents), Henry slept through most of the excitement though. At bedtime, Owen wanted to try out his new airbed by sleeping on it, it must have been comfortable as he managed to sleep through Henry screaming for a few hours! Usually Henry is a good sleeper, so this was very out of character, eventually we got him to settle down by giving him some Calpol.
With no swimming lesson this week, due to half term in Leicestershire, where the teacher lives, Henry and I had a quiet morning. The main thing of note was that Jen had bought Henry a special new reusable nappy, this was the first time that Henry had worn it – so of course he christened it with a mega poo! We had planned an early afternoon trip to collect my new van, but the van was delayed by a few hours. In some ways this worked well, as Henry had a really long nap – it almost got to the point where I did not know what to do with myself! Swapping cars coincided with the boys both hitting the weights needed to move up a grade of car seat – in Owen’s case, I just needed to convert his seat from using the integral five point harness to a booster seat using the car’s three point seatbelt. Henry was really good when we went to collect the van together, especially as there was a bit of waiting around due to my bank blocking the payment, until I had called them to release the funds. The downsides to the delay were that we missed picking Owen up from pre-school (he had been looking forward to a ride in the van) and we also hit rush hour on the drive home. As it would be Henry’s last ride in his rear facing infant seat, I had him up front next to me (with the airbag turned off) which he seemed to enjoy!
On Friday we went on a road trip to York. Despite having just purchased the perfect vehicle for a road trip, we took Jen’s Yaris. We did not take bikes etc, so all our stuff for a weekend away, including beds for the boys, just about fitted. Henry was promoted to the forward facing child seat – he had used it in my MR2, but this was the first time on a long journey. He seemed to like it and I appreciated being able to see his face in my rear view mirror. We were going to York to meet up with Jen’s university friends and their families, it was great that all the children, ranging from ten years old to Henry, played together nicely. Although Henry struggled to join in, he seemed to enjoy being with all the others. The girls particularly liked having a baby to fuss over. I had to take Henry out for a walk, as there was too much excitement for him to have his afternoon nap. We do not see these friends as often as we would like, but it is always great when we do see them, especially watching the children playing together. When Jen first introduced me to her friends, the eldest child was about the same age as Henry is now. Now he is 10 and he is a nice young man, who was particularly good playing with Owen, showing him all of his toy cars etc.
Despite allowing the boys to stay up later than usual, they still woke up early. I guess the unfamiliar but exciting environment did not help. After breakfast (and more playing for the boys) we walked to the National Railway Museum. Owen liked it, his favourite train was the recreation of Stephenson’s Rocket, but his favourite bit was playing with the wooden trainset in the play area (despite having one at home). There was so much to see, but it was tricky with an excitable small boy in tow, however I am sure we will visit again in the future. From the museum we walked in to town for lunch – it seems like everyone had the same idea, so finding a table for eight was a bit tricky. When we eventually found a restaurant our food took ages to arrive, we were all ravenous by the time the food came out. The wind had really picked up when we were walking back to the car, I was finding it tough to walk against, so it must have been even worse for Owen! We were later leaving York than we planned and it was no surprise that the boys both slept for most of the drive back to Coventry.
Sunday was our first family trip out in the van! Jen and the boys had a first birthday party to go to in Nuneaton, from where they would walk to Jen’s parent’s house. I loaded my bike into the back of the van, and dropped them off on my way to Hick’s Lodge cycle centre. Owen and I had been previously, but did not even make it to the start of the trails, so I wanted to do a solo trip to find out if it would be suitable to take Owen on his pedal bike. I had also been told that it still runs well in the wet, which is more than can be said for my usual trails in Coventry! I did a lap of the blue trail, which I found to be quite flat but with lots of standing water. The full trail was too long for Owen, but shorter trails could be made. Next I went for a lap of the green (easy) trail – not something that I would usually ride, but I wondered if it may be more suitable for Owen. However, I thought it was too easy/simple for Owen, the corners were all flat, rather than bermed – which looks less intimidating, but offer no support, making it trickier to carry speed. Not my usual Sunday ride, but given the recent weather is was nice to get out on the bike! After the ride it was good to be able to get changed in the back of the van, although I had not worn my waterproof shorts, nor packed a change of pants, so had to drive back with a soggy bottom. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Jen’s parents house. Gill had made an amazing Victoria sponge and the boys got to play with their Auntie Heather. We had pizzas when we got home and Owen and I watched Guy Martin’s Spitfire. Owen really enjoyed the programme, there was even a piece to camera filmed at Spitfire Island, which Owen really appreciated, because it was seeing the statue there that sparked his interest!