Parental Leave II: Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parental Leave II

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

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

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

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

Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding at Pier 52

Photo © Richard Long 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forest of Dean Pump Track


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

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

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

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

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

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

Bluestone Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

417 Bike Park Pump Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Goals Update

As we are halfway through 2019 (and also nine years to the day since I went on a first date with Jen) I thought I would revise my goals for the year. When I did this in 2017 and 2018 I found that it helped me keep on track for the second half of the year. The last few months have been dominated by baby Henry, who seems to be growing into a very chilled out little boy – as long as he gets plenty of milk and cuddles he is happy and gives us loads of cute smiles!

Get my weight down to 85kg

I got off to a good start on this, but recently I have put weight back on and am roughly where I started. I think it is time for me to admit that if I want to lose any more weight I will have to address my diet, rather than just exercising more. Well maybe after going to Festival of Speed with my Dad next week…

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

This may have been a bit ambitious with with a newborn, however it should be easier later in the year. I have managed to get out for a few evening rides with Owen on the Mac Ride, being able to take Owen with me – leaving Jen free to deal with Henry does make it easier to justify.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Again this was maybe a bit optimistic with a newborn. I was doing well for the first few months, and have done a few more since, hopefully this will become easier as Henry gets into more of a sleeping routine.

Ride at the pump track at least once a month

I am just about on track with this! Some months I have also managed to add a second pump track session with Owen. March, the month that Henry was born, was the trickiest, but I managed to sneak in a pump track session at the end of my ride at the Forest of Dean.

Ride at a bike park

I can confidently check this one off! I rode at Flyup 417 Bike Park in February and enjoyed it so much that I went back again last week (Strava)! Both times I went midweek and had the place (and the uplift van) to myself! Hopefully I will be able to fit in another trip later in the year, maybe for my birthday. I would also like to take Owen to the indoor pump track barn there.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I am well on the way to achieving this – at the halfway point of the year I have clocked 51 hours and 27 minutes, but I cannot be too complacent! Although not mentioned in my original post, my other Strava-based goal is to clock more distance than my best friend Partho. When Partho is on form we are usually pretty close, until he was knocked off his bike earlier in the year we were within a few kilometres of each other. Whilst he was out action I was unable to capitalise on his misfortune, as Henry had just been born. Then Partho put in a few massive rides on his new roadbike. I am currently 27 kilometres behind, which I am pleased with given where I was a few weeks ago! Having the Mac Ride has really helped with this, as Owen and I are able to get out together.

New blog server

I have completed the first part of this activity, by creating a new development server on my iMac and installed WordPress 5.0. This will mirror the new live server I will set up on AWS. I even created a script to initialise it in Vagrant with one terminal command (GitHub). I should be able to get the new server up and running fairly quickly, as I will simply be copying what I have already done (and documented) on my test server.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have almost halved my open tabs in Safari! Next I need to tackle the bike parts manuals that I have open in Safari on my iPhone, I always seem to need to look something up whilst I am fettling bikes in the garage.

Replace my ageing iMac

I am no closer to making a decision on which Mac to buy – or more accurately finding a decent 4K monitor that I could use with a Mac Mini or MacBook Pro. I still need more time to save up though, so no rush to make a decision yet.

Do some night photography

I must admit that I had forgotten about this goal! Hopefully later in the year it will be easier for me to get out in the evenings!

Detail my MR2

Done!

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

I failed this one. In fact the MR2 is still yet to pass 60,000 miles, I think it is still at around 59,500. It also had the embarrassment of failing the MOT, on emissions. Fortunately a can of “Emissions reducer” and a bloody good thrashing sorted it out. I will have to try harder next spring. At service time it was also pointed out that I really should get new tyres and a wheel alignment, both were already on my radar as I have had the car six years and not fitted new tyres. I have got a couple of longer trips planned in the MR2 over the next few months to Goodwood Festival of Speed next week and a pre-wedding lads wake-boarding weekend (not a stag do) in a secret location.

Drink more whisky

I was making good progress through my whisky collection earlier in the year, but since Henry was born I have hardly drunk any alcohol. Again, as Henry starts to sleep better I am sure I will start having a wee dram in the evenings again.

A few other things I have achieved that were not on my goals list are learning to straighten bike wheels – it was close to making it to the list of goals, but I decided that it was not really needed. Until I realised that I had a wobbly wheel on my Orange Four, then needed to rebuild the back wheel on my hardtail – why do these things always happen at the same time? Fortunately I was able to find a cheap wheel truing stand locally on eBay. Maybe next year one of my goals will be to build some wheels from scratch.

I have also revisited iOS development, something I have dabbled in a few times over the years, but never using the new Swift language. I have a few app ideas that I would like to develop, so will continue to work on these over the rest of the year.

Orange Four: Two Year Review

It has been two years – and almost 1,500km, since I got my Orange Four. At the time it was my dream bike and I’m happy to say that it still is! This story on the Orange Bikes website really sums it up better than I can (incidentally the photos on that story are amazing and a benchmark for the sort of photos I want to be taking). Maybe the “dirt surfboard” philosophy appeals to my inner snowboarder, but I just love the way the bike rides, especially on the trails I encounter. The short travel suspension lets me feel the trail, rather than soaking up all of the bumps, like a longer travel bike would. This post was meant to be a twelve month review, but I got so carried away with life and riding, that it ended up sitting in my drafts folder, but as there have been a few changes recently I thought I would do a two year review instead.

After my first few shakedown rides on familiar trails such as Cannock Chase (Strava) and in the Cotswolds (Strava), there were a few minor changes to make, ergonomic things, like grips, dropper post lever and shortening some of the cables. I also spent a bit of time working on the suspension set up, especially as I wasn’t used to rear suspension. The Fox 34 fork was also much more adjustable than the old fork on my Vitus hardtail, so took a bit more effort to set up. I actually got on so well with the Fox 34, that I fitted one to my hardtail too.

The next changes came after I struggled on the climbs at Llandegla, well even more than usual! I decided that it must have been a combination of the clutch mechanism in the derailleur being too tight and the rear tyre having too much rolling resistance. The clutch was an easy fix, less than five minutes with a screwdriver and no parts needed. To reduce the rolling resistance on the rear tyre, I replaced the Maxxis High Roller II with a Maxxis Aggressor, which seemed to make a difference. When I fitted the tyre I was surprised at how easy it was to set up tubeless. I’m not sure if it was down to the wheels or tyres, but it made a nice change from my previous experiences which involved spending hours in the garage and required a lot of swear words! Almost two years later I am still running the same tyre set up. For the winter I may swap the now worn High Roller II to the rear and fit the virtually unused one to the front.

The bike has stayed in this configuration for the first year, with trips to Yorkshire, Cannock, Llandegla (again) and the Long Mynd amongst others. I still think that the tyres are the weak spot in the set up, I simply do not have any confidence in them on wet rocks. This resulted in a big “OTB” (over the bars crash) on a rock garden at Cannock, which aggrieved an old knee injury, keeping me off the bike for 6 weeks. However, I still feel that it is not quite bad enough to spend well over £100 (and hours of swearing in the garage) to change to Continental tyres, like I run on my hardtail. The only other upgrade needed in this time, was to the headset. I hadn’t specified a Hope headset when I ordered the bike, as I was already stretching my budget, but given that the standard headset only lasted one winter, I would have been better paying for the upgrade from the start. Fortunately I was able to borrow the tools to fit the new headset from my boss, which kept the cost of the replacement down.

As the bike reached its first birthday, it was time for a service. I sent the fork and shocks to Fox UK, while we were away in San Sebastian, the idea being that I’d be able to do the rest of the service when we got back and the Four would be back on the trails in no time. Unfortunately it didn’t quite happen like that. Replacing the swing arm bearings meant stripping pretty much all of the components off the bike, so I ended up taking the opportunity to give everything a thorough clean. With everything stripped down, the actual bearing replacement was really easy using the correct tool from Orange. The single pivot suspension design that Orange use is considered to be quite old fashioned, but it does mean that servicing is fairly simple. Ideal for those of us that ride in muddy conditions! It is the same with the threaded bottom bracket, I had to remove the bottom bracket as one bit of British weatherproofing that Orange omitted, was a drain hole at the lowest point of the frame. I could hear water sloshing about in the frame and and when I removed the bottom bracket a fair amount of water trickled out. I emailed Orange to ask if this was normal, and they said some frames have a drainage hole and some do not, which does make me question their production/quality control processes. They also said that I should drill the hole myself, confirming that it would not invalidate the frame warranty. Drilling the frame was a nerve-racking process, especially as I spend my days on a computer, rather than on the tools, but my experience from the 119 project paid off. After a bit of Rita Ora “Girl in Grey” nail varnish to tidy up the hole it almost looked like it had been there from the factory. A few months later I had to replace the bottom bracket – likely due to the water pooling issue. Of course this was noticed the day before a big ride and my local bike shop did not have the correct Hope bottom bracket in stock. I fitted a much cheaper Shimano XT part and made it out the next day – it is still on the bike now and, with a drain hole in the frame, hopefully it will last longer than the original part.

With fresh bearings, a rejuvenated suspension and some new DMR Death Grips, the Four was riding really well. I took it on some good rides, including a very wet Cannock with the Orange Riders crew, an amazing ride in the Peak District and my first trip to the bike park. The bike really did feel perfect, the only hiccup was when the derailleur got caught on a branch on a local ride, and broke, meaning I had to do the walk of shame. Over Christmas I won some blingy purple Crank Brothers pedals, so decided that I should add some purple to the stealth colour scheme the bike had been wearing. Then, when it was time to replace the chain/cassette/chain ring I went for a matching purple chain ring (up from 30 tooth to 32 tooth, thanks to the large 11-46 Sunrace cassette I fitted at the same time). Given that I would not have chosen purple pedals, or even to add purple to the colour scheme, I am really pleased with how it has turned out, and I am now looking at other areas to add purple, but without taking it too far.

Last month I fitted some Shimano XT brakes, not because there was a problem with the Deore brakes on the bike, but because the extra weight of Owen on the Mac Ride on my hardtail meant that needed better brakes, so I decided to treat the Four and take the Deore brakes for the hardtail. The XT brakes are slightly better and the Deores still work brilliantly on the other bike. The only slight problem was that the new XT brakes were not compatible with my gear shifter, so I had to buy another to match the brakes – it was cheap, but now I have a spare eleven speed shifter that matches the brakes on the hardtail I can see myself upgrading the rest of the drivetrain on the hardtail.

The only non wear and tear part I have had trouble with was the KS Lev Integra dropper post, which earlier this year started to drop when I sat on it without the lever being pressed. This seems to be a known issue, and after confirming it was not a problem with the lever or cable, KS asked me to send it in for a fix under warranty. I was impressed that they managed to turn it around same day and I had it fitted back on the bike before my next ride. Unlike the headset and bottom bracket, where I really should have specified upgraded parts, I am happy with my choice of dropper post. The upgrade to the already upgraded KS post would have been the notoriously unreliable Rockshox Reverb. Two years on there are way more options for cable actuated dropper posts, including some that a user serviceable, so if/when the KS fails again, I will just replace it, now that it is out of warranty.

As a two year service is now due, and it had a hard day at Flyup 417 Bike Park in the week (Strava), it is in pieces in my garage being fettled. I am going to tackle the lower leg fork service and air can shock service myself, before sending them off to Fox UK when we are on holiday in September. There is also a wobble on the rear wheel, which will be my first opportunity to use my wheel truing stand. I have certainly expanded my bike mechanic skills since owning the Four – fortunately this is something that I enjoy!

My only firm plans for the Four are to keep riding it! I am yet to find a bike that could come anywhere near to replacing it. I think if Orange brought out a Four (or a Five) with a decent gearbox system I might be tempted, but I doubt that would be in the next few years and likely be mega expensive! Next year I may treat the Four to a factory respray, as the powder coat has picked up a few scratches, which I have been touching in with “Girl in grey” nail polish. Although that would mean I need to decide on a new colour scheme and while charcoal grey was only my third choice of colour two years ago, I find it hard to imagine my bike in another colour. The only unknown quantity left on the bike are the hubs – as much as I would like a set of Hope hubs I cannot justify the expense whilst the current hubs are working well.

Riding wise, I think the Four would be perfect for riding the Trans Cambrian way, although I think my fitness may have a little way to go before I am doing three big days in a row on the bike! I would like to return to Coed Y Brenin this year, so that Partho can make amends for his last visit and I would still like to ride in Scotland at some point! To me, the Four is the perfect bike for any of these big adventures, or even just local rides around the woods in Coventry!

Father’s Day 2019

Owen woke me up at 6:30 on Father’s Day, with a gift of matching pyjamas – fortunately he let me go to back to bed for a bit, before we went downstairs for a very light breakfast in our matching pyjamas. The reason for the very light breakfast was that we would be meeting my Mum, Dad and brother for brunch at Dough and Brew in Warwick. The breakfast pizzas are my absolute favourite breakfast anywhere. It seems to have become a regular Father’s Day thing for us. Previously I have cycled both there and back – as the route from Coventry is mostly off road. However, with the recent rain, which cancelled the Malverns Classic MTB festival we should have been at yesterday, I figured I would be too muddy to sit in a restaurant if I rode there. So I strapped my hardtail to the roof of the car and so I could at least ride back.

The only problem with having a massive pizza is feeling a bit sluggish on the ride home – especially as it is mostly uphill back to Coventry from Warwick. Riding out of the town centre I felt pretty fresh, so decided to add in an extra loop around Hatton to include a fun section of bridle way that I missed by not riding down – which is where I stopped to take the photo at the top of this post.

I was really enjoying being on a leisurely cross country ride on my hardtail, the sun was out, the trails were running well and my bike was feeling super fast without Owen on the Mac Ride! I also felt a bit naked riding without knee pads and wearing a short sleeved t-shirt, rather than a jersey, but it was only a gentle ride! Then the clouds came over and it started to rain gently at first, so I kept going. As I was approaching a farm it got heavier, so I took shelter next to a barn to put my jacket on. When I turned around I noticed a whole field of cows walking towards me – fortunately on the other side of a fence. They must have been after my jelly babies! By the time I left the cows the rain had almost stopped again, but I knew I was about to ride through the muddiest section of the ride, so kept the waterproof on until I was out of the mud. The rest of the ride, on familiar trails,
went without a hitch and with my extra loop I clocked just over 34km.

As we were seeing my Mum again the next day, Owen went home with her for a mini break in the Cotswolds. With only a chilled out Henry to deal with, Jen was keen to crack on with the DIY when I got home. Seven years after starting, we are now at a phase with the #119project where we are redecorating rooms, although to be fair some of the bits we are doing in the kitchen weren’t really finished in 2012… We pulled the fridge freezer out of the pantry, I got to work chipping the ice out of it (and sucking it up with my wet and dry vac), whilst Jen repainted the pantry walls which were looking a bit scruffy. Given we started this project after the shops had shut on a Sunday afternoon we were lucky to have found a pot of the right paint stashed away! I had to keep having Henry cuddling breaks, although he did spend most of the time sat in his bouncer supervising – I had put him in his dungarees, but he decided not to get his hands dirty. We finished just in time to watch the new Top Gear and eat some amazing Moroccan lamb (one of our favourites from our local butchers. Henry spent his first night in his bedroom (my old office which he annexed).

It was a busy, but fun day. I hardly spent any time with Owen, but I have got the next week off work, so will make sure we do plenty of fun things together!

Owen’s Third Birthday Weekend Including Monster Jam

I can hardly believe it has been three years since Owen was born unexpectedly early, but it was his third birthday last week and we had an extra long weekend celebrating it!

On his birthday he rushed into our bedroom first thing in the morning to remind us that it was his birthday and ask if he had any presents! Fortunately “Henry” had bought him a Playmobil Mountain Biker, which kept him entertained for a while. I find it cute how Owen still refers to it as “the bike that Henry got me”. Then we came downstairs and Owen discovered the big pile of presents, which he unwrapped over breakfast. By far his favourite were the Playdoh Wheels sets – one of the only things he has asked for after seeing it on an advert. But Playdoh and construction vehicles is pretty much heaven for Owen, so I can understand why! Unfortunately he had to go to nursery in the morning, so had to leave his new toys. He did ride his bike to nursery though – it is only a kilometre away, so even Owen riding is quicker than driving, despite me carrying Henry in his baby carrier, meaning I could not really run after Owen. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I got the house ready for his party, then I snuck off to the pump track for a few laps.

Owen had a good morning at nursery and was excited to see that his Grandma and Grandpa had joined us to collect him. I was proud that when Owen realised both Jen and I were there without Henry, who was waiting with my parents, his first thought was to ask where his little brother was. Of course, when we got home there were even more presents from Grandma and Grandpa! Later in the afternoon his guests arrived for the party, it was only a small affair, with both sets of grandparents and Owen’s best friend, Cara. Owen and Cara had fun playing together with Owen’s new toys. Then it was time for the cake – Jen had excelled herself here, the chocolate “construction site” themed cake looked amazing and tasted even better!

Friday is Owen’s swimming day, so I took him to his lesson as usual. He has been doing really well recently, but did particularly well this week, putting his face in the water, jumping in and insisting on swimming on his own when the pool noodles were given out. He was swimming lengths of the pool on his own with his arms over the noodle. After swimming Jen’s friend came round with her little boy, so Owen had another fun afternoon playing. For dinner we went to Owen’s favourite restaurant – “McDonald’s with the softplay”, which is right at the other side of the city, but Owen always asks to go there. Incidentally, the last time Jen and I were there was about ninety minutes before Henry was born. Owen ate his dinner like a good boy, then was let loose on the softplay! It was interesting watching him, as he has obviously grown so much in confidence since our last visit at the start of the year. Usually he just does laps of the same section, but this time he went exploring – right to the top of the softplay structure! Maybe it is time to try taking him climbing again?

Owen’s usual Ready Steady Riders session was cancelled on the Saturday, due to the poor weather, so we just had a quiet morning at home – because in the afternoon we were going to Monster Jam! Monster Jam is a huge touring monster truck show, and Owen loves monster trucks almost as much as diggers. So when I heard it would be coming to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Owen’s birthday weekend I knew we had to go! Monster trucks are too loud for Henry (Jen had an excuse not to come), so my Dad joined us – we have talked for years about the three generations watching motorsport together, so this was a good opportunity. As soon as we got to the arena we saw the monster trucks in the pits, along with some construction vehicles that made the track – Owen’s day was already made!

Once in the stadium the first of the monster truck events was a series of head to head races – Owen loved it! He was cheering on the trucks and clapping excitedly at the end of the races! I was glad that he was wearing his ear defenders, as even quite high up in the stadium the trucks were really loud. Owen was less excited by the next event, the donut competition. He was upset that the monster trucks were not jumping! I enjoyed the donut competition, especially as most of the trucks did their donuts at our end of the stadium. I also liked that the scores were voted for by the fans in the stadium on a special website. After the donuts the trucks went back to the pits and the construction equipment came out to redo the track and prepare it for the freestyle motocross riders – which Owen enjoyed almost as much as the monster trucks! The freestyle motocross riders were as impressive as ever and hopefully Owen did not take too much inspiration.

When the monster trucks came back out they had a two wheel skills competition, which was not that impressive, possibly because the track was so slippery due to the rain meaning most of the trucks failed to do their stunts. One truck, Max-D, ended up on its roof – which prompted lots of questions from Owen. “Why is it upside down? Why did it land on its roof? Why did the stunt go wrong?” etc. However the final event, the freestyle competition was by far the highlight of the show. The trucks each had two minutes to perform stunts on as many of the obstacles in the arena as possible. There were huge jumps, donuts and even a backflip – right in front of us (albeit with the truck landing on its roof)! It was a great afternoon out for all three generations of Craik and I would certainly go again.

After the excitement of Monster Jam on Saturday, we had a quieter Sunday. I dropped Jen and the boys off at Jen’s friend’s house in Nuneaton, then went for a bike ride at Pooley Country Park, near Tamworth (and even used my GoPro for one of the runs). Jen and the boys had gone for a walk/bike ride to the park when I got back to Nuneaton, so I rode to meet them and rode back with Owen for lunch. We had a few errands to run on the way home, including stopping at Jen’s parent’s house for tea and cake, which was a nice way to wind down after a busy weekend. Next weekend is also going to be exciting as we are going to the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, where Owen will be racing dual slalom on his balance bike! Does anyone know how to explain slalom to a three year old…