The Elan Valley in Mid Wales has been high on my list of places to visit – the only question was, do I take the MR2 or the mountain bike! Partho and I both had a free Sunday, and with existing plans to ride bikes together in the week, it was an easy decision to take our sportscars for a much needed Sunday morning run out.
We met at Droitwich for a McDonalds breakfast, then headed west. I had not specifically chosen the route, but the sat nav picked a mix of twisty single carriageway A and B roads, the natural environment for an MR2 Roadster. With great roads and little traffic it was one of the best drives I can remember. For reference the route was A4133 – A443 – A456 – B4362 – B4356 – A488 – A44.
We spent a few hours cruising around the valley, looking at the dams and taking photos. I was surprised to see that whilst one of the reservoirs was full, others looked quite empty. The roads in the valley were mostly small single track roads, so I was glad that I was in a small car. In fact, I found the roads we took to get to the Elan Valley more fun to drive than the roads when we got there. The views were stunning however, especially when the sun came out so that we could see them! I was surprised at how quiet it was for a Sunday in the summer holidays, there were no traffic jams and we had no trouble parking at any of the viewing points. We mostly followed this guide, which coincidentally also features an MR2 Roadster.
After our lap of the dams, with many photos taken, we took the mountain road to Devil’s Bridge. Again, this was mostly a singletrack road, but was generally well sighted, so we could press on a bit and work the cars. We missed the turning for the big hotel at Devil’s Bridge, so stopped for Cornish pasties and Welsh cakes at the tea room next to the campsite. As Partho had to get back home, we did not pay to view the waterfall, and from what I have heard since, that may have been a good job!
After lunch, I turned round and drove back over the mountain road to Rhayader, then back home along a similar route. Unfortunately, the twisty roads that had been so fun in the morning meant that I was unable to overtake the three lorries in front of me, so the drive home was not quite as fun. Despite that, it was still good to get out in the MR2, which ran perfectly, other than the 12v cigarette lighter socket which no longer works.
I loved visiting the Elan Valley, it was a good drive over, and I felt that it had a good balance of remoteness and ease of access. I already had plans to return with my bike, but I will also return with Jen and the boys, as we will all be able to explore together, both in the van and on some of the lower level cycle trails around the reservoirs.
On the second Tuesday of each month, the British Motor Museum at Gaydon holds a gathering for car enthusiasts. Usually, I cannot make it as I take Owen to his swimming lesson, but this month the stars aligned – there was no swimming lesson, the sun was out and it was even the eighth anniversary of buying my MR2 Roadster.
After work, I jumped in the MR2 and set off to Gaydon, via the scenic route of course. It was great to get out for an evening drive – something that I need to do more often! I got to Gaydon and managed to park next to the only other MR2 Roadster in attendance. My parents were also there, so we had a look around the cars together. I was impressed at the turnout, the cars ranged from a pimped out Hummer to pre-war cars. I particularly liked a little blue Lotus Elan, which made my MR2 look big.
The plan had been to grab something to eat there, but my parents had already eaten, and it just looked like a standard burger van, so we just had ice creams and then I picked something up on the way home, after another fun evening drive in the MR2. I am not sure when I will manage to get to another Gaydon Gathering, but it has reminded me that I need to get out in the MR2 more often!
So far 2021 has been another tricky year, especially with the lockdown and homeschooling at the start of the year. Overall I do not think I have made as much progress on my goals as I would have liked, other things have cropped up and I am also trying to factor in some downtime each day. The biggest excitement for me this year has been Henry turning from a baby into a little boy, especially over the last few weeks where he has began speaking more than just the odd word. He has also really taken to his balance bike. I must stop using selfies of us on my bike for these posts though – I have just noticed that I used similar photos on my 2021 post and my 2020 mid-year goals update.
Catch up on blogging
This is my nineteenth post of the year, but I do still have a bit of a backlog. I still have at least five posts in my drafts folder that I need to finish, and a few more post ideas in my head… I also need to do some blog maintenance and tidy up the structure of my posts.
Publish more of my software work
I have a few more repositories on my Github profile, including the Twitter Bot I blogged about. I have a few more projects to finish off and share too. Ideally, I need to combine this with the previous goal and blog about these projects.
Take a good wildlife photo
The only wild animals I have pointed my camera at are Owen and Henry! I have noticed plenty of robins and squirrels in my local woods, typically they only allow me to get close when I do not have a camera. We will also be signing up for membership at Twycross Zoo, so I am sure that I will at least get some animal photos.
Ride 1,000 miles
This is certainly one goal where I am overachieving, I am already past 500 miles so far and not too far off 600! It has definitely been a case of little and often, as I have not done any particularly big rides. Most of my rides have been with Owen and/or Henry, so less than 10km. However, all the riding probably explains why both of my bikes need a service. I am almost tempted to try and push for 2,021km, to beat my record from 2015. I am comfortably ahead of my friend Partho in our annual “who can ride their bike the furthest” challenge too.
Another cycling challenge that I would like to complete is the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge route in less than one hour. There is now the added bonus of a Five Guys restaurant at the finish line on Broadgate in the city centre. I just need to do a brake overhaul on my hardtail bike and I will be good to go.
Ride somewhere new with Owen
Owen and I have done a lot of riding together. We rode at Snibston Colliery Country Park in our “week of bikes” at Easter, but that ride was cut short by mechanical problems on my bike. We have also ridden the new blue graded trail at Cannock Chase, including our “long weekend of bikes“. We have got a few trips planned later in the year where I am sure Owen and I will ride some more new trails.
This is probably the goal I am doing worst at – after a good start, I have put on some weight on during the lockdown. There is still time to turn it around though.
Outside of my goals, I have spent a lot of time at my desk, either working at my day job or on various software development projects, which I hope to be able to share soon (see goal #1). After a quiet start to the year, due to the lockdown, we have lots of exciting plans for the summer and early part of the autumn, so I hope to have some exciting posts in the coming months.
My trusty iPhone 7 took a tumble onto the pavement whilst I was working on my van, and the screen shattered. I was already planning to replace it this year, so it was not the end of the world, but it was a sad end for what must be the best piece of technology I have ever purchased.
Since the iPhone 3G I had bought each major new iPhone on launch day – 3G, 4, 5, 6 and 7. To me, the iPhone 7 was the sweet spot, a good-sized screen, with TouchID and the build quality was a big step up from the iPhone 6. I was so happy with my iPhone 7 that after 2 years of ownership, I did not feel the need to upgrade to the iPhone XS, nor did I feel the need to upgrade to the iPhone 11 after 3 years – my phone had been fitted with a new battery and had a new lease of life. When the iPhone 12, in particular, the 12 Mini came out, I was swayed, but I had plans to buy a new Mac and did not want to buy both within the space of a few months. In any case, the iPhone was still working well, so I decided to stick with it for a fifth year.
Seeing as this is the longest I have kept a phone, I am pretty sure that it must also be the camera I have used the most. I had my Canon 5D for ten years, but I know I have taken many more photos on the device that is always in my pocket. Therefore I thought I would share some of my favourite photos taken on my iPhone 7.
Owen was only a few months old when I bought the iPhone 7, this was taken shortly afterwards on our first trip away as a family of three, and became my phone screen background.
Taking two months of parental leave before Owen’s first birthday provided lots of selfie opportunities. I especially liked the three generations one.
When Henry was born, the first photos of him were taken on my iPhone 7. I had bought my Fuji X-T2 by this point, but when wrangling a small baby an iPhone is much easier.
The first roof down drive in the MR2 was an important milestone for both the boys, so of course I had to take selfies!
Whilst on the subject of my MR2 Roadster this is my favourite picture of it taken on the iPhone 7.
Now that the boys are a bit bigger we can go on bike adventures – some of my favourite times with the boys. I am sure that there will be long lasting memories from these trips, but in case not, my trusty iPhone was in my pocket to capture it all.
Holidays are usually “big camera” time, but when you’re in a ball pit or having a van picnic the iPhone is less cumbersome.
This story has a happy ending as I bought an iPhone 12 Mini to replace it – the camera is a big step up, especially with portrait mode. So I am looking forward to more photos as the boys grow up, and we go on more bike adventures and hopefully on holidays!
Two of my goals for 2021 are to “get on top of cleaning the cars” and “tidy my garage”. This weekend I decided to start as I mean to go on. So I shuffled the cars around to get the MR2 on to the drive to give it a quick clean – its first since 2019! The main motivation behind this was that my parents had bought me a car cover (Amazon affiliate link) for it for my birthday and I did not want to fit it on to a dirty car. It was also a good chance to use my Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) – previously washing cars on the drive meant running a hosepipe from the back garden through the house, leaving both front and back doors open. Which is not ideal in winter, or with a small inquisitive child who like to get outside at any chance. I used a 40 litre flexible bucket to feed the pressure washer, and that was more than enough for a quick wash on the MR2.
Whilst the MR2 was on the drive, I took the opportunity to sweep out the garage and load all of the waste cardboard in to Jen’s Toyota Yaris to take it to the tip. The reason for taking the Yaris is that vans, like mine, are not allowed at the tip. Owen came with me, because he likes watching the heavy machinery there, and with the back seats folded down it was a chance to ride up front with me. It was nice to be out just the two of us in the Yaris, after running our errands we took the long way home, past the Midland Air Museum and Lunt Roman Fort, as Owen’s current interests are Spitfires (none at the museum unfortunately) and Romans.
Along with writing this short blog post, I make that three of my 2021 goals that I have made progress on, before starting back at work for what is going to be a very busy few months…
I am almost halfway through my parental leave and really enjoying myself. The week started, as usual with my Mum and Dad coming round for the day to look after the boys. So after I got my jobs (clean Henry’s bottles and make his milk etc) done, I managed to escape for a bike ride. As the local trails are so muddy, I thought I would go for a road ride to avoid the mud, however my plan failed – the roads were really muddy and I ended up filthy. It was nice exploring some different areas on the outskirts of the city though. In the afternoon I worked on setting up my new blog server, before making dinner (gammon, corn in cheese sauce and roast potatoes) for everyone. After the boys were in bed I also made a haggis lasagne to eat on Tuesday. Probably the most cooking I have ever done in one day! Even though I did not spend that much time looking after the boys I was shattered by bedtime!
On Tuesday Owen went back to preschool, so to start with it was just Henry and I, then Jen’s mum also came round to look after Henry. With Henry being looked after I took the opportunity to nip out to the supermarket, but as I was getting into my car I noticed a man on the opposite side of the road who did not look in a good way – swaying and struggling to stand up. As I walked over the road to see if he was OK he just fell over backwards, cracking his head on the pavement. In the time it took to finish crossing the road there was already a pool of blood forming under his head and he looked like he was having some sort of fit. I dialled 999 straight away! As I was speaking to the operator, some more neighbours and passers-by also stopped to help and got the man into the recovery position when he stopped fitting. After what felt like ages, but was probably only ten minutes he came round and tried to stand up, obviously very confused. Fortuately the ambulance arrived at this point and the professionals were able to take over looking after him. After explaining to the paramedics what happened I left to carry on with my shopping. I really hope the guy is OK, because it was a big hit, and there was a lot of blood, however I expect I will never know how he is doing, as it was not someone any of the neighbours recognised. Last year I took a similar fall, off my bike, whilst wearing a helmet, and had definite signs of concussion, including a two week headache – so I dread to think of the outcome without a helmet. After all the drama, I got my shopping done, there was some building work going on in the Cannon Park car park – Owen would have loved watching the excavator. Henry and I picked Owen up from preschool, and ended up walking back with one of his friends, who lives a bit further down our road. It was quite sweet watching the two of them together, although Owen did not seem too keen to hold hands. Chasing each other down the road also made the walk home significantly quicker, which was a bonus. Henry’s Giro Scamp bike helmet arrived, so before bed I attempted to get him to wear it so I could adjust the fit and of course get some photos of him looking cute! In the evening Jen went to running club, so I had to put the boys to bed on my own. It turned into a bit of a disaster, with neither boy being asleep by the time Jen got home. Eventually Owen went to sleep, but Henry took much longer.
Wednesday was a quieter day, I think Henry was tired from his late night, so after dropping Owen off at preschool we just had a quiet morning at home – it is nice just pottering around at home the two of us. Henry is in to everything now, most of the time it is great watching him crawling around investigating things, but you also need to be careful, as he loves opening and closing drawers, usually trapping his fingers in them. He also seems more excited about eating food that he has thrown on the floor than anything I try to feed him. It was a lovely sunny winter afternoon so we took a walk to Go Outdoors to buy my Mum a birthday present. Then I took Owen to his Ready Steady Riders Wheelie Wednesday session. He rode well again, he is getting better at coasting with level pedals and using his brakes, hopefully if he carries on progressing we will be able to hit the pump track together soon!
Jen was heading out after work on Thursday evening, which meant she could start late and help with Owen. This was very welcome as the last few Thursday mornings have been a bit fraught getting Owen out of the house for preschool. He loves his Wheelie Wednesday session, but he is always so tired on Thursday mornings. Henry had a great time at his swimming lesson, there were only three babies in the lesson – and for the first time since I started going with Owen dads outnumbered mums! Henry had a long nap after swimming, I was able to get loads done, it almost got to the point where I was unsure what to do with myself! When he had woken up and I had fed him his cauliflower cheese for lunch I had a treat planned for him (us) – a ride in the MR2! We were only going to the supermarket to pick up a few bits, but I thought it would be the ideal short journey to try with him – especially as it was to a destination that did not require a pushchair. Henry seemed a bit confused as I carried him out to the garage and strapped him into an unfamilar seat, but his face lit up when he heard the engine firing up behind him – always a good sign! As this was both his first journey in a forward facing seat and in the front of a car he realised that the steering wheel and gear stick must do something and started reaching out for them – fortunately he was well strapped into his seat and his arms were too short. I always enjoy parking the MR2 in parent and child spaces (only when I have a child in the car with me of course), as it looks so tiny next to the usual large family cars. In the evening I was on my own for dinner and bedtime. As Henry had liked the omelette he stole from Owen last week, I though I would try him with his own. Unfortunately his did not seem at all interested in it, he also managed to crawl off, despite being strapped into the little chair with tray table – leaving a trail of squished omelette behind him. I tried a different strategy for bedtime, leaving Owen downstairs drinking his milk and watching YouTube and taking Henry up to bed. After a busy day Henry went to sleep fairly quickly. Owen was the same unfortunately and fell asleep on the sofa before I had taken him upstairs to bed!
Jen took Owen swimming on Friday morning, so Henry and I had a quiet morning at home – before an exciting lunch of falafel pittas! While the boys were finishing their lunches I escaped for a haircut – usually something I can fit in on the way home from work, but trickier while I am off with the boys. Jen took Owen to the dentist after lunch, then I had a couple of hours to do some work/studying before pizza and film night! Owen loves putting the pepperoni on his pizza, then picking it off to eat before eating the rest of the pizza. Henry just loves stealing slices of pizza off anyone’s plate that he can reach! We watched Brave, which none of us had seen before, Owen and I both thought the Scottish clans were funny, although I expect for slightly different reasons. While we were watching the film Henry learned a new skill – taking his trousers off! He has been able to take his socks off for a while and it is rare to see him wearing any, so I hope it is not the same sitation with trousers! Once again I took Henry up to bed, leaving Owen downstairs – but this time I told him that he had to come upstairs after one programme – which he did! Even though he was a good boy getting ready for bed, it was quite late by the time I had finished reading him some books. After reading to him, he always asks me to stay in his bedroom with him, even though he usually falls asleep pretty quickly, it is nice lying on his bed with him, often the most relaxing time of the day – and quite difficult to get back up and crack on with some work!
The boys both had a good sleep, and I woke up naturally at 7:45, without being called for or jumped on. Of course this was a morning where we had somewhere to be… Not only was Jen doing parkrun, Owen was doing the Kids Run Free Park Kids event, which starts next to parkrun at the same time, but only on the first Saturday of each month. I was surprised at how keen Owen was to run, but I guess that he sees Jen running as much as me riding my bike. Henry looked like he wanted to join in, but we had to watch from the sidelines. After the warm up Owen ran six laps of the 250 meter course, which I thought was impressive for a three year old, especially as he had to do the first four by himself, as I had to stay with Henry. Jen joined him for the last two after she had finished her run. I could tell that Owen felt really pleased with himself afterwards and deservedly so! After all that running/standing around outside, we had eggy bread and bacon for lunch.
In the afternoon I cycled in to town to meet up with some of the other Coventry Bloggers, at Ziferblat, a new community/co-working space on Spon Street. It is an interesting concept, where you pay for your time there, by the minute, but get free drinks/snacks/wifi. It is the perfect place for a group of bloggers to spend an afternoon chatting and working on their blogs. It felt a bit like being in someone’s cosy front room, even down to the hosts making sure we had enough hot drinks/biscuits. I managed to get most of this post written whilst I was there, which was a good job, as I had been a bit lax during the week and had not updated it. The ride back home, which is all uphill, felt like a bit of a struggle, as there was a strong headwind and I was carrying a 6kg rucksack (with camera, laptop and bike locks) – it was still quicker than driving though and good to get out on the bike!
I had expected Owen to sleep well after all his running, but he, and consequently Jen and I, had a rubbish nights sleep, and he seemed to be in a foul mood in the morning. To the point that when he started calling for Jen to help him, whilst she was dealing with Henry, we both thought that it was something trivial, as he had been doing all morning. I finished my yoga and went downstairs to find Owen with his finger stuck in piece of wooden train track. We tried all the usual ways to get it off, cooling his fingers, using oil etc, but if anything his finger was swelling up more. So we decided to cut it off – the piece of track, not the finger! Owen was not too impressed when I said I was going to the garage to get my saw to chop it off. Jen wanted me to use my electric saw, to get it over with quicker. However, I chose the far safer option of clamping the track in the Workmate, more to prevent Owen wriggling, then cutting carefully with a hacksaw, until I was about halfway through the wood, then snapped the rest off using pliers. Not what was needed before I had even had breakfast on a Sunday morning! Owen seems to have made a full recovery, but we have had to change the layout of his trainset, due to a gap in a key section of track…
After the morning’s excitement, we drove to my Mum and Dad’s house to celebrate my Mum’s birthday. I thought Owen seemed reflective in the car, and was in a much better mood when we arrived. My brother and sister-in-law were there, it had probably been six weeks since they last saw the boys – Henry has changed so much in that time. We had another haggis dinner, but disappointingly neither of the boys seemed to like it, despite both eating it last week. The both ate plenty of raspberries to make up for it though. Mum had made cranachen for dessert, which was lovely, but Owen refused to eat his and kept asking for some whisky on it! After lunch we had a nice walk around Chipping Norton, where I took the photo above. My mum had found some toys, probably from the early nineties, which somehow survived at least four house moves. Owen especially loved playing with the Micro Machines! Henry was his usual cheeky self, crawling around, seeing what he could put in his mouth. Jen and I left the boys with their grandma, for a well needed night off! We did not have anything planned, but after completing some jobs at home (tidying/sorting is much easier without our two small “helpers”) we took a walk to Street Asian restaurant in Earlsdon. As we had eaten a big lunch, we chose some small plates from the Asian tapas menu, all of which were delicious! It had been quite a while since we last ate there – certainly before Henry was born – but I doubt we will wait that long again!
I will post my usual year in review post tomorrow, but as we are at the end of a decade, I thought I would look back at key points of what has been an amazing ten years. Of course being me, the key points are cars, cameras, bikes and holidays in addition to the big life events!
To set the scene, I started 2010 single, living in my bachelor pad in Rugby. My life pretty much revolved around cars and photography, especially car photography. At work I was in the middle of a big product launch that went on to set a sales record for our company.
The most significant thing that happened in 2010 is that I went for a date with a girl called Jen – and that pretty much set the course for the rest of the decade! We had a great holiday to the Basque Country and at the end of the season I gave up motorsport photography.
Jen moved into my flat in Rugby, and we had some great trips – to Barcelona and Cyprus. Sadly my old MX-5 turned to rust and I had to replace it, of course I went for a new silver MX-5!
Jen and I had some great holidays – Costa Rica was definitly the holiday of a lifetime, but Croyde with our friends and a roadtrip round the Outer Hebrides were both pretty special too. We also decided to buy a house together and the 119 project started!
What a decade it has been! From living on my own in Rugby, we are now a family of four, living in the house we renovated (well have almost finished renovating), in Coventry. Photography and cars are still important parts of my life, but have been joined by mountain biking and two small boys! At work, I am still working for the same company, on another big project. I do not know what the next decade will have in store, but I doubt my life will change as much as it has in the last ten years.
Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.
One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!
At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!
Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!
With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.
Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.
One of my goals for 2019 was to detail my MR2 Roadster. Now, this may not seem like a big goal, but given I last cleaned it in 2016, after a hoon to the Peak District, it was going to be a big job. As it is my pride and joy I wanted to do it properly – no cheating by taking it to the local hand car wash! Cleaning cars is something I find therapeutic, but to do it properly takes a lot of time, which is something increasingly rare for me these days.
Unfortunately I failed in my other MR2 goal, which was to get it to 60,000 miles before the MOT. I was 1,000 short, in fact it clicked over 59,000 while I was giving it an “Italian tune up”, after it initially failed the MOT on emissions.
Jen took the boys out to visit a friend, leaving me with an afternoon free – and a space on the drive! Getting the MR2 on to the drive is usually a three car shuffle, so one less car to deal with made things easier. In fact, my BMW also got a quick wash too and the drive got swept. The MR2 had the full works though: snow foam, two bucket wash, tar remover, fall out remover and a final rinse, before being driven back round to the garage to be dried, panel wiped and treated to a coat of Soft99 Fusso Coat Dark – a Japanese wax/sealant that I had bought for Jen’s Toyota Yaris and seemed to give good results. Given that the MR2 is usually garaged and rarely gets used in the rain, I would normally use a regular wax, but as I had a tin of this special wax for Japanese cars, it seemed a shame not to use it. Waxing the car I noticed that is has picked up a few chips and scratches, but from a few metres away I think it still looks great – especially now that it is clean. I had forgotten just how sparkly the Toyota Sable grey paint is.
After treating the roof and tyres with the appropriate potions, I was able to get out for a drive. It rained – typical! However I still had fun and when I pulled over in front of a yellow field, the sun popped out from behind the clouds and I was able to get a photo of my newly clean MR2.