2021 Goals Update

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.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

All three of the cars have had a wash this year – the MR2 before I had even started back at work! Unfortunately, both the MR2 and van could do with another wash though. The Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) cordless pressure washer I bought has certainly made this easier, as I do not need to run power and water from/through the house.

Declutter/sell stuff

I have sold a few things on eBay/Facebook marketplace, but I still have a fair bit to go. We have also done a decent job of passing on baby bits that the boys have grown out of.

Does anybody want to buy a 24″ wheel kids bike? Or a camera bag? Or a tripod? Or a Lee DSLR filter kit?

Tidy my garage

It was tidy at one point! I even got some Topeak bike hooks (Amazon affiliate link) to tidy up the bikes. However, after rebuilding Owen’s new bike and a few other projects, it is back to being messy.

Get my weight down to 85kg

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.

A Long Weekend Of Bikes

I realise that this is similar to a recent post, but at the moment my life just seems to be work and wrangling the boys, with a bit of bike riding (or maintenance) to break it up! However last weekend was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, a rare one with good weather, so we made the most of it!

Friday – Cannock Chase

Friday was a normal working day for most of the country, however, I have Fridays off to look after Henry, and Owen’s school was closed for a teacher training day. I took the opportunity to take the boys to Cannock Chase, to try the recently opened blue graded mountain bike trail there.

As we pulled into the car park, I realised that my plan had worked – I have never seen it so quiet! We quickly got our kit on and set off – Henry on the Mac Ride on my Clockwork Evo hardtail and Owen on his bike. The trail started off familiar, “Twist and Shout”, which used to be the start of the red graded “Follow the Dog” trail had been opened up and smoothed out, but followed a similar line, finishing in a zig-zag of berms. It was perfect for Owen.

The rest of the trail continued in a similar fashion – smooth flowing singletrack. I found it more enjoyable than the red (difficult) graded trail. I cannot wait to revisit without a copilot on the front of my bike. The only section of the trail yet to be completed is a bridge over a stream, which meant a diversion through a ford. Owen took the sensible route over the stepping stones, but Henry and I blasted through the water – fortunately for me Henry acted as a mudguard protecting me from most of the spray. He was not so impressed. Owen rode well, even trying to stand in the “attack position” over some rougher sections of trail. Unfortunately, at one small rock garden where he did this without prompting, somehow he had a fairly spectacular crash. I cannot see what, if anything, he did wrong – I think it is just one of the perils of riding mountain bike trails on 16” wheels. Owen got up, brushed himself down and completed the ride like a champ.

After riding the blue trail, we returned to the van, grabbed Henry’s Strider and set off on the Gruffalo trail. I had read The Gruffalo to Henry the previous evening, so he was excited to meet “Gruff”. He was also excited to be back in his own bike, choosing to ride through all of the puddles. After our two rides, we had earned our picnic, which we ate sat in the back of the van. Then the boys had a good explore on the playground – it was a little bit busier than when we arrived but still quiet – I think we will be returning to Cannock Chase next time we have out of sync school holidays! To finish off the adventure we called into McDonald’s for ice creams on the way home.

Saturday – Sherwood Pines

On Saturday we met up with some old friends and their children at Sherwood Pines. It was more of a day out than a mountain bike trip, but the boys and I took our bikes anyway. A few of the others had brought bikes too, so we set off for a lap of the blue graded “Adventure Trail”, via the skills area. Unfortunately, one rider had a small crash on the skills area and our group was reduced to three, Owen and me, and our friends’ eleven-year-old son. Owen and I had ridden the trail a few weeks previously, so it was good to see how far he had progressed. I was particularly proud of how, without prompting, he was getting into attack position on the trickier sections of the trail. He was also carrying speed down hills to help him up the other side. The only bad thing was that at some point early in the ride I managed to break the remote for my dropper post. I could still just about get it to work, but not whilst riding, so my seat had to be either up or down. I had forgotten how tough it is to ride without a dropper post – another reason that Owen’s riding is impressive!

After the ride, we met up with the rest of the group, who had set up camp and started the picnic. It was nice to catch up after not having seen each other for such a long time. The children all played together, although I think Henry struggled to grasp the rules of cricket and just ran away with the ball. After the picnic, we went on another Gruffalo trail – this time we did it properly, buying the map from the gift shop – Owen had been disappointed that we did the trail backwards the previous day. However, the children were more excited about the numerous play areas around the trail and we had six tired children when it came to leaving. Henry did not even make it five miles down the road for dinner at the nearest McDonalds. After dinner they both slept for the rest of the drive home.

Sunday – Solo Ride

After two days riding with the boys, I managed to get out on my own on Sunday morning, for a quiet local ride. It was only a short loop on my local trails, but as much as I enjoy riding with the boys, it is nice to get out into the woods on my own! The only other bike activity was a bit of work on the bike I was preparing for Owen’s birthday. In the afternoon my parents came to to take the boys to stay with them for the night. Jen and I were able to head off in the MR2 to a country pub, for a civilised meal!

Monday – Ride with Jen

I had planned a ride with Jen along the Kenilworth Greenway, but without small children to wake us up at 6:00, we had a lie in and ran out of time for a long ride. So instead we just went on a short loop to the park, including a few bits of single track on the way. It is the first time that Jen and I have been able to ride together without the boys since she got her new bike. At the park we stopped for hot drinks, which we were able to enjoy uninterupted. It was not my usual sort of ride, but great to spend some quality time with Jen.

Bonus Pumptrack Session

As this post has taken me so long to publish, I thought that I would also skip ahead to the Friday, where we met up with Team Kostka, three young bike riding sisters and their mum, at Solihull Pumptrack. I was not riding for this trip, as I knew Henry would need a lot of support around the track – it is a big step up from the Ready Steady Riders track he is used to riding. What I had not bargained for was Henry falling asleep on the twenty minute drive to the track, only waking up as I was carrying both him and his bike to the track.

Once again, Owen rode well, after ignoring my suggestiong to start small, he dropped straight into the bigger jumps without any hesitation and rode them well. Although he was slower than the girls, he liked having friends to ride with. Despite being the smallest rider there, and the only one on a balance bike, Henry also did not want to start small! However he sensibly opted to ride down the grass next to the steep asphalt roll in, cutting back onto the track. He needed my help both up and down the big rollers on the first straight, but managed the rest of the track with only the occasional push up the steepest transitions. It is not really a track suited to balance bikes, but he had fun anyway.

As well as riding together it was great to see the children all playing together between laps, the boys have certainly caught the tree climbing bug! Fortunately when Henry started asking to go to the playground next door, everyone else was about ready too, so they all had a good play together, before returning to the track for more laps. It was a great afternoon, and it was another example of bike riding being even more fun when you do it with friends! There is a cool video of the afternoon on the Team Kostka Instagram.

RIP iPhone 7

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!

Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

In parallel to the HKT Winter Defiance Handbook challenges I have also been participating in another challenge over this third national lockdown. The local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders, set up a segment on Strava to see who could ride it the quickest. The route started and finished at the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate in the city centre and followed the trails parallel to the Kenilworth Road as far as Gibbet Hill, then crossing over from the west side to the east side of the road and following those trails back to Lady Godiva. I regularly ride most of these trails, albeit heading into the city, so thought it would be a fun challenge.

My first ride, a week after the challenge was announced, was an eye opener – I had never seen the trails so muddy, or churned up! The wet winter and lack of anything else to do meant that the woods were getting a lot more traffic that usual, but I was most shocked by the amount of mountain bike tyre trails. I struggled through the mud to finish the ride, but decided to wait until the trails were a lot drier before tackling it again. Time: 1:19:21.

By the end of February the weather had improved, so I had another attempt at the lockdown challenge. The trails had not dried as much as I had expected, and I was not really in the right headspace, but I did manage to pull five minutes out of the time. Time: 1:14:43.

By this point I could see that plenty of other people had put in sub hour times, and that became my new target – I was pretty convinced that it was doable with drier trails, and less stops. I also had a think about bikes – both of my attempts so far had been on my Orange Four, a full suspension trail bike, which I have set up with quite aggressive tyres. I had chosen it due to the tyres, but really did not need the rear suspension and associated extra weight. The ideal set up would have been my Orange Clockwork Evo hardtail trail bike, but fitted with grippier tyres from the Four, however that was too much hassle. It did not escape me that the record had been set on a simple single speed bike, albeit ridden by somebody a lot fitter than I am!

I had planned to do my last attempt on the Clockwork Evo on 28th March – the last day of the “stay at home” lockdown. However due to a mechanical fail the previous weekend the Clockwork Evo was out of action, so I would be back on the full suspension bike. I was also getting over a cold. And it was windy. You can probably guess from the long list of excuses that I did not quite meet my target…

I started off too hard, I was already at my max heart rate before I got to the first off road section. I knew then that I was not going to be putting in a good time, so decided to ride smart, keep my heart rate down, and keep the wheels turning. By the time I got to the trails I was riding well, the trails were drying, but still boggy in places. Going up Gibbet Hill I was keeping pace with runners on the pavement, despite taking the windier muddier route, although they dropped me on the final kick. As I emerged from the woods at the top of the hill, I saw a couple of other riders drop into the Wainbody trail, one of my favourites in Coventry. I paused to check the elapsed time (less than expected) and create some space, which was completely unnecessary as they were long gone. This trail had been particularly muddy on my previous attempt, but was drying nicely, although someone had ridden a horse down it, so the surface was churned up. Who rides a horse on a bridleway in a city? The run from Wainbody Woods to the A45 felt like a big slog, but I kept going, at one point getting passed at speed by an e-biker. I had ridden the next section of trails along the War Memorial Park the weekend previously, so knew they were not too muddy, and buoyed by this I picked up speed, then stepped up another gear on the final leg from Spencer Park to Lady Godiva. As I pulled up in Broadgate I took a selfie with Lady Godiva (main picture for this post) and checked the elapsed time since setting off from home and thought it would be close to the hour mark for the challenge segment. I had not really left much on the table and struggled to ride up the hill to get home, especially given the strong headwind.

When I made it home there were two boys waiting for me with their bike gear on. I had told Owen that we could go for a ride when I got back, and Henry did not want to be left out! So I got back on my bike and did a lap of the woods with Owen, whilst Jen took Henry for a ride on his balance bike, meeting up with us in the woods. Henry’s riding is coming on leaps and bounds, to the point I think he may be ready for a pedal bike before the end of the year. When I had a chance to check my time for the earlier ride, I saw I had improved my time on the challenge segment, but was still over the hour mark. Given the wind and my cold I was not disappointed. Time: 1:06:30.

I am still convinced that I have a sub-hour time in me, when I am at full health and the trails are drier, however as lockdown eases I am going to try and get out in my van and ride some other trails, ideally with my friends. However I will have another shot at the challenge segment later in the year, maybe once the Five Guys restaurant opens up on Broadgate, which will definitely be an incentive waiting for me at the finish line!

HKT Winter Defiance Handbook

Five months of challenges to stay motivated, inspire others, have some fun and f*ck winter

Over the lockdown in 2020 I started listening to the HKT Podcast and really enjoyed the mountain bike chat, with a side helping of current affairs. Davi, the host, predicted that this past winter was going to be rubbish for a lot of people, with potential lockdowns on top of the usual winter weather – he was not wrong! So on World Mental Health Day he released a list of 250 challenges, to give the “podcast family” something to focus on over winter and keep them motivated. This sounded like a great idea to me, so I downloaded it as soon as it was available.

The challenges were split into the following groups:

  • Riding challenges (50) – I must admit that I took a look at the list of tricks and feats of endurance and thought “no chance”. However, without specifically trying, as I thought it was way out of reach, I did manage to complete the “ride 100 miles in November” challenge. The only other riding challenge I completed was to “organise a ride with an old friend” – Partho and I rode at Cannock Chase the day after the challenge started. I have known Partho for twenty years, so he must count as an old friend! We both also rode with Ali for my birthday and I have known him for even longer!
  • Fitness challenges (50) – again, I was not so keen on these, but thought that some of the smaller push up challenges would be doable – I made 10, but struggled to get to 25 although I did not do enough practice. I had also intended to dig out my trainers and go for a run to check off some of the shorter running goals, but with limited free time, the bike always won out.
  • Random challenges (50) – there were all sorts of challenges, from litter picking to writing a poem and even getting a tattoo! The challenge to “bake a cake from scratch” prompted me to bake Jen a carrot cake for her birthday – Jen makes the best cakes, so I felt pressure to deliver! The cake was a success, not as good as one of Jen’s, but definitely edible.
  • Podcasts to listen to (25) – I am a newcomer to podcasts, so liked the idea of recommendations for others to check out. I enjoyed the few that I listened to from the list, and have more saved for future listening, whilst working on bike in the garage or driving my van.
  • Books to read (25) – the only books I seem to read are bedtime stories to the boys! I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Amazon affiliate link but have not finished it yet. I really should as there is a podcast episode to go with it.
  • Movie night (50, spilt between action sports and mainstream movies) – this was the group where I was able to tick off the most challenges, often helped by the boys. Even with Despicable Me 1, 2 and 3 being one challenge I could have ticked that off multiple times, as the boys, especially Henry love the minions. I watched a few films with Jen and also some new riding films, from which I added my favourite music from the soundtrack to my MTB music playlist on Apple Music.

The challenge I am proudest of is “spend fifty hours learning a language”, I chose PHP, and specifically the Laravel framework. I doubt a programming language was the idea of this challenge, but the real goal was taking the time to learn a complex subject. A decent chunk of the fifty hours was spent making a web application, running on my Mac through Docker, to track my progress on the challenges. I find that I learn best when I am working on a project and an updatable list of challenges seemed like an ideal project to learn on.

In the end I found that I had not completed as many challenges as I would have hoped – only 15 out of the 250, but although the challenge has officially finished, I will still refer back to the lists of moves/podcasts/books when I am looking for inspiration for something to watch/listen to/read. The main thing though was that it gave me something to focus on over the winter, other than work or homeschooling.

Bike Ride with Owen

Owen and I had a fun bike ride at the weekend – in our new Little Rider Co jerseys! We wanted to find the “Old MacDonald” trail, which is the latest themed trail in the woods opposite the War Memoral Park in the Earlsdon area of Coventry. I am not sure who has been making these trails in the woods, but they have certainly made lots of children happy! Henry also loves exploring in the woods, so Jen brought him along in the running buggy, as I currently do not have a bike suitable for riding with him on the front.

Owen rode really well up through the woods on the common and along the pavement to Earlsdon, so we got to the the woods on Kenilworth Road way ahead of Jen and Henry. To kill some time we went to take a look at the dirt jumps, these are only small jumps in some bomb holes, but they are fun to ride. Owen remembered having ridden them on the Mac Ride with me last year, although he did not seem to remember riding them himself on his balance bike. I asked if he wanted to give them a go, but he said he would just watch me, but after my first run through I looked behind me to see Owen dropping in! He did really well on the steep drop in, but did not quite have enough speed to get out the other side. We did a few more laps before Jen called to say she was at the trail, so we dropped in one last time, Owen followed me in and made it out of the other side – he was stoked!

We explored the “Old MacDonald” trail in the woods with Jen and Henry, finding the animals which did, or did not, belong on the farm. Then the boys had fun adding sticks to a large log pile before we set off back home. After riding really well on the dirt jumps and in the woods, Owen had a really silly fall on the way home, when he got mixed up between brakes and went over the bars at a road crossing. After a big cry, and a drink from his hydration pack he was ready continue, even bombing down the “scary hill” back to the house. At 7.7 kilometres I think this is his longest ride to date!

Social Distancing in the Woods

Today was our first proper family adventure in the new van, and it was very much needed! When I bought the van it was mainly to increase space for bigger trips, but what also got us (particularly Jen) excited was the possibilities that it would open up for mini adventures – local-ish day trips where we could ride bikes, have picnics and generally explore woods and parks etc.

As getting outside in the fresh air was still being encouraged (as long as you keep away from people and do not touch anything), we loaded up the van with bikes, buggy and picnic and set off for Hicks Lodge – a beginner mountain bike centre near Ashby-de-la-Zouch, that Owen and I visited a few weeks back. We did not know if it would be empty or absolutely rammed, but pulling into the car park it seemed to be the same as normal, despite parking being free (I was planning to pay for parking online to avoid touching the machine). After getting changed we rode/walked/rolled up to the picnic spot together. Even on the gravel road climb Owen was riding noticeably better than our previous visit and got some positive comments – he does look the part when he has his kit on! Lunch was a chilly affair, as it was quite windy and the air temperature had not quite matched the sunshine!

After our rushed picnic, Owen and I rode to the last few sections of the blue graded mountain bike trail, whilst Jen and Henry carried on round the walking trail. Owen struggled on the first part of the blue trail we rode, as it was uphill, just that little bit too steep for him. But once we had pushed up the worst bit he was away – the rollers and berms on this section are bigger than Owen has ridden before, but he took it in his stride! When we got to the gravel road he asked if we could ride back up again, but instead we carried on down the blue trail, on the section Owen rode (twice) on our previous visit. His confidence and bike control seem to have stepped up a notch as he was flying down the trail, instinctively catching a few wobbles when he had them and breezing over the largest roller that had stopped him previously. Watching his little legs spinning furiously on the pedals on the run in to it was so cute! Once again, when we got to the bottom of the trail, he asked if we could ride back up and do it again! What sort of mean Dad would I have been to deny him – so we rode back up the hill (non-stop) and back down the trail for more of the same!

We got back to the van just as Jen and Henry were finishing their lap of the lake trail. As I was loading the bikes up, the family parked next to us started chatting to me about the van – something that seems to happen way more often than anything I have ever driven. As we were only a few miles from where I grew up, after Henry’s first nappy change in the back of the van, we took a detour to show Owen where I lived when I was his age. We inadvertently drove through the town centre, which I did not recognise, but the house was as I remembered it, albeit with a remodelled front garden. It did not take much longer for Owen to fall asleep in his car seat, only waking up to Henry’s crying as we waited for Jen to drop off some Mother’s Day gifts at her Mum’s house. One final stop on the way home was the garden centre – to pick up some topsoil and compost, as our outdoor activities tomorrow are going to be much closer to home – in the garden!

Both Jen and I have said how good the trip out was! Even without social distancing, it would have been a great day out, but with everything that is going on, getting out of the house for some fresh air and exercise was even more important! Fingers crossed that we can have more days like this in the coming weeks and months.

Babies in Sportscars – Throwback Thursday

Henry had his first ride in my MR2 today and seemed to enjoy it! It reminded me of this photo from Owen’s first ride, with the roof down!

It was a bit too cold to have the roof down with Henry today, but I am sure he will get to experience the MR2 properly soon!

For a real throwback – here is a photo of me with my Dad in his Triumph TR6!

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?