Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Lockdown 2

Saturday, February 27th, 2021

October started with Duncan’s birthday. It was a pretty quiet affair at home with Christine’s parents visiting and a film in the evening. Friday night has become film night more generally now (after a trial of Sky Cinema we signed up for a discounted subscription). Trying to select a film is always a bit of a trial, particularly balancing Emma’s desire for action against age-appropriate content for Duncan! I’m usually the one who ends up making a final decision to try and satisfy everyone’s needs.

Swimming lessons continued, as did long walks and cycle rides at the weekend. In addition to Tuesday Night Runs (now with beer inside but with face masks and table service), I managed a couple of runs with the IBM gang. We went to another SCJS training with Duncan, this time in the New Forest. We were back in the Forest a couple of weeks later for an event I planned at Anderwood. I managed to put one control in the wrong place – the perils of doing all of my planning in one visit to the area the week before the event – but otherwise everything went well!

Still with vacation to burn, I had half term off. Much of it was taken up redecorating Emma’s room: out with the little girl pink, in with the teenage grey (there was much debate about quite how dark a grey she could have!). Duncan and I amused ourselves soldering and assembling the MERG DCC command station and handset kits for his railway. Two pairs of hands definitely made the job easier, not to mention Duncan’s eyesight when it came to the surface-mounted components in the handset. Remarkably, it all worked once assembled but the train and track now need a bit of an upgrade to get a reliable signal.

Lockdown returned for four weeks in November which brought the more sociable activities to an end (at least face-to-face). You were still allowed to exercise with one other person, so Tuesday Night Runs involved Ian and I running around Chandler’s Ford, and I could still go out cycling with Alasdair. Through an article in CompassSport, we had discovered the Turf app (think Pok√©mon GO but without the cute characters) which, even four months later, is still getting us out the door.

Duncan bought himself a small drone which we then promptly had to retrieve from the garden two doors down the road! He also bought himself a penknife which has, so far, only caused the loss of blood on one occasion! The month ended with Christine’s birthday. Come December, Christine was also allowed to tell the world that she had succeeded in her promotion to Professor. At least she now needn’t worry about being called upon to help in an emergency!

Emma’s inflatable boot had not helped her ankle but we were then left waiting for the hospital to start operating on children again. We were eventually given a date at the start of December (still over a month before the NHS would have even started to look at her ankle). Christine would go with her so both had to traipse up to Basingstoke for a Covid test three days beforehand, and then the whole family had to isolate until the day itself. Having been on the front of the list, Emma was awake again by mid-morning and home early afternoon. All seemed to go well and, rather than a plaster cast, she got to use the inflatable boot again. By Christmas, she was walking around normally again although is still a bit wary of cycling.

Things opened up again for the next few weeks. Orienteering resumed with events at Bramshaw and Farley Mount. We even managed the annual Run the Pubs, albeit that the meal afterwards had to be in the pub garden as we were not all from the same household. I managed to give blood (having been turned away with a sore throat on the previous occasion). We also had a big online launch event for the Software Delivery Management product I’m working on, for which everyone in the company received a set of glassware in the post so we could drink a toast. (You had to provide your own drink though!)

The dreaded R-number was on the rise again in the run-up to Christmas and there was much debate about what we might be able to do. At best, it was possible that we might be able to meet family for a few hours outside but, by the 19th, Hertfordshire (where my family is based) was put in the topmost tier, ruling even that out. By Boxing Day, we joined them in Tier 4 and we were to enter another national lockdown in the New Year. The Christmas period was therefore spent at home, enjoying the frosty conditions outside, and doing yet more decorating!

New Year’s Eve was made a bit special as we cashed in the money that CloudBees was contributing to a festive meal and had a nice takeaway. Emma was then determined to stay up until midnight and we thought we should probably keep her company! As the year came to an end, I’m sure everyone had the same wish: that 2021 should be a better one.

Socially Distanced Summer

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

July continued in much the same theme as June with a mixture of online and socially-distanced face-to-face activity. The children continued to be schooled at home until the end of the summer term. Duncan even got to meet his teacher for next year (who is new to the school) online. The orienteering club continued to have online sessions on Zoom, including the AGM at which I was delighted to receive the “outstanding contribution award”! Duncan and I continued with PE with Joe until it stopped at the end of the term.

In the real world, Tuesday Night runs continued in the New Forest. It was pleasant enough sat in the garden at the Sir Walter Tyrell but the beer options were limited and served in plastic glasses. There were also regular visits to friend’s gardens for socially distanced beverages. Long walks at the weekends were another continuing theme.

In other news, when the dentist re-opened for business, Emma had her last child’s tooth removed at the request of the orthodontist. Sadly the orthodontist is not permitted to start any new work though so no further progress there. We also participated in a Covid-19 saliva test trial run by the University of Southampton. Over six months later, there are now plans to use the test at Emma’s school.

August brought the summer holidays. We were immensely thankful that travel to France was possible. Not because we had any intention of going, but Christine’s brother did, which meant we could make use of their newly renovated home in Cornwall for a week. (Just to be clear, it’s their only home!) They live away from the tourist hotspots which meant we could do some local walks away from the masses but, to be honest, even when we did go to the beach, there was generally plenty of space for all, although the lifeguarded area in the water was sometimes a little cramped.

We had one trip out booked which was the gardens at St Michael’s Mount. The gardens were lovely but it was not a day for lounging around on the terrace afterwards. We left the day Christine’s brother and family returned but we did spend a lovely morning messing around on the river with the paddleboards. We also took the opportunity to call in on my uncle in Devon on our journey home.

Having not been away at Easter, I could afford to take to the following week off although the excitement was fairly limited. The swimming pool re-opened but you had to book so I think Christine and Emma only went the once. It did mean that the children’s lessons resumed though.

The last week of August we de-camped to Monmouth although Christine and I continued to work during most of the week. We did a lovely (if wet at times) walk in the Brecons with Duncan that took in the horseshoe including Corn Du, Pen Y Fan, and Cribyn.

Back home, we booked the children into Clarks in preparation for the return to school only to discover they had no shoes that would fit Emma! They could, however, suggest what size and style we should buy online. Duncan had a day of outdoor activities at Woodmill which he enjoyed. Emma, meanwhile, went to Basingstoke to get an x-ray of her ankle. We’d given up on the NHS who offered Emma a first consultation in February and found a private consultant covered by our medical insurance. Sadly, he’s not currently operating out of Winchester, hence the trip up to Basingstoke.

Christine and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary although it wasn’t exactly the big family get together that we had originally planned. We did see Christine’s parents the following day as they passed through having finally picked up their electric car. A friend’s 50th birthday and a walk at Lepe took us to the end of the holidays.

September saw the children both return back to school and it was suddenly very quiet during the day with just Christine and myself ensconced at opposite ends of the house. It was great to see them fall straight back in with their friends though. They’d only been back a week when Emma went back to Basingstoke for an MRI scan and came away with an inflatable boot that meant she needed ferrying to and fro from school. The staggered start to the school day meant the traffic wasn’t too much of a trial.

I took Duncan along to a SCJS training session at Ash Ranges which was a welcome diversion. A mix up over dates did mean that we ended up going two weeks in a row though! Orienteering events also resumed with a SOC event held at Hincheslea. Forestry England constraints meant that we were limited to thirty competitors which was a shame.

One upside to the pandemic has been the rise of the virtual conference. I was given a free ticket to a GOTO conference which had some great content. CloudBees also had its annual DevOps World conference and saw a massive increase in participation over the usual in-person event. It was, however, also very nice to meet up face-to-face with the CloudBees Whitely crew for a sociable pub lunch.

Life in Lockdown

Monday, February 15th, 2021

There is one overriding theme for the next three months: lockdown and its consequences. Home schooling was one of those consequences and, with Duncan still receiving only limited direction from school, we were grateful for any distraction. And so it was that we became followers of Joe Wicks and his daily HIIT workout. Work tended to start around 10am for me as a consequence and, with other interruptions, there was typically time spent catching up in the evenings.

One of those distractions was the weekly shop which, in an attempt to minimise time spent queueing, was often done during the working day. As time went on, the queues got shorter and the shelves started to fill again. The nation had taken to baking and, as a consequence, there was a constant scrabble to ensure we had enough flour and yeast to make our daily loaf. The local pub, no longer able to open for business, was distributing catering supplies though and so, at one point, we had an 8kg bag of flour on the go along with 500g of frozen yeast!

At Easter, we should have been up in York at the JK. Instead, we were at home taking part in the virtual Lockdown Orienteering that was the brainchild of Chris Smithard and co. It kept Duncan and I busy for much of the Bank Holiday weekend, particularly having splashed out on a Catching Features license (which both of us were pretty rubbish at). It must have appeared like fun though as Emma joined in for the next one and they became a regular feature of the next few months.

May is a month for birthdays in our family. It started with mine which was fairly uneventful. Next up was my Dad’s and sadly we had to miss the milestone that was his 90th. Apparently, word got round in his street though and he was treated to a socially-distanced rendition of Happy Birthday on his doorstep! This was also VE day, to which the government had moved the first Bank Holiday. One of our neighbours had proposed a street party which, on a scorchingly hot day, was a lovely way to meet some people on the street that we might never have talked to otherwise. It was such a success that it was repeated on the second Bank Holiday, this time with an ice cream van in attendance!

Emma’s birthday was the last to come. It started with a walk around her friends’ houses to drop off craft supplies (not to mention pick up presents) for a party that then took place on Zoom. There was also another Zoom call, this time with the extended family, for the cutting of her rainbow birthday cake. It felt a bit mean given that none of them would get to sample the cake!

We had some lovely long walks and cycle rides during this period. The New Forest was bursting at the seams but we know it well enough to avoid the tourist traps. We also explored some of the quieter reaches of the Test Valley. Towards the end of June, Emma started to complaining that her foot was hurting after exercise, of which more in a future post.

The lockdown was also starting to ease around this time and, in particular, we were allowed to meet in groups of up to six outside. This meant that Tuesday Night runs could resume. The warm evenings meant that sitting outside sinking a few beers with friends was very pleasant. At the end of the month, we even managed to meet up with Christine’s parents, albeit just for a few hours, with Greenham Common chosen as the rendezvous point. We even managed to persuade Duncan to get his lockdown hair cut!

Covid Cometh

Friday, February 12th, 2021

2020 started much as 2019 had ended: with lots of activity. In the first week alone I’d done the running club’s New Year hash, the Hampshire XC Champs, and a CC6 at Badger Farm, with another one at Janesmoor two weeks later. In addition to running, there was plenty of orienteering to be had, with events at Fritham, Star Posts, Denny Wood, Mark Ash Wood, and Black Water in the first couple of months. There was also SOC and South-Central Junior Squad training to attend.

Orienteering wasn’t restricted to the forest though. I went to a Wessex Night League event around Marchwood, and the club’s monthly MapRun events were still a regular feature. We put on January’s event in Eastleigh on what was a particularly damp evening. February brought a fiendish course around Badger Farm and Oliver’s Battery in Winchester with the added bonus that, with the children away for half term, both Christine and I could stay to the pub afterwards. Sadly their absence also meant an opportunity for me to redecorate the bathroom including my first, and hopefully last, attempt at plastering a ceiling!

There was a railway theme to this period, starting with a trip to the Signal Box in Romsey. We’ve probably passed the entrance road hundreds of times but never been in. It was actually quite fun and we whiled away an hour or more there. A week later, we went to the Southampton Model Railway Exhibition at Barton Peveril College. There were lots of grey-haired men in evidence but both the children enjoyed themselves. It then wasn’t long before Duncan had purchased himself some track on eBay to supplement the small loop he’d got for Christmas and we were fitting them to a large board, suitably sized to slide away under his bed.

March brought a couple of INSET days for Duncan. Christine took him to the BlueReef aquarium on one, I took him for a bike ride in the New Forest on the other. At least, it was a bike ride for Duncan. My rear derailleur snapped part way round and I ended up jogging along pushing my bike for about 5k until we got back to Lyndhurst where the bike shop shortened my chain. Having filled up on cake in one of Lyndhurst’s many tea shops, we then set off back to Ashurst to catch the train home. Certainly an adventure!

That weekend, we headed to Monmouth and this was the first indication in my diary of what was to come: “have to be on our best behaviour hygiene wise”. Covid-19 had hit the news and Christine’s Mum, who has an immunosuppressive disease, was potentially particularly vulnerable. We had a lovely, if blustery, walk up Sugar Loaf on Saturday and went to the CompassSport Cup event near Gloucester on our way home, where SOC qualified for the final.

The following day, the government announced that non-essential travel should be avoided at which point the JK and British Champs were cancelled. Two days later, it was announced that schools would close at the end of the week. Priority for online shopping being given to the elderly and vulnerable, I joined the long queues at the supermarket one morning to be greeted with shelves empty of staples (the stockpiling of toilet paper was to become a national joke). At the end of that week, we went to the library to discover it had closed the day before. That weekend, we went for a walk and a cycle ride – what were to become staples for the months to follow.

Home schooling started the next week. Emma was well-catered for with her secondary school continuing a regular timetable over Microsoft Teams. Duncan, meanwhile, was sent a few suggestions of things to do and left to get on with it. Another tradition of lockdown was born: a morning lesson over FaceTime with Granny Sue.

Perhaps the hardest part for us was the mandate that people could only go out once a day for exercise which often meant a choice between a walk with the children or a run. Running with the children zooming along on scooters was one solution. Cycling together with the children also became much more appealing as the roads were largely empty of cars. At least the weather was smiling on us and we were certainly grateful to have a garden in which to enjoy break times.

And we’re back!

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

From time-to-time, I feel the urge to write a blog post on something and then I realise that there’s this gaping void since I last wrote anything (16 months) for which it would be remiss not to say anything given all that has happened. So, the next few posts will be a whistle-stop tour of that gap, hopefully, followed by some more regular posting. The advantage of going back over a year is that I get to relive life pre the big ‘C’ (that’s Covid, not Cancer, for those looking back at some point in the future when hopefully this is all but a distant memory).

So what happened between Duncan’s birthday and the end of 2019? There was lots of outdoor activity, starting with Christine running the Clarendon Marathon. I did a couple of the CC6 cross-country events, as well as two Hants XC League races. The one at Sparsholt college was a particularly good mudbath! I was also continuing to run the monthly Strava challenges set by my ex-colleagues at IBM and returning to Hursley every other Wednesday to either run or marshall the fit52 5k events.

On the orienteering front, I planned an event at Fritham which was well attended despite the atrocious weather. After hanging controls, the rest of the family disappeared to get the car MOT’d as we’d discovered the night before that it had expired! I managed to leave one of the controls out in the forest but thankfully was back there a couple of days later for a Tuesday evening run and could retrieve it.

During half-term, we all went along to a Military League South event at Roundhill. It was the November Classic at the end of that week and I had the fun job of parking cars in an area that we were sharing with Totton RC’s Stinger race. It seemed to work okay although I then had a terrible run on Bramshaw. Emma was meant to attend an O-Camp at Burley Youth Hostel that weekend but it ended up being only a single night due to more bad weather.

We also managed another club event at Kings Garn Gutter and the British Schools Orienteering Champs near Slough where both children had good runs. SOC was also having monthly MapRun events taking us to Winchester, Romsey, and Southampton.

Music was another theme with Christine performing in two Thornden Community Wind Band concerts, Duncan taking his Grade 3 recorder exam, and Emma appeared in a school concert singing and playing the violin and recorder (not all at once). Not sure what my contribution to this them was!

On the work front, I had two overseas trips. An internal meeting in Raleigh (again) and then I was on booth duty at our DevOps World event in Lisbon (a first visit to Portugal for me). I was interviewed for, and offered, a job which would have seen me return to an office location. After much soul searching and discussion with my current management, I decided to turn the offer down but it did precipitate my move into a tech lead role at CloudBees.

Indirectly related to work, I gave one of Christine’s lectures on “Databases and SQL”, a subject that has been occupying a disproportionate amount of my time. I also helped out at a Code Retreat back at IBM which was good fun. I made a last-minute decision to go to the London Java Community’s Unconference. I almost didn’t make it when my key got stuck in my bike lock at the station but, with some WD40 courtesy of SW Trains, I was on my way again. There were some good sessions as well as providing an opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

Despite many an hour spent completing Advent of Code (in Python this year), there was still time for some socialising in the run-up to Christmas starting with the CloudBees Whitely Christmas meal. The “Run the Pubs” tradition continued, albeit with less running and fewer pubs! It was also our turn to host a group of friends for pre-Christmas drinks. We’d just about recovered from that before disappearing to Monmouth for Christmas itself. We then made a trip across to my parents before New Year which was to prove to be the last time we’d see them face-to-face for over a year…

Double-Digit Duncan

Saturday, October 5th, 2019

This year marks the end of an era as we now no longer have any children with ages in single digits! Duncan’s birthday was on a school day so was a fairly quiet affair (although this year we did, at least, remember that he was entitled to wear non-uniform). He’ll also have to wait several weeks for his party due to the lack of anything suitable on at the cinema (or at least that’s the excuse we’re using).

Druidic Rave

Thursday, September 5th, 2019

The children weren’t back at school until Thursday and, as we still have time left on our English Heritage membership, we decided to head to Stonehenge for a visit. I admit that this was largely for my benefit. The children have both been there on school trips. I, on the other hand, just have childhood memories of looking at the stones through the 6ft fence from the road when we stopped at the car park for lunch on our way to holiday in Bournemouth!

Although the road has now been diverted, you can still stand at that same point without paying a penny. The fence has been reduced to 3 feet high but there’s a burly security guard to ensure that no-one takes advantage of this! As a paying guest, you get closer to the stones although you’ll have to come on the solstice or one of the small group tours to actually get amongst them.

The car park has now relocated to ~1 mile away and is adjacent to the shiny new exhibition centre. We decided to walk from there to the stones rather than take the shuttle bus. Unfortunately, more than three-quarters of the exhibition centre is given over to the shop, cafe and toilets, which means what remains feels rather cramped. As with the audio tour, the exhibition struggles with the fact that no-one really knows why Stonehenge is there and probably never will. As impressive as it is, I left thinking “but look what the Egyptians were doing at the same time”!

Oh, and what of the “Druidic Rave”? An anagram of my name!

Camping Capers

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

On the Bank Holiday Monday we continued on to Gower where we were booked in to camp at Pitton Cross. Admittedly it was not our first choice but, at least in the camping field away from the electric hookups, it was a pleasant enough site. On arrival, we wasted no time in checking out the footpaths that led down to the nearest rocky cove, less than a mile away.

The next morning, we made the slightly longer trek to Mewslade Bay. It was pretty quiet when we arrived but filled up as the day went on. As is my want, I didn’t make it in over my knees but the water must have been fairly warm as the others spurned their wetsuits when bodyboarding. As high tide approached, the sand almost disappears completely and we were almost the last ones off the beach. The day was rounded off with a lovely meal with friends over in Oxwhich.

Wednesday was forecast to be wet and it didn’t disappoint. I did quite a lot of reading whilst Christine and the children dodged the showers with a walk to Rhossili. The sun re-emerged in the evening when we went over to Port Eynon, picking up fish and chips on our way back to the tent. We then copied our neighbours as they tried out their frisbee and then kite.

The sun was out again on Thursday although the blustery wind made us think twice about our planned trip over the causeway to Worm’s Head. It was fine though and the lush green grass on the island contrasted beautifully against the blue skies and water. As I set off for a run over Rhossili Down, Emma was heading down to the beach for more bodyboarding. Duncan was less keen. Perhaps not surprising when we later discovered that we’ve mistakenly given his younger cousin the wetsuit he wore earlier in the summer and were trying to shoehorn him into the smaller version. He also caught a glancing blow from a bodyboard flapping about in the wind which didn’t improve matters! Nothing that couldn’t be resolved with tea and cake though.

With the wind set to continue through the night, for the second time this summer we decided to pack up our tent that evening and head home. For myself and the children, it wasn’t an end to our camping though. We joined friends for our annual ‘Dad’s camping’ night on Saturday. This year we spurned the New Forest and stayed at Holden Farm on the South Downs. The site facilities were flawless although the grass was a little long where we were in the overflow field.

We made the short walk to the Flower Pots Inn in Cheriton, only to find it closed for the afternoon. As the heavens opened, they took pity on us and supplied beer as we (and others) sheltered in the marquee. When the sun came back, we returned to the campsite for the traditional BBQ. The Dads didn’t manage to stay up much longer than the kids as, having failed to book a firepit, the temperature plummetted as darkness fell. It was also only in the dark that you became acutely aware of how loud the traffic on the A272 was. It’s still a lovely location though and I’m sure we shall be back.

More photos from Gower over on Flickr.