Category Archives: Playing

Mind that first step

I’d promised the children a bit of a treat after we had needed to reschedule a visit to a local adventure park recently. But what to do?

It seems there are plenty of options for ‘family’ entertainment nowadays, but I was conscious of their need for some adrenaline fuelled adventure, having cancelled jumps down water chutes, vertical descent slides and log flumes, so what better than to take them all to one of the many indoor skydiving centres which has sprung up around the UK.

The idea here is that a wind tunnel is built to provide a vertical column of air into which the individual ‘falls’, the premise being that the speed of the air rushing up at terminal velocity provides enough pressure to allow the body to remain in equilibrium against the inexorable force of gravity. Sounds simple, hey?

Continue reading Mind that first step

The Grizzly Death of the Frozen Mouse

When you have children, it is nothing, if not informative!

Joshua, our eldest, is 11 and animal mad. He had been begging us for ages to allow him to get a reptile of some sort and while happy to do this, the initial expense of setting up was deferred to a birthday / Christmas present. This also gave him the opportunity to firm up on a decision as to what he actually wanted to get.

Having been through chameleons and geckos, and a variety of other scaly, legged creatures he eventually decided on a snake of some sort and after a lot of research which we insisted that he did, he settled on a corn snake as they are quite ‘sociable’ animals and have quite a lot of character – apparently πŸ˜‰

As luck would have it, there is a reptile centre no more than 5 miles or so away, so before Christmas we visited and obtained all the kit he needed, so that he could set it up for his birthday, which he duly did, taking much care over the positioning of the lamp, substrate and log which we hoped would provide his new friend with a nice environment in which to live. After we came back from holiday we went back to the shop and he came out as the proud owner of lilac corn snake.

They are definitely animals full of character as the assistant in the shop informed us; Joshua’s snake, Casian (kay-sian), is more than happy to be held and when it gets bigger will drape itself across your shoulders, should you give it the chance of course. Whenever it is brought out it is interested and sniffs the air constantly to build up a picture of its surroundings and despite only having been with us for less than a month, has already amazed us with its skin shedding and the piΓ¨ce_de_rΓ©sistance, eating a (previously) frozen mouse which seems unimaginably bigger than itself.

We have all heard stories of giant snakes in Africa swallowing buck, crocodiles and the occasional unlucky stray native villager, but to actually see this small juvenile snake devouring a mouse twice the thickness of its own body is a sight to behold.

Maybe next time I’ll try to get a video for YouTube πŸ™‚

Busy, but back

Oh my word. What have I been up to for the last few weeks?

Well, I’d love to say that I’d been off travelling to the far reaches of the globe, getting some runs in on exotic beaches while spending time afterwards sipping cocktails, or perhaps doing some philanthropic volunteer work in outlying regions of the third world where the Internet has yet to manage to infiltrate or perhaps just an intensive residential course learning new skills to help me bolster my CV, such as first dan sushi preparation, 17th century wig making for beginners, or perhaps something more practical like chainsaw juggling.

The truth, unfortunately and despite my Walter Mitty type delusions, is far more mundane.

Heavens Above

I have not only been busy at work, but I have also been concentrating solely on getting my training back on track. That and spending time completing a 1000 piece puzzle πŸ™‚

I have met my target mileage and quality of runs for the last five weeks, and so I now consider myself ‘back on track’. My mileage has been ramping up slowly, but my return to form has been conservative, to say the least, but nevertheless, here I am.

But what of the puzzle?

I have always loved puzzles, and just wanted to take some time out in the evenings to chill; so unfortunately the blogging has suffered. I was originally hoping that the pleasure of creating an ordered masterpiece from a jumbled mass of compressed paper had been passed through some part of the human genome to our children. I think the prospect of such a large challenge was a bit too daunting for them though, and only when there were about 30 pieces left did they descend vulture-like to assist in positioning the final gems in the crown πŸ˜‰ I am sure they will come round in the future, although it is difficult to see how I can convince them of the virtues of kneeling round a piece of hardboard with a plethora of interlocking cardboard, when I have to compete with the stimulation of all the electronic gadgetry they have nowadays!

Summer Fair

What a lot there was going on today!

I had my first long run for a few weeks planned this morning, even though the weather was looking to remain it’s recent inclement self, then we had the Pewley school fair from 12:00-2:00, while at the same time the British Grand Prix, the Men’s final at Wimbledon and the continuing tour de France which today had it’s first climbing finish.

My run was great, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the rain. It was incredibly muddy after the last few days, but I didn’t feel like sticking to the roads all the time, so ended up jumping around the puddles and mud along the canal and up through the trails over the downs again. Of course, the recent rain has a secondary effect as well; it makes everything grow and without the usual volume of walkers, ramblers, horses, cyclists and runners, the trails were somewhat overgrown. I spent a good kilometre running through waterlogged stinging nettles, which, because they were wet did not seem to sting, but interestingly for the rest of the day, I felt a strange sensation on the surface of the skin of my legs which I can only put down to my earlier encounter with nature.

I managed to get a few hills in and ended up doing a very slow 15 miles, without, it seems any adverse affects. Very promising, and if I can repeat this feat over the next couple of weeks, I will have a lot more confidence in my upcoming exploits.

Bouncy Castle

After the exercise, it was time for the fun, for the children at least πŸ™‚ They always get very excited about the summer fair, mainly because of the opportunity to go wild in their school grounds without the teachers chastising them! The other treats involve ‘jolly jars’ a guaranteed hit, which is a raffle for a jam jar of chewy sweets, lollipops, drops, chocolates and so on. Each one is different as they would have been put together by all of the parents and donated as part of the proceedings. We made four ourselves and put them into the pot, and the children invariably clammer to get to the Jolly Jar stall first thing to see if they can win the biggest. Unlike some of the other attractions, they are guaranteed to win something, so that always saves having to explain the virtues of gambling to 5 and 6 year olds (the elder children have learned that lesson already in their past years at the school of hard knocks.

They had great fun for a couple of hours running round a massive (swallow-up-20-children) bouncey castle, then watched a traditional Punch and Judy show for 30 minutes or so. After a visit to the bric-a-brac and the bottle tombola we were pretty much done

Of the other things going on today which I mentioned earlier, there was the British Grand Prix (which wasn’t won by a British driver) and the Wimbledon Men’s singles final (which wasn’t won by a British Player) but British pride was finally restored after Bradley Wiggins was 4th in the first climb finish stage on Day 8 of the Tour de France and took the overall yellow jersey!

The Wild Place

Today was another mixed day, mainly because I only worked half a day, then had the afternoon off to spend a couple of hours with Savannah at school.

American independence day had for some weeks had a greater significance for me, and my team at work, as a long planned internal governance committee meeting was planned to decide upon the priority of my larger projects for the rest of the year. Having provided all of the input I could feasibly achieve over the last few weeks, there was little point in me being around for the actual event (the discussion was not taking place at the level of mere mortals like me) so I did not feel guilty about taking the afternoon off with Savannah.

Indeed, it was probably the best distraction I could have arranged!

The original arrangement for the afternoon was to take the reception class to a site they refer to as ‘The Wild Place’ which perhaps conjures up images of overgrown forests and hard to reach coastal caves, but in reality it is a wooded area off the edge of some local allotments on the top of Pewley Down, close to the school. For 4-6 year old minds it is ‘wild’ and exciting though, being out of the classroom, and the teachers regularly have an excursion for them to explore nature, find bugs and generally let off some steam. Perfect πŸ™‚

Unfortunately, the place was closed due to a fallen tree, or something (I wonder if anyone saw that) so today’s energy expenditure involved a trek to the senior school, Holy Trinity, where they have a similar, but smaller, nature trail to explore.

I was paired up with Savannah, her friend Tew, and four other reception children who seemed to sense my apprehension, as the small impromptu groups were pointed off in various directions.

I’ve never seen children disappear so quickly 😯 and my attempts to corral my small group back into some semblance of unity was largely superfluous. Eventually, I calmed down a bit only to find them trying to descend the steepest, muddiest corner of the trail down to the skull cracking Tarmac below; my attempts to convince them of the virtues of the gentler slope to the side which “makes it a lot easier to get down” seemed destined to fall on deaf ears.

Once down to the Tarmac safely, they spotted the long jump sand pit (okay, we must be slightly off the nature trail by now) and of course this was one temptation too many. They all had a few goes at imitating Bob Beaman after I realised the sandpit had not become an impromptu quagmire after all the recent rain and then, my nightmare continued as they spotted the dipping pond!

I am quite familiar with our four children dipping into ponds and rock pools. In fact they will dip in any patch of water more than a feeler gauge in depth, but their curiosity is generally confined to the ecosystem of life forms contained within said volumes of water. I had not, however, really considered the approach other, shall we say, less naturalistically inclined children might take to a pond full of water. While half my group were interested to spot the water-boatmen, tadpoles and a few other types of water-nymphs, the other half decided to explore Archimedes’ Principle with a few badly positioned logs and tree stumps, while making waves on the surface which would have excited tsunami chasers from all around world, had they been present at the opportune moment. Still, no one fell in πŸ™‚

Finally, after a couple of pit-stops, we ended up at a play area; even this seemed a potential disaster scenario to me though, since we were at the senior school and the bars and climbing wall were, understandably, designed for children with a slightly longer reach, and slightly stronger fingers, arms and legs in general. Even a couple of the teachers had to keep reminding them they were not allowed to play on one particularly high climbing frame – so of course, you can imagine what they all wanted to play on.

The call to muster and start our return journey was a welcome relief after the stress of the last 90 minutes and I now have a newfound respect for junior school teachers πŸ™‚

Father’s Day

Father’s day today, but no let up with the training – albeit still cross-training at the moment.

I was not up too early this morning as the alarm was set for just before 6:30am, but it was a bright and light morning, so it was difficult not to get up anyway! This is about the time that the children get up (at the weekends) so they were already downstairs playing by the time I’d got all my bike clobber together and was ready to get out the door. I was better prepared this week, as we’d bought some gels while we were out yesterday and my supply of isotonic drink seems to be lasting forever (I bought that back in July 2010!)

I wanted to get a few extra miles in today, so had a plan to augment the beginning and end of my route from last week. This is easy to do, but mean that I am heading (ultimately) for a two circuit route around the hills of Guildford. I’ll have to think about that as I’m not that keen on loops. In the end it was easy enough to get 10k in at the start and a similar amount at the end, with another couple of hills for good measure as well, without too much difficulty.

I have noticed that a couple of the roads that I run and cycle on have yellow sign boards up, indicating they are to be closed at the end of July. Upon investigation, it turns out that they are to be used for the Olympic Cycle route. That should be quite exciting – since 100 mile ultramarathons are not yet an Olympic sport; maybe I should start a petition πŸ™‚ so I’ll have to see if there is a good place to watch from which is going to be accessible!

Still, back to reality and my 47 miles were done, but more to the point the uphills are great strengthening exercises for my quads and knee stability, which should hold me in good stead in a couple of months time. The distance and time was more than sufficient for me to feel I had earned my ‘Goodness Shakes’ today as well, which didn’t last long when I reached home.

The family returned home from church shortly after I had sorted out my ‘breakfast’ and showered.

We did another couple of additions to the you tube gallery before lunch, which Liz very kindly made for me for Father’s day; a traditional roast chicken with all the trimmings πŸ˜‰

These videos are a little bit more like something they used to do in ‘Vision On’ or ‘Take Hart’ for those of you that remember children’s television from the seventies, and there is not a Lego character in sight. The beauty of this type of thing is that they have as much fun making them as they do watching them again afterwards, with shouts of ‘Mummy, always watch me’ and shrieks of delight as they see what effect their movements had in the finished product.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voGHQVCJnpI&feature=youtube_gdata_player

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR5wI0ROsBM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The Court Movie Studio

There’s an App for that πŸ˜‰

I have tinkered with animation, as I suspect most people have in one way or another – flicking pages in the corner of a book, stop motion and even CGI ray tracing animations in the past, mainly just to experiment with the art form, not for any commercial or role based reasons – just for fun.

We did a time-lapse movie of the children a couple of years ago which was fun, but not entirely satisfactory from a ‘control’ point of view, so today I found an App for my iPhone and iPad which makes Stop-Motion animation so simple it is unbelievable, and they have therefore been having fun bringing their Lego characters to life all day.

So, without further ado, here are the results of our first day’s filming.

Morgan concentrated on a couple of figures ‘interacting’.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mk9fcy8lKhU&feature=plcp

The Joshua made his AT-AT skate across the table like Bambi on ice!

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCezDlowfXo&feature=plcp

Morgan’s Second attempt involved more character work – watch out for the yawn, the sigh of relief and the aggressive behaviour πŸ™‚

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tiAOP4Cw7c&feature=plcp

Luke did a very quick test

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQtrHeHudxI&feature=plcp

before getting involved with Morgan and Joshua on a couple of scenes

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRSQzEs8kdk&feature=plcp

Β And the finale….

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ounnZQ6dzCE&feature=plcp

Great fun was had by all and it is amazing how long they can be occupied when given constructive tasks like this to do! They spent hours planning, building and filming today. Lego is our saviour πŸ™‚

Hot and Cold

Another marathon training run today. Literally.

One of the best things about distance running is the joy and elation you can get from the first sip of juice when you are finished. Indeed, on a day like today, the anticipation while you are running is almost unbearable, but equally a strong motivational factor to get to the finish as fast as possible!

In the past I’ve occasionally been prepared enough to get in some ‘For Goodness Shakes’ for after a run. It is absolutely the perfect recovery drink (IMHO) as when cold, it will cool you down, quench your thirst and also has the right balance of carb / protein and a number of other essential vitamins and minerals which a body needs after running for 4 hours πŸ™‚

For Goodness Shakes

I had purchased a couple of these yesterday, and although I started out early (6:45) for a Sunday, the heat was building for the last part of my run so I was thankful of my prize in store.

I took the same route as the previous couple of weeks, through the small villages of the Surrey Hills, again playing with the cyclists round the back roads, seemingly another organised event with drink stops and photographers this time, before descending into West Clandon and West Horsley and looping back up through the ex-farm estates, now big-money mansions towards the top of the Downs. The normal finish, through Newlands, where there was the usual Sunday bikers meeting, with shiney chromed Harleys, Ducatis, Moto Guzzis and big engined Japanese bikes, as well as a smattering of Triumphs, old and new all proudly on display.

I was glad to be home, having completed another Marathon distance run and although disappointed in the speed, given the heat, and the fact i was wearing a backpack, I was not surprised.

The family were still at church when I got back, so I sat outside and downed my superberry shake πŸ™‚ nectar!

When the family returned a few minutes later, I had not progressed much further than a cup of sweet tea and a bowl of corn flakes (with ice cold milk!) but another cup of tea, when offered, was most welcome.

It was then that the children decided, again, that they wanted to take advantage of the heat and sample some of our less than plentiful supply of local aqua with a water fight. As luck would have it, anticipating such a situation yesterday, I had purchased another couple of pressure water pistols for them, which they were delighted with.

Water fights have come a long way since my day (here it comes… Children today, don’t know they’re born!), from the little hard plastic guns you’d be lucky if you got a couple of shots from, with massively inadequate range and even worse targeting capabilities, to today’s electrical and pressurised behemoths some with backpacks, all with a much greater capacity and ranges that Olympic javelin throwers would be happy with, all of which significantly enhances the soaking experience with the children; yes, I did join in πŸ™‚ purely for medical reasons, of course as I wanted to keep my legs moving and mobile, so what better way than to chase the children round the garden having a water fight πŸ˜‰

Savannah had a party in the afternoon to which she needed dropping off and picking up, but other than that the afternoon was really spent lazing about. Even the kittens spent most of the day on the window sill, immobile in the heat.

We finished the day off with a rather ill-timed (late, but promised) game of Cluedo, which took a touch longer as there was first-time rule explaining to go through with the children’s, and anyway having not played for upwards of twenty years, Liz, Colleen and myself all had to remember the gameplay as well! Savannah did not really catch on to the game, but the boys were very excited to think they might have murdered someone under their parents noses, with a variety of gruesome implements, and actually be able to get away with it 😯

In the end Colleen ‘won’ but Luke was the most excited as it was his character who turned out to have committed the crime.

Sleepovers, Ketchup and Kites

Morgan had had a sleep over with a very brave parent overnight, so after breakfast the first thing to do this morning was to pick him up. However, as we had a party to go to at 11am, to which all of the children were invited, and a present was still required, there was no time to really think first thing. The morning seemed to disappear into a haze of toy shopping, traffic jam frustration and children’s party entertainment – no surprise I relinquished the usual desire for a coffee to see me through the morning and I has a beer in my hand just before midday.

Liz has still been resting today and although she came along to the party, she was very tired by the end of things and so we had a quiet afternoon.

Well, Liz did, at least.

Barnstormer Bi-Plane Kite

Col was very kind to look after the children while they were making the most of the warm weather with a water fight outside on the front lawn, before trying some kite flying with the numerous kites we have around the house; for a full 3D biplane kite, to the normal box kite and seagull impersonations to a simple mini pocket kite. Ironically, the large biplane provided the most fun, but it’s ascension into the lower atmosphere was achieved largely through the motive force of our youngster’s legs rather than the movement of any air from one point to another. Plenty of energy expended. Tick!

Chicken satay for dinner was welcome, but Liz had a quick trip to the hospital to check out some ‘bruising’ around her groin.

Everything was fine with her though. It is apparently quiet normal to have bruising after the operation, given the ‘manipulation’ the surgeons carry out during the operation, and it is also quiet normal for the bruises to show up when any swelling goes down, but the visit was necessary to ensure her confidence in her recovery is increasing.

Strange Days

Some years ago I used to drive an hour to work, up the M3 from Basingstoke to Chertsey. It was during this period of my life after several cycles of seasons, holidays and society based calendar events, that I noticed that the roads became a lots clearer from the Easter holidays around March / April time, until the beginning of September, when the schools start their new year.

Clear Road Ahead?

It is logical, if you think about it, that people start taking their holidays at Easter and the average number of people ‘off’ at any one time increases towards the summer months (this being an unashamedly northern hemisphere based blog and hence observation, although I’ve no doubt a similar connection would be noticed in the southern hemisphere), culminating in the enforced absence period for school-aged children’s families for the six or so weeks from mid-July to the end of August.

The upshot of this is that the roads tend of be clearer during these months. Perhaps other mode specific effects come into play as well, such as the ability to drive faster during the lighter and clearer, better weather summer months, increasing the ‘flow’ through the arteries of our transportation network.

So, of course with Easter weekend over and the holiday week in full swing, I was reminded this morning of this effect and although the train / carriage I was in was still standing room only, when we arrive at our destination, the tubes were distinctly empty and as the timing was perfect, I practically walked straight onto the dreaded Waterloo and City line for short jaunt to Bank station.

Fantastic!

Tribbles, or over-zealous pom-pom production?

The office was a similarly changed space, with several of my team on holiday or ‘sick’ πŸ˜• so I’ll have to see how that progresses over the next few days.

I had left Liz and the children, and the kittens, this morning resting again, although I have no doubt it didn’t last long. The children have been allowed to play Skylanders again as that has occupied them during the holidays when we have needed to have a break as well, and there are only so many Pom-poms that four children can make with the floor space that we have available; think back to the final scene from one of the original ‘Star Trek’ episodes – ‘The trouble with Tribbles’ and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the way we are heading at the moment πŸ˜†

Still they seem to have occupied their day quite well, despite the variability of the weather – first thing this morning it was glorious blue skies, which, after the weekend was not only typical of a British Bank Holiday, but also caused innumerable people to bitch at work to me this morning. Presumably they were, however, happier that they were at work after it started to rain mid- morning and then again mid-afternoon.

Marathon des Sables

I managed to get down the gym briefly at lunchtime, but after yesterday’s long run I consigned my effort to some physio work with a brief warm-up and cool-down run. I followed my physio instructions and did leg extensions, leg curls, weighted squats and dynamic lunges. These are the exercises that seem to be working for me at the moment so I’m sticking with them. I’ve been thinking about adding core exercises to this set on a regular basis – I used to do pilates but haven’t been back since before Leadville – perhaps a bit of peer pressure from my readers is needed to get me to take the plunge back into my core training, since as with restarting every discipline, I know it will be difficult πŸ˜‰

The Marathon des Sables 2012 is underway at the moment and our friends Rory Coleman (#391) and Jen Salter (#521) are out there and have just completed the third stage. Jen is doing extremely well, and is currently the 4th woman in the race and 46th overall (out of over 1000 starters), which is absolutely incredible. They will be trying to get a good night’s rest this evening, in preparation for the feared ‘long’ day, where they may have to travel up to 85km across the heat of the Sahara desert.

Next year, God willing, that’ll be me 😎