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People who hear I cycle to college often react with surprise and imply that I’m incredibly hardcore but I honestly don’t see it as a big deal: the ride is only 20 kilometres (12 miles) one way, and I get to sit down in a warm classroom all day before pootling back: essentially I get to have two short bike tours with a day at college inbetween. Besides, so far I’ve seen deer, rabbits, kestrels, red kites, buzzards, lots of smaller birds I’m gradually getting to know, and last week a fox ambled across the road as I went through a forest.

It helps that I only have to do it once or twice a week: I think I’d see it differently if I was riding every day.

The photo is on a new section of the route: I had to change because one of the towns I went through has closed a main road to lay a new sewage pipe and decided the cycle way is much more useful as a diversion for the Very Important Drivers rushing to the autobahn, and I don’t feel like dealing with stressed drivers trying to control their car and use their navigator while drinking coffee at half past six in the morning.

I did wonder about writing to the council and pointing out that by pushing cyclists like me out of the town, it means we can’t stop and spend money in their supermarkets as we pass,  but then I remembered I’m too miserly to do that anyway, and besides the new route has views like this and no traffic whatsoever, so I didn’t bother.

So the end of the carpentry apprenticeship is just around the corner: exams in May, final project a few weeks later, and the question I keep getting asked is “What will you do afterwards?”

I don’t know what I’m doing next Saturday. Next year is a bit ambitious.

The local expectation is that I’ll get a job as a carpenter, start a savings account as a down payment on a house, and patiently push chipboard into a machine for the next forty years or so. Assuming that infinite growth is possible on a finite planet, and the bottom doesn’t fall out of the financial industry again, the reward for this monotonous plodding will be a suburban box and retirement at about 75.

Stuff that for a game of soldiers.

As well as not being very enthusiastic about the whole chipboard-and-machines carpentry, I’m not really that good at it: the sort of work I’ve been doing for the last couple of years requires me to be very methodical and mathematical, two words that came up frequently in my school report, as in: “Andy isn’t methodical and for goodness sakes don’t ask him to do any maths.” Maths for me is a creative process: the answer I come up with is far removed from what the teacher writes on the board.

On the other hand, carpentry is a broad field and I’ve got a degree in theatre studies and ten years experience doing all kinds of theatery things from set building to acting. There’s also a lot of big theatres nearby.

I’ll start there and see what happens.

There is a long term dream as well, but I’m too tired to go into it now and you’re probably bored already.

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One thing you can say for the french: they know how to make an impressive railway station.

It would have been even better if Eurostar had managed to get our train into the station on time, but I’m not going to complain too much as the late arrival in Paris Nord was due to a genuine medical emergency.

Unfortunately this also gave us fifteen minutes to get to Paris Est to catch the train to Stuttgart, and Paris Est was twenty minutes away. This nearly caused another medical emergency as we tried to get the family and three wheely suitcases through central Paris.

Our train was in the platform and due to depart in four minutes and just to make it more fun the Stuttgart section of the train was at the other end. And we were in the end coach. And the doors are locked two minutes before the trains leave.

We made it though. And we were able breathe normally by the time we reached Strasbourg…

 

 

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Fountains Abbey, once a centre of learning, then a rather large garden ornament in a formal garden made by John Aislabie (1670 – 1742) , now part of the Studley Royal Park  which we visited with the boys last week.

Our boys are what the Brits and Americans would call “Free range”. In Germany this is called ‘normal': they cross the village alone to go to school, see friends, and return when they are bored/hungry/broke something. Eldest goes to school on the other side of the city, which involves riding a bus and a tram every day, on his own, so when we went to  Fountains Abbey they decided to do a treasure hunt with their usual enthusiasm.

And promptly vanished, somewhere in the 323 hectare (800 acre) estate.

After walking the length of the place three times and mindful that it was getting dark -and more importantly, this is a world heritage site and we’re liable if the boys break anything- we asked the staff of the park to keep an eye open, which they duly did, bless them. The boys were found soon after, walking back to the gate after finding the last clue. Of course, yours truly was at the far end of the estate by this time, and so they then came to find me, and get us all back together again. The boys all got ice cream from Grandma.

Heroic rescuer was happy to sit down and used the excuse that I was researching the history of the place, so here it is…

John Aislabie was quite a ‘character’ defining ‘character’ as “Lying corrupt toff who sells his principles to the highest bidder”. He went from being rich to very rich on the basis of the South Sea Company, which specialised in slaves, government debt and dodgy deals, all ‘backed’ by a slightly illegal bank and in cahoots with the government, the king and the kings girlfriend. Aislabie was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and took bribes to persuade the government to allow the formation of the company, so when the ‘South Sea Bubble’ inevitably collapsed causing hundreds of thousands of people to lose all they had and get stuck in debt, he wasn’t terribly popular.

Aislabie was found guilty of the “most notorious, dangerous and infamous corruption”: by the the House of Commons: being called a very, very, corrupt person by politicians must have hurt. There was a serious suggestion that the bankers should all be tied up in a sack full of snakes and thrown into the Thames but the river was filthy enough as it was, so Aislabie was imprisoned in the tower of London (don’t feel sorry for him: it was a nice snug apartment) then sent back home for being a naughty boy, where he showed his remorse by building the water gardens and introducing landscape gardening to England. He died at 72 and his son managed to scrape enough together to buy the Abbey soon after as a garden ornament.

I’m sure all the thousands of slaves and bankrupted investors must have felt it was all worthwhile.

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More wandering about in York. Part of the waterfront before the tour boats start churning the water up. The building on the extreme right is a pub which flooded so often it ceased to be a niusance and became a part of the attraction.

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There was some sort of cycling event recently in York, and one of the ways the area celebrated was by hanging lots of yellow bikes off the sides of buildings. This one is one of my favourites, hanging on ‘a pub for grown-ups’ in the city centre.

 

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The Shambles in York. Ghost town like appearance is because sensible people are still in bed.

Later in the day the tourists will come out and cycling is not allowed, although you can barely walk down here during the day, let alone cycle.

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The Millennium bridge in York, part of the city of York orbital cycle route which I’ve been using a lot in the last few days.

The white arrows at the bottom of the picture are three speed bumps. This is essential to stop anyone riding too fast off the bridge and along the straight, wide cycleways on either side. Presumably this important safety feature will soon be added to all road bridges.

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I have no self discipline whatsoever.

In theory, I’m on holiday and therefore have time to write deep insigtful blog entries. In practice this isn’t happening, because I’m in York.

In the las few years the local government of York have built up a network of cycle routes around the city, and the combination of signposted cycling, lack of hills and a beautiful centre has rather gone to my head.

I have loads to write about and I will write again, soon, honest.

So, we made it to the UK without missing a train or getting stuck in the Paris suburbs, and I’m trying to get used to the place. Considering I grew up here that’s a surprisingly complicated process.

So far, We’ve remembered that because vehicles drive on the left you need to get onto the bus on the left hand side. It is therefore pointless to wait at the bus stop on the right-hand side of the road. Fortunately Eldest Son was a bit more awake than me this morning and diverted us all to the correct stop before the bus came.

Further adventures, and hopefully more coherent blog entries to follow.

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