OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomeone visiting our garden recently may have commented on my presence half way up a sycamore tree, and wonder what possessed me to climb up there.

The reason was an urgent need to make some candlesticks.

Obviously.

Being a carpenter, it turns out, makes you first port of call for anyone wanting anything vaguely creative to do with wood. I’m very happy with this as I really like giving people a hand made gift that will last them a good long time. On this occasion someone asked me to make candlesticks for the tables at her wedding reception.

Unfortunately she asked me the day after I ‘tidied up’ all the suitable branches that had fallen over winter.

After much searching I found a sycamore tree lurking at the bottom of the garden. In the distant past someone obviously took offence to this tree and cut it down, whereupon it went feral, fired off branches in half a dozen directions and ate the fence. In a blatant disregard for the boundaries set by civilised society, it was now growing through the fence, partly in our garden and partly in the overgrown pathway between our garden and the one down the hill.

Therefore it is our tree. sort of.

The first attempt to remove one of the more accessible branches resulted in it falling into the neighbours garden. Fortunately no-one was in, and no damage was done so I dragged the remains into our garden and dismembered it.

For attempt two I cleared a way to the branches over our garden and went to work with my swede saw. This made it about a third of the way into the branch, and promptly got stuck. Being pessimistic, I’d prepared for this and brought a rope. Of course I hadn’t actually tied it to the tree  but that was a minor detail and easily rectified.

Thus I was now to be found halfway up a tree.

Getting down was easy enough, Getting down without landing on my backside in a bed of nettles less so but I managed it with minimal stings. I went and pulled the rope. The saw fell out of the tree. I went and cut a bit deeper until the saw jammed again and repeated the exercise a couple of times until there was a creaking noise and the whole fell down.

It was at this point that I realised it is always to good to have a rope longer than the branch you are cutting, or an escape route.

The bruises will have gone down by the wedding…

After we passed Eldest Son’s previous bike to his brother we noticed the brakes had the stopping power of a damp sponge. On closer inspection it turned out that it was because they were worn down almost to the metal, so Eldest Son and I took an hour or so to sort the problem out. I always found practical things like fixing bikes a very mysterious thing and never really felt confident to try and I want the boys to feel much more confident in this sort of area.

Eldest Son was understandably nervous about making a mistake that could result in his brother ending up in a pile at the bottom of a local hill, but after I assured him that I’d be with him as he fitted the brakes and that I’d also check the brakes after he’d finished and make sure they were safe and tight he was happy to have a go. As he started it occured to me that a few short years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to adjust my own brakes, let alone be the person who checked someone else’s bike.

Judging by the speed with which by Eldest Son sorted the brakes out, I don’t think I’ll be getting much practice in the future either.

I am currently obsessively cutting wood joins in preparation for the end of year exam or the collapse of civilisation as we know it, whichever comes sooner. The exam is in two weeks so that is the main focus for now. I’m getting better, slowly.

Dovetails aren’t used much  in modern carpentry, as the industry is based on machines making semi-disposable chipboard furniture which can be put together in a few hours, and will be replaced in a matter of years*, so anyone practicing traditional woodwork is considered pretty strange. I can live with that.

When I’m not practicing woodwork I’m spending a fair bit of time doing maths equations which will form most of the theory exam. We won’t use those much after college either.

Still, it keeps the system going…

*and is full of formaldehyde.

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The kind people in charge of the carpentry department gave me permission to park in their delivery bay, so I can take my Xtracycle to college and know it is safe all day, albeit lightly coated in sawdust by the afternoon.

They think I’m very strange, but harmless, or maybe they feel sorry for me for being ‘too poor’ to own a car. I, on the other hand, spend the last hour or so of college dreaming of the ride home.

Today was a particularly stressful day with a modular test all afternoon which I may or may not have passed, and much time trying to understand maths equations. Knowing that this is what came afterwards made it bearable.

The logistics of getting this workbench into this room required half a dozen elements to be in the right place at the right time, including, but not limited to a van, a good friend willing to haul a forty kilo lump of beechwood and steel into the van and put up with my driving, in return for having his bike fixed…

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…a patient previous owner who was willing for me to scrape together the money and get my backside into gear to collect, instead of just putting the workbench on Ebay (where he could have got a much higher price), and some very kind people who have allowed me to make a mess in their former bakery until the end of the apprenticeship without demanding rent.

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Bakfiets demonstrating yet another advantage of bicycles for those of a lazy disposition: no need to carry stuff from the door to the workbench.

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In theory this is a practice space to get ready for exams. Except that with three boys, there are far more interesting things to do than just make dovetail joins, especially when mum has a birthday coming up, and there is the possibility of making presents.

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I can always do the dovetails after the present is finished.

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Hopefully. If I’m allowed to.

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We’ve got a long weekend, four days long to be exact. I need it as the Very Smallholding was getting seriously over grown and there’s only so much I can do with a couple of days a week and a scythe. Above is the Xtracycle in the ‘parking space’ by the road. When you need a scythe to clear the parking space the vegetation is getting out of hand.

However a couple of hours work and things are not exactly under control but at least not threatening the neighbours pristine lawns anymore.

Meanwhile, we’ve managed to make another big step forwards which involved your correspondent driving a van all morning, very stressful but worth it for the long-term benefits.

Will bore you about it all as soon as I’ve recovered.

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Middle Son watching a tram pass near our village. There are a lot of routes all around Stuttgart using these serving the local towns (unfortunately not including ours). According to Wikipedia the trams are 3.7m high, 2.6m wide, and 38m long. They are, as you can see, bright yellow and have headlights, indicators and rear lights, and being rail vehicles they tend to follow the same route every time they pass. You will notice the crossing is protected with lights and signs.

So, I’m wondering, how do you manage to drive a car into or in front of one, or otherwise cause a collision?

Apparently drivers in Stuttgart manage this several times a year, and last month one managed to get tangled up with a tram on a straight road in broad daylight. I happen to know because I was waiting for said tram to come and pick me up so I could go home. Nothing happened for about half an hour, whereupon I gave up, walked to the railway station and caught the train instead. I appreciate that having the choice of tram or train, a service that runs more than once an hour* and a ticket I can use on both, marks me out as spoiled and I should be ashamed of myself, but I’m still wondering.

It turns out that a driver on a straight road parallel to the tramlines simply turned onto a crossing a couple of metres in front of the tram. As the car weighed about 1.5t and the tram is 55 tonnes empty, plus passengers, the car came off rather worse out of the situation.

This is why I don’t bother with reflective high-visibility clothes: if there are drivers out there unable to spot a massive yellow box full of lights, I don’t see that making myself look like an isotope is going to help very much.

*or once a day/week/month, delete as applicable.

 

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This is the ‘Wangerhof’, which marks the half way point between our village and the college I attend. If I’d used a better camera and had better light, you would be able to see, ten kilometres in the distance on the right, the spire from the village church poking above the skyline, and to the left, the hills near the town I’m aiming for. What isn’t as obvious is that this also marks the end of significant hills on the way in: from here it is mostly flat or downhill, with a very gentle climb towards the end of the ride.

Notice highly professional green rubbish bags to waterproof luggage, a trick I learned working in Nepal where bags were often carried on the roof of taxis in monsoon season. Having spent upwards of eight hours on some of my drawings I’m not about to let them get all soggy before I hand them in.

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We get our seed potatoes from a small farm shop in the next town which is 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, rather smugly in this case because crows don’t have to go down into the valley and up out the other side like we do. Or carry twenty kilos of spuddies back for that matter.

Eldest Son rode with me for the first time on this route, having discovered that with a grown-up bike that has better quality parts, hills are a lot easier to climb. He’s now of an age where he legally has to use the road, so I’m taking him out as much as I can to get some traffic experience, and as the next town was recently rebuilt to make sure cars had even more space to go as fast as they wanted, including a section of one way system, where better to learn?

I carefully navigated a way through back streets which brought us out right next to the farm shop without touching the main road at all, except that the shop had moved, meaning we had to ride the length of the town on the recently rebuilt road, but Eldest Son dealt with the situation very well, and I’m sure the large SUV behind us on the very narrow one way system was tooting encouragement.

Potatoes loaded at the farm shop with an explanation of the reason for the move (Someone bought the premises and they’re making a high-end office furniture showroom: “Just what a small community needs” as the person measuring our potatoes remarked.) and we were off back home, with Eldest Son happily negotiating the rest of the one way system.

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In the valley with Xtracycle full of potatoes.

The real challenge came on the way to our village which is at the top of a 1-in-4 (25%) hill (You can see the hill in the top picture although even that frankly doesn’t do it justice). The Xtracycle went up it very well, my legs less so. Eldest Son was kind enough to wait for me by a bench so I could collapse for a bit, before continuing home for tea and medals, or in my case, to transfer the potatoes into the Bakfiets to shift them to the garden.

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After getting its fifteen minutes of fame a couple of weeks ago, the Bakfiets is now back doing the usual job, carrying 20kg of seed potatoes, 1 kilo of onions, some shopping bags for shopping in the next village, several pieces of very beautiful wood that is apparently uneconomical to work with and therefore fit only for burning unless I took it out of the workshop, three bags of rather smelly compost, a candle and a ‘rubble bucket’ How long before the poor thing gets as filthy as before? I reckon a week.

For those interested the seed potatoes are half earlies and half lates, we are supposed to plant after May the 20th  here because the climate can still throw a wobbly and freeze before then, so I’m not too late this year. As usual I read the label showing the variety very carefully and promptly forgot it before I’d left the shop.

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