A lot of things are happening, or about to happen: Not all are relevant to a blog about cycling and trying to live simply, but they’ll probably have affect my blogging so I’m going so I thought I’d tell my loyal reader in advance.

Number one is that as of last week, the end of my carpentry apprenticeship moved from June of next year to the end of January. I finished the paperwork just in time, actually a bit too late but as it was the college who made the suggestion they pulled a few strings and persuaded the trade guilds to agree.

After I’d signed the paperwork I looked at a calender and realised that  my final exams are now in three weeks. And I need to know the stuff that I’ll not be taught in the third year. Thankfully I’m still ‘off sick’ so I can focus on revising.

There are various reasons for this, one of which is a lot more exciting. I’ll talk about that at some point, as soon as I’ve done some revision…


Having gone through a saga of getting hold of some wood, it is a little ironic that I finally achieved this while signed off as ‘unable to work’, even if the point of stubbornly learning to use hand tools is that I can be insufferably smug while making stuff without needing large and expensive machines.

It is, however, rather difficult to look insufferably smug while trying to cut a 240cm (7 ft 10 inch) long slab of pine by hand, and by the time I was finishing the third cut -you’d think two cuts would do but not for me: I had to go and cut in the wrong place and thus make the cut three times- the last vestiges of smugness were gone, along with the use of my knees. “Why knees?” I hear no-one cry: it’s because I’m using a Japanese saw, which cuts on the pull, so you have to be kneeling above the wood. I really need to sharpen my western rip saw.

Some smugness returned when I realised I’d at least managed to cut the wood vaguely straight, so it should be fairly simple to plane it to width next week.

Or when my arms work again, at least.

Youngest Son’s bed broke. We aren’t sure how this happened, but one side managed to split lengthways, so it would require a replacement. For this I needed to get some wood.

As I work at a carpenters I figured this would be simple enough. I placed an order with my employer, and waited. And waited a bit more. After several weeks of prompting he finally told me the order was ‘too small’ and it would have to wait until a customer came along who wanted rather more of the same wood type. As the company I work for mainly uses chipboard, I couldn’t see this happening soon, so I asked around at college and was sent to the local wood wholesaler. Problem solved

Except that the German wood wholesalers association have decided not to sell wood to private customers because they can’t be bothered.

Back to college. My colleague told me to just go to the wholesaler and ask nicely.

So we went to visit the wholesaler.

The wholesaler had a good laugh at customer making stupidly small order, then took us through the depths of the wood yard to the ‘offcuts’ section, where we could found two pieces of wood. The smaller piece could be carried out, the bigger one would require a forklift. To get the forklift in, they would have to first move a truck. The two vehicles required different drivers. This would double the price.

We took the small piece.

An assistant cut the small piece to length and we squeezed it in a friends trailer. I am now the owner of one chunk of tree, with bark. All I have to do is make it fit into the existing bed.

Long term readers of this blog will not be surprised to find that this isn’t turning out to be simple…

I’m signed off work for a couple of weeks. It’s nothing serious (ie: It won’t stop me riding a bike/doing woodwork/gardening, and it’ll go away eventually), and it gives me time to do more important things. I had a half-baked plan to go on a bike ride before the Weather Department notices its Autumn and orders in a load of soggy cold weather, but what with rushing about to doctor’s appointments like an old aged pensioner, preparing for my final carpentry course project, updating my CV, applying to different places of work, and doing coursework assignments (can’t get out of those even if I am off sick), the days are getting eaten up pretty fast.

On the other hand I get to spend time with the boys. I’m reading stories, playing board games and encouraging them to be creative, something that the German school system is frankly pretty rubbish at doing

I have managed to dig over most of the garden beds of grass and celandine which took the removal of brambles as an invitation to colonise the place, and some kind friends came along with a monster strimmer and laid waste to the vegetation on the boundaries of the garden.

The only problem is that our camera is dying and although we have a replacement it technically was a birthday present for my Beautiful Wife who has banned me from carrying it on bike rides or out to the garden on the quite reasonable basis that I’ll probably lose it, so until we reach a negotiated settlement there may be a lack of pictures on the blog.


So here’s the exam piece from the end of last year in the carpentry apprenticeship, brought back with five minutes notice last week as it was that or let the college use it for firewood. Thank goodness for Xtracycles.

The almost identical step behind is from a mock exam in late 2013. We were not supposed to have the same assignment twice but last years exam was a very unofficial internal one using an old paper from the trade guilds, and the guilds happened to use the same assignment this time around. Our tutor unveiled the design with a meaningful look and we all kept a straight face.

This year I refrained from drilling a line of holes in entirely the wrong place, managed to saw the dovetails so they fitted with minimal filling of gaps with sawdust and glue and managed to finish on time to boot. Strangely despite this being better than the previous attempt, and about four hours faster, I still ended up with a lower grade. I think this was because I’d gone and learned several non-guild-approved methods for some stages of the work and the examiners were concerned that I was showing dangerous levels of initiative.

On the other hand I managed to get a fairly good grade in the multiple choice theory exam despite failing to understand several questions and simply circling answers at random.

Less than a year to go, thank goodness.


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.


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…




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.


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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