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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 obviously 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.

Suddenly it is the end of year two at college, so we had an exam. The system of putting everyone in a room and telling them to make something perfectly in seven hours because their whole future depends on it still seems very odd to me, but what do I know?

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This isn’t the exam: it’s what happens when you get too enthusiastic with a hand plane and have to add an extra piece of wood to make up the difference. That long piece of wood is the replacement for 2mm that I took off by mistake: but for that lack of attention I could have started the next step on making a box. I’m choosing to see this as ‘character building’. Or something.

Anyway, the carpentry is now closed for three weeks and we’re off to the UK, which is always an interesting experience. I will have to get used to offering pounds in shops and looking to the right when I cross the road. We’re going by train which can be fantastic or stressful depending on how well the German and French railways, Eurostar and whoever is currently running trains to York  have got their act together. On previous occasions we’ve been through Brussels but this time we will catch a direct TGV to Paris, where we have to make our way from Paris Est station to Paris Nord without getting lost.

As the two stations are a few hundred metres apart and each the size of a cathedral, that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, but if you don’t hear from me in the next week, you know where to start looking.

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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