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I have to start year two of the apprenticeship, so I’m in Germany while Beautiful Wife and the boys make another tour of relatives, and Tokyo Disneyland. The boys have five more days of being spoiled before they have to endure the 12 hour flight home.
We went out together as a family before we left for Japan. The speck in the distance is Middle Son: Eldest and Youngest were halfway home already.
Five more days…
At any given moment our local council are usually making a hole somewhere so it was inevitable that sooner or later I’d come across one on the way to college and back, but now they’ve excelled themselves and are turning several sections of the town into holes in the ground at once so we can all get a bit of the fun: riding home is currently a Tour de Road works.
One of these happens to be a main road towards Stuttgart, meaning that all those Very Important Drivers rushing into the city may be inconvenienced. This of course is a Bad Thing. The problem, as it was explained to me, is that people rushing through a village at slightly more than the speed limit are much more likely to stop and spend money at the local shops than people walking. Obviously*. Therefore we must be very, very, nice to the Very Important Drivers and not cause them to slow down or they may go away, in which case the village economy will collapse.
To avoid this there has been a no-expense-spared information campaign for the Very Important Drivers so they don’t get confused by the new signs or upset by having to go a tiny bit slower, with front-page newspaper articles showing detailed maps of the town and alternative routes, and massive information boards showing a very rough sketch of a broad tree-lined avenue with wide pavements and lots of pedestrians and busses, and just in case any Very Important Drivers get concerned at the amount of provision for Non-Motorists, an information panel making it clear that “The intention is not to reduce the number of cars travelling through the town”. Translation: “We wouldn’t dream of impeding your mighty progress, mister Very Important Driver. Sir”.
Just to make sure that the VID’s don’t get inconvenienced on their carefully signposted and mapped diversion route, the local bus is no longer allowed to stop there, because people in busses are, well, people in busses, and obviously cannot be allowed to delay cars.
In theory of course, this makes my life easier because I’m riding in the section of town where the diversion is in force, but what our local council forgot -possibly because they think it is still the 1970′s- that drivers have navigators in their cars now, and they very quickly worked out that the diversion wasn’t quite the shortest route around the closed road. Now, residential streets are full of big cars racing about, their drivers intensely focused on pressing the buttons on the little screen in front of them.
Having made it through all this I finally make it down the traffic free section of the way home on a Feldweg, a surfaced farm route open to bicycles and pedestrians, which suprise suprise, the council is also digging up with enthusiasm. Here’s how much warning we got:
That’s it: a fence across the road. Well, and a computer printed piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it a bit further back. Obviously there’s no point in spending money on anything more than that, as there are only non-motorists here.
After a lot of pressure the council grudgingly added a diversionary route. You can see it in the picture below. The contractors then made the hole bigger and dug the new path up again.
I think we can understand where non-motorists stand in our local councils list of priorities.
In this context, when a car came barreling past the “no motorised vehicles” sign at the end of the Feldweg, and bullied their way through the non-motorists all the way between the two villages, only to come to a grinding halt at the gap between the fence and a tree that non-motorists can squeeze through, I was very sympathetic and didn’t laugh. Much.
*Especially as there are very few people walking these days because it is so unpleasant with all the traffic, so we need to encourage the traffic to keep the shops open. Obviously.
Trying to keep three hyperactive boys occupied on weekends can be difficult: there is only so much imaginative fun to be gained from our garden.
One of our favourite alternative places is a local play area which thankfully has more than the usual swings and roundabouts, but things like towers to climb and trampolines to bounce on. It also has a big water play area where Youngest Son is turning a water wheel and hiding from the camera.
Meanwhile downstream, the older brothers are working on some serious water management and mud pie construction.
It’s exam season, so this week I spent a day and a half building a pine step as practice for my end of year exams.
Exams here are different to how I remember from school in the UK. For starters you can’t just go in and pick up your tools. The first 45 minutes you have to write out your plan for making the item in the drawing you’ve been given. Only after your plan is finished do you get your wood.
You are supposed to follow this plan, or at least try to look like you are following it. I failed, as mine didn’t have instructions like “Discover you drilled half the holes in the wrong place at the end of the first day, and there is no way you can get the thing to go together”. The next item on the list could have been “introduce your fellow students to a few new English words they certainly didn’t learn at school”, because that’s what happened.
Thankfully in a practical exam I can ask for help. After twenty minutes with my tutor I’d been given a crash course in moving holes: there was an easy way and a hard way. Of course the easy way wouldn’t look half as good (meaning lower marks) as the hard way, provided the hard way worked. Of course if the hard way didn’t work, I’d probably fail quite dramatically.
And they say carpentry is dull.
To properly sort the problem I had to drill several new 8mm holes, this time in the right place, the enlarge the four misplaced holes to 10mm, put some 10mm pieces of pine into my enlarged holes, and cut them flush with the rest of the piece.
This done I could then glue the whole step together using the new holes, leaving plenty of time for finishing and sanding before eleven. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I could drill the new holes in the wrong place, again, enlarge the new holes instead of the old ones, drill clean through the wood and make a mess of the other side, or just run out of time and hand in a pile of badly cut wood.
I solved the problem next morning by asking my vastly more gifted and very patient friend to watch what I was doing and make sure I didn’t make any of the mistakes above, or indeed, find some other way to mess things up. With him there I stopped fretting that I was about to do the wrong thing, which meant I drilled the new holes, enlarged the correct holes, and finished the rescue operation in ten minutes flat.
I even finished on time, and I’ve been given a 2.9 which is “fairly good.” considering there’s a row of former holes where no holes should be, I’m happy with that.
Now I just have to get through theory exams in economics, humanities, and, believe it or not, ethics, do the ‘real’ practical test, finish the final wood theory test, finish the second and final week of the machine course, retaining all fingers, draw the last of the technical drawings, and I’m done for year one.
And if anyone needs some holes moving, let me know…
Bakfietsen are very solid things. They are, however built to trundle around nice flat bike lanes in places like Amsterdam carrying the shopping and kids, with lots of bike shops and nice mechanics who know how to deal with their complex innards. Ours spends a lot of time being a pickup/tractor on dodgy farm lanes with potholes a medium-sized dog could hide in, and ‘cycle ways’ which resemble a competitive mountain biking route. Add in snow and ice and glom of nit, regular use carrying oversized things like pallets, and a lack of bike shops that have even seen a Bakfiets, and things can go wrong, like eighth gear vanishing.
This isn’t a massive problem on its own as there are two kinds of route locally, ‘up’ and ‘down’, and eighth gear is not much use on either, but the others aren’t much better. First gear is fine, but second and third come and go according to the phase of the moon and position of butterflies in the Amazon, fourth only turns up so it can cut out at a crucial moment like when I have a truck behind me, while 5,6,and 7 operate a sort of lottery.
There’s a limit to how far you can ride in first gear, and the whole bike started making a foul noise, although that was traced to the pedals which are complaining about being used in all kinds of foul weather.
Owning a complex bike in a car culture is one long engineering project. I keep telling myself it builds character. Or something.
Cycling by itself is all very well, but it leads to other things, like permaculture courses and interest in alternative lifestyles and before you know it you’re seriously working out how to go off grid and build a house out of tree bark, so in case anyone out there is wondering, here are a few pointers that may indicate you are going down the same slippery slope…
You don’t know the names or personal lives of anyone who became famous since 1995.
When you go to the garage you fall over 3 buckets, a bike pump, and a breeding colony of pickle jars.
You sit in the doctor’s waiting room reading instructions on how to make compost toilets.
Social events are annoying impositions on gardening/bike repairing/chicken house building time.
You don’t see adverts.
You are genuinely startled how well roads connect into a network.
You’ve arrived early at meetings so many times you no longer remember to look smug.
Your mother has to explain what an ‘i-Pad’ and a ‘Kindle’ is*.
You haven’t been to a ‘high street’ store in months.
You don’t know why people are looking at your bike. (Thanks to Karl Mckracken for that one)
You don’t know the difference between a Porsche and a VW.
You go out for the evening wearing work boots. Again.
Your dream house is a yurt.
You don’t even know where the nearest Mc******s is.
The last time you went on Eb*y, you bought seed pots, a hammer and some chicken wire.
A ‘Good weekend’ means going to the garden and making a significant dent in the jobs list.
If you recognise any of these, then you could be on the way to becoming a subversive. I’m sure someone somewhere has a way to help people like me to get back into the mainstream, stop thinking and obsess about the lives of people far wealthier than I am. I’m having too much fun to find out though.
The sun is shining, the rain has stopped, the steep part of the garden is no longer a mudslide, and the seedlings are growing. In fact the only blot on the joyful horizon is that I’ve pulled my biceps on both arms. This is probably the result of suddenly going from a job sitting and typing to a job which involves lugging large amounts of timber about the place. I’m now written off sick for three weeks while they sort themselves out again. My elbows have been mummified in pressure bandages and I’m taking some pretty hardcore anti-inflammatory drugs. I’m now banned from the garden except for light stuff like seed trays and painting. Doing things like unloading trailers full of roofing tiles and building materials is out of the question.