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A quick pause on the way back from Eldest Son’s Saturday activity. Notice gradient of the road in the background.

Everyone who takes a carpentry apprenticeship in Germany has to make a ‘final project’. I have to make mine by August 2015. Much to the amusement of my fellow students, I’ve been planning it for about six months already, but there are plenty of stories where people either didn’t finish in time or arrived at the presentation room carrying projects covered in wet varnish. I did the last-minute thing quite enough when I was at school, and this time I fully intend to be in the presentation room with a finished piece and a self-righteous look on my face while fellow students pull in sticky bits of furniture. This is why I am so popular.

My first idea was a really cool toolbox* so I could live the hippy dream of travelling while repairing things for people, astonishing them with my skill and receiving accommodation in return in a sort of communal barter system. I may have got a bit carried away with that idea.

Beautiful Wife suggested I make a Coffee Bar to fit onto the Bakfiets. When she is working with various organisations dealing with ecology and justice, I could ride it over and she could serve coffee. The combination of an unusual vehicle and the smell of fresh coffee would attract people over and we could introduce them to Fair Trade and low(er) impact living, all at the same time.

I wondered how on earth we’d present this to my carpentry master, who has to approve the plans and finance the materials, but that probably wouldn’t be too hard because it is essentially a kitchen unit and we make those all the time. Okay, so it would need to be very waterproof and as light as possible, and most kitchen units don’t have holes in the bottom to fit onto a bicycle frame, but it’s the same basic idea. The idea of driving my Bakfiets into the examination room also appeals, as does being able to blog about it here although I’ll probably do that in any case.

Hang on, I could make mobile bike workshop…

Any other ideas? I need to make something out of wood, remember…

*And only a carpentry student could think of a toolbox as ‘really cool’.

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Xtracycle taking it easy on the metro service. Taking a long bike on a narrow train can sometimes be a test of diplomacy skills. I often end up jumping off and back on at various stops to allow other people to exit.

This occasion though, I had the train pretty well to myself.

My experience with the infernal combustion engine is limited, which was fine until someone at work realised that the apprentice lurking in the corner could drive back to the workshop and get whatever had been forgotten, so I’m getting a lot of quality time with the two company vans. These are both rather elderly and probably not in showroom condition. Other vehicles seem to be magnetically attracted to them and roads magically become narrower as I approach. I have yet to successfully make a hill start in the largest of the two, and every gear change is an adventure.

So last week, when I was working within the village and I’d just got back to the workshop to collect something, I realised I had an empty van and threw the Xtracycle inside before anyone could object, on the basis that I’d probably be sent back to get something else fairly soon, and sure enough, my supervisor found he was missing a small but rather important bracket that he needed, as in, now.

Downstairs, Xtracycle out of van, off we went. Through industrial estate, round shunting trucks that would have held up the van, a braked briefly for driver turning in front of me because despite having lights on I was still apparently invisible, into the village proper, past some children playing, into residential streets, where I was buzzed by a large SUV until we came to cars parked on both sides of the road that left him trying to squeeze through the remaining gap without losing his mirrors, and through the secret bike and pedestrian cut through (although not so secret that the town hasn’t managed to add a chicane halfway through to make it that little less convenient). I popped out of the other side, through more houses, over the main road and down through the old village centre to the workshop.

Off bike, searched workshop, no sign of bracket.

I got back on the bike, made the same journey in reverse*, and used all my acting skills trying not to look smug at “How did you get here so fast?” look on supervisors face.

We found the bracket under a toolbox.

*Even down to being buzzed by another SUV: it was one of those mornings…

Plane

After the last post, Phil asked “How about a picture of the Plane?” So here is the plane we raced across a city to find.

This picture comes courtesy of my dad, (Who has lots of pictures here) because our main camera is having ‘issues’ so there will be less pictures until we find out what they are.

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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…

Luxury

Inside the Shinkansen (“Bullet train”). Notice vast amount of legroom between seats.

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:

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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.

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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.

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Sometimes I have to bring my work home with me. This is a holder for large steel rings, as used in some of our machines. I’m not sure what use such a thing would have at home, but there we go.

We are making a chair this week. This presents interesting logistical challenges.

More useful, though.

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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.

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Meanwhile downstream, the older brothers are working on some serious water management and mud pie construction.

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