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As mentioned earlier, it’s festival time and Beautiful Wife’s home town is caught right up in it. This week the local part of town was supposed to deliver a load of white stones to the local shrine, on a cart. The cart was a wooden affair with two wheels and a wooden tail that dragged on the road and was used for steering. In front were two ropes I reckon are at least half a kilometre long. The load on the cart consisted of about ten smallish wicker baskets full of white stones.
I don’t see this catching on as a transport solution.
Moving this involved what looked like half of the local population including -somewhere- my sister-in-law, her husband The Fireman and their children. They and a couple of hundred other people hauled the cart for perhaps fifty metres, chanting, then one of the leaders running between the two lines changed the rhythm and walloped the road surface with something that looked like a cross between a Pom-Pom and a broom. Everyone then ran from side to side holding the ropes. After doing this for a few minutes they carried on.
It had taken several hours by the time we saw them, and they still had a couple of kilometres to go.
At the end of the procession we got a call that one of our nieces had sunstroke. As the entire family apart from Beautiful Wife are nurses, doctors or paramedics, and she was in a mobile medical station there was no immediate danger, but she did need to get home, pronto.
The question was, how to get her there.
There was a massive line for a taxi, so bearing in mind this is an emergency, Beautiful Wife went to ask if we could get the next available one. The answer: The Rules say everyone must wait in line. No Exceptions.
But, we pointed out, this is a little girl with heatstroke and we needed to get her home and cooled down.
The Rules say all must wait in line. No Exceptions.
Could her Daddy the Fireman come and get her then?
The Rules say Private Vehicles Are Not Permitted.
We pointedly watched several private cars pulling up and collecting people.
Well, you could go and fill in a form requesting an audience with the person in charge of the festival, who would require full vehicle details, registration number, drivers insurance details and safety record, and if satisfied will issue another form requesting Special Permission for a private vehicle to enter the festival area. We would have to take this to the traffic management office. If they were satisfied this was a genuine emergency, we would be issued with a form giving Special Permission for one vehicle to come and collect us*. It would be quicker to just wait for a Taxi. Hopefully it would be a ‘big’ one that The Rules say can carry seven people.
As all the taxis are the same type and they all apparently have four seats, this last bit was a mystery, but rather argue with someone wielding a Bt43z6 form and willing to use it, we went to join the queue.
Beautiful Wife worked out a relay system to get Niece to the Taxi stand at the right time which swung into action as we got to the front. A normal looking taxi turned up and the driver waved all seven of us on board. Eldest Son and I ended up sharing the front seat. Asked if there is an extra seatbelt.
No, just the one.
Sorry, isn’t this a bigger taxi? I asked.
No, answered the driver as the meter shot past a thousand yen and continued upwards, it was a standard four seat taxi like all the others, but as it was an emergency, he’d made an exception…

*This was mostly guesswork as there was no time to translate it. It may not have been quite this complex.

Every time we come to Japan we have The Gathering of the Clan and most of Beautiful Wife’s immediate family all turn up in one pace at the same time. Social gatherings with people I don’t know well have a habit of going wrong: I don’t know what to say or what to do and I feel I should somehow ‘start conversations’ or keep them going. This never works, and I end up either with an ever lengthening silence between myself and other person in the dying conversation as I try to figure out what to say next.

I am not, you will gather, an extrovert.

The first event on this occasion is the Happy Family Photo. This is to be taken in the hotel lobby, a gloomy place designed by someone who thought gold plate and moulded glass chandeliers were the height of good taste. Two syrupy blonde children with floaty nightshirts and disturbingly blue eyes gaze out of an oversized oil painting as the hotel staff and several family members reorganise the lobby to make it possible to photograph almost 20 people at once.

Once the entire lobby is rearranged to taste, the various members of the family have to be herded into position. Much discussion. Everyone talking at once and pulling your correspondent (whose Japanese gets as far as “Hello”, “Yes”, “Welcome Home” et c). Into place. Then someone changes their mind. More discussion and more pulling of uncomprehending Brit. Camera in place, everyone grins inanely, and then the photographer notices someone’s foot isn’t in quite the right place prompting another round of discussion and pulling back and forth. Just as I’m about to suggest they replace me with a cardboard cut-out (Easier to move and less likely to kick off in the next 30 seconds) a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and everything is perfect. Photos taken and we’re released to go to dinner.

It’s going to be a long weekend.

dontellmum

A couple of weeks before Japan, Beautiful Wife was out for the day so Youngest Son and I  made a mess built a wooden aeroplane.

I don’t have a workshop at home, so the kitchen has to double up for these occasions. As you can see I’m as badly organised at home as at college. We tidied up just in time before Beautiful Wife got back.

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Adaptive use of large bits of cardboard by Youngest Son early in the morning.

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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.

waterfun_02

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

The last days of college before the Christmas break were spent frantically trying to finish a walnut picture frame. The trouble with a complete frame is that it only takes one mistake and the whole thing is a mess, and you only find out after you’ve put all the parts together. Compared to this, making one tenon join is easy.

As I’d messed up my practice attempts that wasn’t exactly comforting.

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Making one of the joins with a 6mm chisel and mallet. The other half of the join is is on hand for testing purposes.

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Frame assembled, showing some quite hideous wonkiness on the nearest corner. Fortunately these vanished during the gluing stage. There were a disturbing number of cracks in the joints as well, but it’s remarkable what can be hidden using a mix of sawdust and glue. The finished frame was just straight enough to become a Christmas present for Beautiful Wife.

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My Japanese saws: these cut on the pull, not the push which allows them to be finer because even I am less likely to break the blade when cutting. For the picture frame I used my Dozuki (nearest the camera) which has especially fine teeth for cutting tenon joints.

Notice friend and hideously competent carpenter B in the background, working hard with the Raubank while I’m messing about with a camera. This explains why he got a higher grade than me.

Or: Advantages of being a carpenter #1: Christmas presents are easy.

Candle 01

Our local Christmas market is full of “hand crafted” wooden ornaments and utensils, some of which I realised I can now make myself, so last week I spent a couple of hours in our workshop sorting our our Christmas presents for this year.

The wood came from the pile of ‘waste’ beech wood that was left over after we made our first project a few weeks ago. It had knot holes or splits and as such was destined to be burnt, but now it is a lot of interestingly shaped tea light holders and I don’t have to worry about what I’ll get people for Christmas.

Anyway, about the Elm.

In college, we’re all supposed to get a piece of wood and do a small presentation on it. I was away on the day the varieties were given out which I think is why I got Elm. Elm is pretty hard to find in Germany since many were killed by disease, but as far as I know it is a little bit easier to get a hold of in the UK and USA.

If anyone is willing to send me a piece of Elm (of any variety) by the tenth of January, I’d be more than happy to swap it for a tea light holder, made in a genuine German workshop by a genuine British apprentice using sustainable beechwood.

The brief asks for a piece of Elm wood 24cm by 16cm by 5cm (about 10 in by 6 in by 2in) but given that the chances of getting hold of anything at all is pretty slim, the school isn’t going to be fussy about the dimensions.

Any offers, let me know in the comments or the contact form and I’ll email you.

Just over a fortnight ago we quietly passed the eighth anniversary of our moving to Ostfildern, so I’ve now lived here sixteen days longer than I lived anywhere else.

People occasionally ask us if we’ll ever move back ‘home’, meaning the UK. This rather misses the point that Beautiful Wife is Japanese, and even if we decided to go to the UK, it isn’t like we’ve got roots in a certain place anyway. Theoretically our family name comes from Wales but I think we’d have to go back a few hundred years to find that connection, and at that time the other side of the family was apparently living in Dundee with a German name, so it looks like we’ve a long tradition of making things complicated.

I occasionally have daydreams about moving to Wales or Scotland and living off grid, but unless we have a total collapse of the Euro or fall off the end of the Mayan calender, our boys have a much better chance of getting a decent education if we stay in Germany. And as much as I whine about it, our cycle provision and public transport is far ahead of anything in the Motherland, even here in Mercedesville.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really have a ‘home’ in the normal sense. And that I’ve probably spent far too long thinking about it.

Long-suffering readers of this blog will have noticed that I’ve been trying to get an apprenticeship or other qualification for a couple of years now.

It turns out that working with young people is a great job, but doesn’t bring in a vast amount of money. This is because everyone thinks it is a wonderful thing to do, but considerably less people think it’s wonderful enough to pay for. We also have some long term goals, and being a carpenter will help us reach these. I’ll say more about this another time.

Well, after two years of false starts, next week I’ll start an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker/carpenter, having managed to convince a local company that I’m not too much of a liability, and filled in a small bale of forms to persuade the government that no, I’m not attempting to get money for nothing but I would like to eat. The system here is that although I’ve got an employer, I’ll spend most of the first year in college learning the basics.

Assuming I actually manage to pass the intermediate exams in a years time, I’ll be working with the company that took me on as an apprentice until 2015. Then I have to pass the final exams, including a German and Maths exam* and then make something out of wood that looks good and doesn’t collapse when the judges poke it.

But that’s in three years time. This week I need to get my feet used to holding my weight all the time again, and then next week I’ll start commuting to college. Which starts at seven fifteen in the morning…

*Guess what my worst school subjects were.

Grandma’s purple Pashley bike being pressed into service for a shopping run in York. Notice Big Red Lock, damp weather, saddle set to silly height and pannier bag on the ground. After wrestling this bag off and on the bike I saved a total of zero minutes compared to walking on the same journey.

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