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Entirely inadequate picture of a winter sunrise. I’d like to claim I leapt out of bed this morning and photographed the first sunrise of the new year for the blog, but I’d be lying.
So here it is, 2014. This marks a big step for us: from the beginning of my carpentry apprenticeship in 2012 until yesterday, the end date seemed far, far, away, safely tucked away in the distant future of 2015.
From today, graduation is ‘next year’. This apparently means people can reasonably start asking what we plan to do ‘next’, meaning, of course, after the apprenticeship is over and I’m a state-registered cabinet maker.
To the surprise of no-one who has known us for any length of time, we haven’t a clue, except to say it probably won’t involve settling down to a normal middle-class German lifestyle. We would like to make a move in the general direction of our long term goals. I really should blog about them sometime.
What are your resolutions and plans for the year?
It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.
Walt Whitman (with thanks to the Accidental Hermit).
For someone trying to live simply I sure seem to end up doing a lot of complicated things.
I started learning to be a carpenter so that I could earn a living without getting too mixed up in our hypercomplex, technology orientated society. It turns out that carpentry in Germany is as dominated by technology and machines as everything else.
I’m now working to finish the course and get the piece of paper. Then I can specialise (do what I want to do) afterwards.
Meanwhile I keep making pencil sketches of my ideas and trying to cut dovetails and mortise and tenon joins when I have time to spare. This causes much incredulity amongst people around me: there are machines for that today. Only wierdo tree-hugging hippies make their own.
On the other hand when the inevitable collapse of civilisation comes, I’ll still be able to put up shelves.
A big part of the course is learning to use machines and the computer software for operating them. This means attending tutorials at college and a couple of hours downloading and installing the software package so I can do coursework. Later I can upload the designs onto the college server, and all I have to do is write a computer programme and the big machine at college will make it for me. Simple, and obviously much better economic sense than messing about with a saw and a couple of chisels.
Then the software company brought out a new version of the software, rendering the existing version obsolete overnight. No problem: they also issued us with new codes to plug back into the matrix, so we could spend a couple more hours downloading and installing and get on with programming.
Except that the codes didn’t work.
The capitalist-industrial machine swung into action once more and the company sent a corrected set of codes after a mere three weeks, just in time for Christmas.
These didn’t work either.
If you need me, I’ll be sawing dovetails while awaiting the inevitable collapse of civilisation.
I always find the whole business of Christmas presents rather stressful. Finding the ‘right’ present for people is fraught with difficulties and seems to be missing the point in any case.
A few years back Beautiful Wife and I decided it was much simpler to tell each other exactly what we’d like for Christmas and then leave it at that, and this year she requested a Cajon bass tube to annoy the neighbours with, while I asked for two new woodworking chisels. My parents have also adopted this system and very kindly bought me a brass bell from Lionworks in the UK, photographed (badly) above.
Presents for three boys are less stressful: lots of Lego. Of course I had to spend the afternoon building things with them.
It’s a tough life.
How was your Christmas?
We cycle past these blocks of flats every week on the way to Eldest Son’s club activities and I’ve been meaning to mention it for some time*. It is an isolated section of Stuttgart called Asemwald, essentially made up of three blocks of flats, each 70 metres tall.
The trees are supposed to screen the buildings. When an architect feels the need to hide his building it really must be bad.
When the city built the flats they decided the best place was on a big hill to the south of the city. You can see it from miles away, in all directions. Unfortunately this also meant the 1800 inhabitants were far from the nearest railway station. The designers solved this by building a huge underground car park, and a bus stop.
There is a restaurant on the top floor of one of the buildings which is quite popular, possibly because when you are in it, you can’t see Asemwald.
*Which is why the trees apparently have leaves in November. I’ve been busy.
I haven’t written much about using bicycles lately, especially considering how much use our bikes get.
The Bakfiets spends much of its time being a tractor, as seen above delivering compost and a load of wood to the garden for making the Mighty Steppe. Without the Bakfiets we’d probably not be able to keep our crazy hippy lifestyle going, as it is the main way of transporting stuff back and forth to the Very Smallholding. I could probably fill one of these if I had one, which would remove almost all need for a car except for the occasional long trip, but I always end up deciding I’m better off with what I’ve got.
I may make a flat bed for the Bakfiets as soon as The Boys are too big to ride in it (that’s if I don’t make a coffee bar instead).
Meanwhile the Xtracycle remains my vehicle of choice for going to the next town and beyond, visiting friends and running errands, not least because it means I can combine trips.
This of course means it is out in all weather, and I’m going to have to get myself into gear and replace the wooden deck at some point: it is made for sunny California, not cold damp Germany.
People still shake their heads and tell me it is much more convenient to have car, but when I hear stories like this I’m not so sure…
Our local town has a free newspaper printed by the local government. It is as exciting as you’d expect.
This week the headline is about how our town is a ‘safe place to live’ according to the police (which would explain why they closed the police station).
They do admit that there was a 6.5% increase in traffic incidents, which would seem rather a lot for a ‘safe town’. This includes two fatalities, but with about eleven fatalities a day in Germany, most towns will get a couple each year. Two deaths aren’t enough to make the traffic situation officially ‘dangerous’.
No mention is made of motor vehicle vs. pedestrian/bicycle collisions involving adults but we are told that there were seven ‘accidents’ which involved children under thirteen. The article tells us: “It is noticeable that three of the children were riding on Roller Scooters. A further three accidents involving children occurred on traffic lights on a pedestrian crossing with a red light showing.”*
So they were all ‘accidents’. Not the driver’s fault: all the fault of those irresponsible children, as the ‘official in charge’ concludes: “It is important that children are carefully prepared for road traffic”.
At no point does anyone seem to stop and ask any further questions.
For example, how fast the vehicles were being driven, and why they were unable to stop in time. Weather conditions or the type of vehicles involved are not mentioned.
We don’t know if the children were driving on a pavement or a ‘Spielstrasse’ (Lit: ‘Play Street’, a street where children should be able to play safely). The speed limit is 7km/h (4mph) on these but motor vehicles normally bounce down them at twenty or thirty Km/h.
We don’t know if the drivers were using their phone or adjusting their navigator.
There are no details at all about the seventh ‘accident’.
We are left to assume we have the information we need: children were driving on roller scooters or crossing the road. Tut, tut, they should know better.
So that’s all right then, keep driving as fast as you like and if no-one takes those naughty children in hand and teaches them to be responsible with traffic, it isn’t your fault if you ‘accidentally’ run one down.
*German: “Auffällig sei, das dass drei der Kinder jeweils mit Tretrollen unterwegs waren. Weitere drei Unfälle mit Kindern ereigneten sich an einem Fußgängerüberweg bei roter Ampel” Any native German speakers are welcome to correct my translation.
In my first year of being a carpenters apprentice, I’ve learned that invariably the biggest and bulkiest orders are from people who live or work on the third floor or higher.
This is a universal rule.
A secondary rule seems to be that they don’t have lifts, or the lift is broken, and that there is always a narrow corner on the stairs to squeeze around.
So when we were sent out to make a delivery today, I was pretty pleased to find it was a set of railings for some stairs -nice and light, excellent- and a box for a wheeled rubbish bin, which by definition was in the garden and therefore on ground level.
We arrived to find the customer waiting on the drive. We opened the van and she cooed over her new wooden box. We asked where it should be placed.
“Up there” she said pointing up a steep flight of steps cut into the hillside.
There was even a narrow corner half way up…
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.
I should have been at the garden today. The beds need weeding again, and I’ve not had a chance to unleash the newly sharpened scythe on the brambles (although a trial swing in the veggie beds went through several varieties of weed and the side of a compost bin), the seedings are finally growing to a point they can be planted out and there are more steps to be dug than I want to think about, and I’m sitting in here with the rain beating on the skylight behind me like a British boarding house on a bank holiday weekend.
Usually the spring rain falls so hard the runoff on the roof pours so fast it misses the guttering altogether and pours straight on the garden below, then clears up by the time you’ve finished your bike ride*. This weekend we’ve had constant rain: heavy, light, and by way of variation this afternoon, angled. There’s no point going to the garden in this weather as the shed leaks and the clay soil will glue to the spade leaving it useful only as a club to beat the weeds with. I know I keep going on about this, but I really need some reliable, comfortable shelter in the garden. I’m working on that, admittedly painfully slowly, but hopefully I’ll soon have some progress soon.
I’ve spent most of the day helping Eldest Son with a history of Hamburg, and sketching woodwork projects. I’ve discovered that dovetails are part of the test in a few weeks and my final project in 2015, so I really need to get some practice, which means ordering some wood at work, which means working out what I need.
I’ve also been wondering -in that melancholy way you do when the rain is hitting the window- about what to write about next: I can’t go cycling or gardening and a sane person can only take so much information about woodwork. I’ve lived here and this way so long I don’t really know what is interesting to someone looking in through these web pages.
Please give suggestions below. Or expect more entries about the weather.
*Usually about five minutes before you get back…