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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABakfietsen 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.


How the weather isn’t.

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…

Our state government has decided it wants to investigate sustainability and tell us all about how to have a small carbon footprint.


The best way to do this is with a big truck, so we can see they are really, really serious about sustainability. As long as it doesn’t mean changing anything.

Remember: Infinite growth is possible with finite resources. We will discover a cheap recoverable energy source to replace oil. Technology will save us.


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.

*She did.

The rain has finally managed what the city refuses to contemplate, and cleared the hard packed snow on the route over the fields to the next town. The majority of the route (where cars are allowed to go) was fine but the middle was impassable, or at the very least unpredictable. I know this because I’ve been going out to check the route whenever I had time and daylight with all the seriousness of some native hunter tracking prey.

By cycling I save about ten minutes each way, and avoid the slow tedium of driving on a bus that winds its way around the town for several kilometres before returning to the same place it was five minutes earlier.

I can’t help wondering how drivers would cope with these conditions. If, whenever it snowed, drivers had to go out and check if their route would be clear the next day, would winter driving would be as unpopular as winter cycling locally?

Or maybe there would be a surge in SUV sales because people ‘felt safer’ driving in the snow in a bigger car, and then we’d have te same situation as now, on a larger scale.

It’s that time of year again when the snow turns to ice, glues itself to the road surface, and stays for weeks. I kept cycling as long as I could but eventually it came down to a choice of riding on ice or along a busy narrow road with drivers who rather object to sharing the space with anyone.

And then the weather report said it would get really cold. Even if the bike had had incredible ice tyres like Disgruntled, cycling in temperatures of minus ten would mean all kinds of cold weather clothing which I’d have to haul around all day, so I’ve been going on the magical mystery tour on the bus. This does nothing for my energy or mood.

To try and get some exercise back into the morning routine I’ve taken to abandoning the bus once we get into town and walking the final bit to the railway station. No time is lost by doing this as the bus goes wandering around the inner ring road and takes as long to reach the station as I do on foot.

I also enter the city via a  stone bridge and a city gate, which gives a rather glamorous mid-European vibe to the start of the day.

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.

Winter has kicked in with a vengeance, and for the last few weeks I’ve been leaving home before dawn and arriving after dusk on weekdays. Once out of the village it is pitch dark, and the wonderfully retro bodged halogen light I fitted on the commuter bike hasn’t got enough oomph to break through the dark and fog that are a feature of the ride, especially on the section where the local council has thoughtfully closed the pedestrian/cycleway to accommodate building work* and I have to navigate over the fields and around some trees largely by memory. When I’m riding in traffic I’m fine while I keep moving but as soon as I stop I become invisible.

I reckon I’ve got at least eight more weeks of this, so I’ve finally got a modern light, which actually lights up the road, and stays on for a few minutes when I’m not riding. It’s a bit of a risk having a better quality light on a bike I’ll leave in a public space most of the day, but the bike parking space seems pretty safe, and weighed against crashing into a tree or being run over, it makes sense.

If I muster up a lot more self discipline than usual, I may even fit it to the bike and take photos before next March.

*Because it isn’t a road, so it’s not like anyone important will be using it.

I’ve been a commuter for a month now. Not a proper ‘fight against early morning drivers to claim back the road from motor vehicles’ commuter, more a sort of ‘ride blearily through the fields to the next village and abandon the bike for a bus’ commuter. I only have a few hundred metres of road where there’s traffic and at half past six in the morning there isn’t even that much of it.

I’ve even managed to find some decent covered cycle racks (ie, not wheel eaters) which are pretty safe. I know this because the old peoples home next door has used them as to stack several new rolls of linoleum for a couple of weeks.

Normally I leave home at leave home at about 0615 which gives me plenty of time to get everything ready, discover something is missing, panic, run about the house trying to search quietly so I don’t wake up Beautiful Wife, wake Beautiful Wife, look for the missing item where she has told me to look, find it, pack my bag and leave, and ride over the fields at a reasonable speed catch the bus at 0635. The strange thing is, if I happen to be late (ie. When I’ve lost something and Beautiful Wife isn’t able to guide me to it), no matter how hard I ride, it still takes me five minutes longer to ride the same distance.

The mist is gathering in the valleys, a gentle reminder that it’s going to get somewhat chilly very soon, but for a few weeks before the cold really starts to kick in, I get to commute across the fields sun rise es over the hills in the distance.

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