You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘General musings while dodging traffic’ category.
This Sunday is ‘Volkstrauertag’, the German equivalent of Remembrance Sunday or Veterans Day. For obvious reasons it is a bit different here. In particular Germany makes a conscious effort to remember all victims of war, including civilians.
My paternal Grandfather was never in the millitary. This was not because he had any strongly held anti-war convictions, but because he worked on the railways and they needed him to do his job there during World War Two. During world war two, if you were in the south or east of the UK, you were on the front line, especially if you worked on the railways, and three months before the war began my Granddad was made a shunter guard, a “Special Man” -which we suspect meant he was paid as a shunter but worked as a guard- based in one of the biggest freight yards in the Midlands, the industrial heartland of the UK. Freight yards are dangerous places at the best of times, with wagons moving in u predictabledirections, with and without locomotives pushing them. The shunter had to run alongside moving wagons and put the brakes on, then couple wagons together with a wooden pole. During the war there was a strict blackout at night, and all movements were carried out in near pitch darkness, so he would be dodging rolling wagons and trying not to fall over track, run into posts, or trip on point levers, surrounded by several trains full of things like high explosives, weapons, food, oil and petrol, with steam locomotives showing a lovely white plume of steam. And then there would be an air raid.
Beyond the freight yards were factories, each one as likely to be bombed as the trains, and air raid shelters were of limited use right next to a train full of high explosives. In other words, my Granddad spent his working days and nights in the middle of a vast target area, and often the best he could do was put a helmet on and keep working and hope that his yard wasn’t the designated target that night, or that an equally terrified bomb aimer wouldn’t decide to dump his not-very-accurate bombs just as he was overhead so he can try to get home alive.
People regularly worked twelve hour shifts and my Granddad fell asleep riding his bicycle home several times. For guards the shift would end wherever they were at the time, so if he was on a train it could be stopped because of a raid up the line, sent back a bit, and then shoved in a siding until another train passed. He could be dropped off miles from home.
Always assuming, of course, that his home hadn’t been destroyed.
This would happen every night. For weeks. No leave, no ‘rest and recovery’ time, just a 12 hour break and the knowledge that next shift he’d have to do it all again.
Granddad wouldn’t talk about the war. Not many of his generation did: they just got on with what needed to be done, and and if they survived they went back and did it again the next day, so many selfless acts by non-combatants were forgotten. I do remember one conversation we had when I was a child which made me think there was more than he would tell. There was an old war film on television and he suddenly turned to me and said: “Just remember, when we see an explosion there, no-one is killed. In the real world it was different.”
He wouldn’t say any more.
A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.
Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.
Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.
There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.
Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.
I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.
The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.
So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.
Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.
*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.
The Bakfiets on the way home from grocery shopping with our village in the distance.
The picture was taken using the pinhole setting on the new camera, one of several we’re having fun discovering, although I would point out that taking a picture of your significant other using the ‘fish eye’ setting can result in marital stress.
I went to visit the Area Hermit recently to pick up a pepper plant he’d babysat for me while we were in Japan. He’d given me the plant as a welcome present, and I’d left it with him rather than risk the thing dying while I was away. So I went to the gate and called him -it’s always better not to startle a seventy year old hermit, especially one with a gun and a large dog- and after a few minutes he emerged.
“You forgot to put a hole in it.”
“The pepper plant. You forgot to put a hole in the pot.”
Oops. Just before I went to Japan, I’d realised the terracotta pot the plant came in was a bit small, so I’d quickly re-potted it in a big bucket I’d got free from a flower shop before delivering it to The Hermit, neglecting the obvious point that the bucket was designed for cut flowers, and as such wouldn’t have holes in the bottom.
“I kept watering the thing and feeding it, and it kept dyin’. Then I looked at the bottom. Poor thing was drownin’”*
“So I shot it.”
“I got my air gun and shot two holes in the bottom of the pot. It’s happy now”
He handed me the plant. With pot.
“Put holes in the bottom next time”
He’s happy we’re back. He tells me most of the neighbours think he’s strange.
*Of course he didn’t say “Drownin’” as he was speaking German. Frankly the whole of this exchange does lose a lot in translation from the original dialect.
A typical Xtracycle journey: business meeting in the next town, and Beautiful Wife asked me to pick up some shopping on the way back. I took five minutes to restock calories on the way home; the Xtracycle made a good footrest.
Sometimes people get quite concerned about our family and how difficult it must be for us without a car.
“We cope somehow” I tell them.
Your correspondent looking remarkably like an elderly version of the Hovis Boy, in the name of art.
The youth group I work with are putting together their Autumn theatre and film project, which is now at the acting, filming and oh-heck-are-we-going-to-make-it-in-time stage. Part of the film story is a chase sequence on bikes, because when you’re making a silent film with a lot of slapstick what you really need is a comedy chase scene on bikes. Especially when you’ve got a beast like the Bakfiets to put the bad guy in.
So last Sunday I spent the day with a large number of young people, riding about the village in vague period costume with a collection of patently fake weapons (like the ‘gun’ in the Bakfiets). In the rain.
On Monday we’ll be doing more sequences at a local castle. To get there I’ll have to ride the Bakfiets into a deep valley and out the other side, and back again. Thinking about it, we could make our own Hovis advert right there.
If anyone is interested, I’ll ask the editor to put some clips from the film on YouTube.
Over in Scotland Disgruntled has been having issues with Heeled Shoes.
I can testify that it isn’t a gender issue: I’m having footwear issues as well*. One problem with walking and cycling for transport is that most shoes are apparently only designed for short distances, I suspect the distance between the front door and the car. Walking more than about half a mile made my feet ache, even on nice flat tarmac. I’ve noticed this with several pairs of ‘normal’ shoes (‘normal’ being defined as ‘possible to wear in public without coming over all mountain man’). Walk more than a few minutes and you start to feel every cobble, flagstone, tree stump or clump of grass.
The only shoes that seem to work are proper ‘walking shoes’: the ones with ankle supports and thick soles you see ‘serious’ walkers putting on prior to dissapearing into the wilderness, but these apparently aren’t ‘proper’ shoes for situations where you are supposed to look vaguely smart.
On the other hand, cycling doesn’t hurt whatever shoes I wear, so maybe this is the universe telling me to ride my bike more.
What do you wear?
*Not with heels, before one of you comments…
I discovered today that even in Japan, no matter how narrow a road is, how obviously it is not designed for through traffic, there’s always some drivers possessed by an urge to use it as a short cut and go barrelling along at inappropriate speeds.
I also discovered that no matter how much traffic is coming the other way and how unsafe it would be to overtake, some drivers will honk their horn to demand cyclists somehow become one with the concrete wall alongside the road and let their vehicle pass.
Isn’t it good to know that whatever our cultural differences, there are some things which unite us?
It’s the weekend, and it’s hot. You know when you stand too close to the fire and after a few seconds you realist it’s unpleasantly hot and move away? That hot. The paint on the house has a blister the size of a dinner plate.
Because of this, and just in case we haven’t been contributing to global warming enough in the last few days, we head off into the hills in search of a local(ish) beauty spot on the river. This being Japan, a beauty spot isn’t complete without an activity park but mercifully this time it was limited to an adventure playaground and a grotty loo, and we were spared the gift shops and Japanese pop music from megaphones.
The car park is, naturally full. So is the access road, and some bright spark has parked in the emergency access lane.
After unloading enough from the car to supply an expedition through the Australian bush, we settle down to a mix of reading, paddling and teaching the boys how to skip stones and how to tell where the river is deep and fast from the surface of the water. We are explaining that the still looking part are the fastest when a swimmer demonstrates it for us, heading downstream, and about twenty minutes later we hear a siren and two fire engines and an ambulance turn up. As there’s a car in the emergency access there’s a bit of a traffic jam, especially when a third fire engine comes along, but fortunately the patient isn’t in serious trouble and the third reverses back up the hill and trundles off home.
A couple of hours later so do we. The car in the emergency access (whose owner can’t have been more than 500m away) is still there.
Evening comes, and the payoff for the heat of the day is an incredible sunset, only slightly marred by the accompaniment of the cat being sick on the stairs.