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This weekend is likely to be a bit busy as we’re off to a friends wedding in Freiburg, which if all goes to plan will involve picking up a car share car at a railway station in the middle of nowhere, driving to the wedding and thence to the reception and back without driving into anything, coming home on Sunday and then catching a train to Rotterdam to meet the ferry to hull on Monday, so I leave you with a small dilemma I discovered this week.

On one of the routes I cycle frequently here, there’s a point where the mandatory cycleway I follow alongside a busy road becomes a mandatory footpath, meaning I have to go onto said road or ride illegally. Nothing new there of course, but there’s a catch. I have about two hundred metres of this road before turning left (and crossing two lanes of traffic) onto a quieter road. These two hundred metres are on a blind bend, and we all know how aware most drivers are of cyclists on blind bends. There is no way there will ever be a cycleway on this bit of road: even a filter lane into traffic was dismissed out of hand by the town as it ‘would be abused by cyclists’, presumably by cycling on it…

Where the cycleway ends there’s a pedestrian crossing with lights, and I’ve discovered that if I press the button on the lights and ride onto the road, I can pedal around the corner and be turning off before the first car catches up, saving me the stress of being buzzed or possibly overtaken dangerously closely on the blind bend. Is this adaptive use of poor infrastructure, or abuse of a pedestrian crossing?

(Tales of the UK come next week: I doubt there’s W-lan on the ferry so responses to comments may take time…)

The carpentry apprenticeship is starting in six weeks to a month, depending on whether I’m working at my employers from the start of September, or if I get a bit more holiday before the school begins on September the tenth. My contract is with my employer, who enrolled me with the school, (One of these days I’ll reduce your will to live by explaining the system) and I’d heard nothing from the school itself, so I wasn’t convinced that I was registered at all*, so I was quite pleased to get a letter yesterday morning telling me when to turn up, and enclosing my student ticket, which the transport authority insist on calling the ‘Scool’ ticket. And before you scoff, consider that 1: this is in another language, yet people get the joke, and 2: At least it isn’t named after a mollusc. So there.

I was also a bit suprised to read the small print on the season ticket that arrived yesterday, and dicover that not only is it a combined ticket for the bus and train into the college (integrated ticketing being entirely taken for granted in Germany) but also that after midday it stops being a ‘direct route only’ ticket and becomes an all zones travel card, on any train, bus, or tram in and around Stuttgart, and it’s usable on weekends and holidays; for the next six months, which is all rather pleasant: when I was a student living in the wilds of south-west Britain, I had a begrudgingly issued season ticket which was valid on school days only, for one route between where I lived and the college in the town. I couldn’t use the card to go into town after 1300, nor to go home before 1300, which was not helpful when I had one lecture ending at eleven. The ticket was valid on one company’s buses, and that company didn’t really want to take you either.

Of course there’s a flip side to all this generosity, namely that when I was in the UK, the earliest I had to get to college was 0900, and only when I happened to have a lecture, whereas here I’ve been told to get myself over for the first lesson by 0715, which means getting up and leaving the house at silly O’clock in the morning…

*Being the cheery optimist I am.

Beautiful Wife asked me to get some emergency pizza when I picked Youngest Son up from Kindergarten. No problem, I thought, we can swing past the shop on the way.

Except that Youngest Son likes to cycle home on his bike these days, and the only shop in the village is directly on the main road, which happens to be one of the routes into the Stuttgart/Neckar valley industrial region. There’s no way he can ride there with all the cars and trucks and buses rushing into Germany’s sixth city, and of course, we can’t remove the right to choose your transport mode by say, slowing people down or stopping through traffic: then there would only be three fast roads, and imagine the pain and hardship that would cause.

On top of this a child under seven has to ride on the pavements/sidewalks in Germany. The idea, as I understand it, is to get them used to things like a high curb whenever they have to cross a side road; pedestrians appearing from buildings; and how to jump out-of-the-way* of Very Important Drivers coming out of driveways, opening car doors or just using the pavement as their own private parking space.

In this way children quickly learn that ‘cycling’ is what you do on a Sunday afternoon, and if you want to go more than twenty metres from the front door, get Mummy or Daddy to drive you there.

I’m being cynical: It’s probably just a cheap way to avoid building proper cycle lanes.

Either way, it’s surprisingly difficult to ride down a busy road and keep contact with a small person cycling on the other side of parked cars while Mercedes man leans on his horn because I’m delaying him in his Very Important Journey and distracting him from his Very Important Conversation on his mobile phone.

Now I’m sure some people (probably the people leaning on their car horn) would say I should get off the bike and walk along the pavement, thus getting out-of-the-way** of the Very Important Drivers, which would be fine except that because we are ever-so-special tree huggy types we are usually trying to get somewhere on our bikes.

Which makes it even more annoying that having made an extra trip to get the pizza, and riding all over the village to find quieter traffic calmed streets, we still ended up with an SUV behind us revving his engine and generally expressing his annoyance at our presence on the road.

*WordPress is convinced I need these hyphens. Do I? or is WordPress being nannyish?
** See previous footnote.

We (me and the bike) are ready: the bags have finally arrived, and I’ve (almost) packed everything in them, the paperwork is (almost) sorted, I’ve had half a dozen holes poked in my arm to immunise me from various ailments, including a couple so obscure the nurse had to read up on the details before she injected me, but that just serves me right for wanting to work in a children’s ward; the tickets are here, I have a placement at an ambulance station in Stuttgart when I get back and I’ve finally got a mobile phone, which has just enough technology in its little grey case that I can call people and send texts: I’ve embraced mobile technology, albeit from the 1990′s. It also has a torch, which I assume is for morse code.

All I have to do is get on a train at silly O’clock on Monday and go off to north Germany for 21 days. Which means I have to deal with the problem at the back of my mind since I applied.*

I am an introvert: quite an extreme introvert in fact, I really don’t do new places or people very well. I like people, but I don’t like dealing with people I haven’t met, in big groups, and in places I’ve never been before.

I think you can see the problem here.

I’m being stupid of course: this time next week we’ll all have got to know each other and I’ll be fine, and the other people are probably more nervous because they’re all a lot younger than me, so they’ll have teenage angst to deal with as well. I just have to get through the first couple of days and then I can relax.

That sounds good, I’ll stick with that.

Time to stop whining and get packing, methinks.

The internet connection in the school may be a bit awkward at first, so if the next posts have a feel of having been written some time ago and posted automatically it’s because they were. Or rather they will have been.

*Apart from it being a self-catering course and I can’t cook: anyone have some very, very simple recipes before I have to live on Salad for a month?

I’m busy getting my last-minute panicking started nice and early, and incidentally doing a few other things, which unfortunately aren’t very interesting when written down:

  • I’ve been fixing Bike N + 1, which went fine until the seat post broke: I have no idea how I managed that.
  • I spent some time buying a pannier/bag luggage set which when delivered was missing the panniers, so I’m trying to contact the company and see if they’d like to send me the rest of it.
  • I filled in paperwork informing the Job Centre I wouldn’t be at home, so they sent me more forms, and then had a hissy fit and said I’m showing dangerous levels of initiative and I’ll be away longer than paupers are allowed, so they will reduce my unemployment payments while I’m in north Germany. They then demanded a different form which has to be delivered a week after I leave.
  • I spent a day applying to thirty different hospitals and ambulance stations trying to get an internship, and several more days being inundated with refusals and worrying that I’ll have to go somewhere else for that part of the course which would mean (a) Not being with family, and (b) either losing all my unemployment benefit, or being naughty and not telling the Job Centre.
  • I watered the seedlings.
  • I ordered the train tickets with seat and bicycle reservations. I can get from here to within 30 kilometres of the school in one day, whereupon I’ll stay overnight in a bike-friendly bed and breakfast before riding the last bit.
  • I bought a map so I can find my way on that last bit, and a German-English medical dictionary, and then realised I didn’t understand half the English words either.
  • I’ll have to buy a mobile phone for the first time in my life so I’ve been getting advice, some of which I actually understood.
  • I’ve been dispensing hugs to The Boys, who have been staying noticeably close this week.
  • I was (rather suddenly) interviewed and offered a placement in an emergency room at a major children’s hospital as long as I don’t get in the way too much (I’ll have to wear a white uniform. Beautiful Wife finds this hilarious)
  • I read the electricity meter.
  • I lost some files on the computer, made a mental note to sort it out and forgot about it three minutes later, several times.
  • I collected our seed potatoes.
  • And a few minutes ago, I was offered an internship at an ambulance station, subject to an interview next week.

So things are happening fast, and I’m about to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but the process doesn’t make for exciting blogging.

I’m going to the school in Daschow to learn how to be a Rettungsanitäter, or Emergency Medical Technician. I had to think about this a bit as it means committing spend a month away from the family, but I got a lot of encouragement, not least from several readers of this blog, but the deciding factor was that Beautiful Wife felt it was a good idea. As she’s the one who will have to look after three highly energetic boys while I’m away, I wasn’t about to go and try without her agreement. She reckons that as long as she’s known me, I’ve wanted to jump on passing ambulances to go and help people, so it’s about time I actually learned to do it*. I have a fantastic wife.

I’ll be off for a month in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, known as Meck-Pom, and about as far as you can get in Germany before falling of the north coast and heading for Sweden. The school is in the least populated area of Germany’s least populated state, and the bus service won’t exactly be every ten minutes, so one of the items on the very long list of things to do before I go is fixing up Bike N+1 so I can actually get about**. Thankfully, between working in the bike shop and my habit of embarrassing Beautiful Wife by salvaging bits of scrap bikes, this won’t be too expensive. A small victory for hoarding.

Hopefully, if I have time and money, I’ll be able to race down to see the family for a very short weekend in the middle of the course, then after my first exam I’ll be home for two months, sort of, while I spend four weeks in an accident and emergency ward, and then another month in different ambulances. Of course I now have to apply for these placements, which means more paperwork, and I still have to finish the paperwork for the carpentry apprenticeship, -or more accurately, for the finance for the apprenticeship- and visit the carpentry school and discuss how many lessons I’m expected to attend, and file an amendment to my original application (with paperwork to back it up) because I’m now working part time at the bike shop, and then another amendment (with different paperwork) because I’ll be away throughout May, and…

We’ve made a lot of progress in the last week, I’m trying not to forget that in the face of all these forms…

*Helping people that is, I doubt jumping on passing ambulances is part of the training.

** “Think up a better name for it” is another job, I reckon…

Last month I got a contract from the carpenter in the village to start training in September.

I’d have liked to attempt a witty yet profound post about this but to be honest I’m still in shock that they agreed, especially after watching me make the ugliest box in Christendom.

Assuming I manage to get the grants we need to pay for our living expenses, I’ll be at school from the beginning of September: the school is only about 20km away, but that’s 20 hilly kilometres. This goes up to thirty if I follow the cycleways which wander in random directions across the map and apparently spurn almost any direct route unless it crosses at least seven tightly spaced contours. What with that and the lack of safe cycle parking I’ll probably end up travelling by bus and train, but I’m sure I’ll get a few good stories out of that.

I’ve got a year of the carpentry school. With German and Maths exams at the end. And this isn’t German as taught in an English school where you can graduate by saying “Where is the newspaper stand?” and “I am fifteen years old” *. My school grade in ‘woodwork’ was even worse than German, but I still think I’d have done rather better if the teacher hadn’t spent most of his time with the prettier female students, and the workshop had included luxuries like saws that were sharp, or wood.

This of course is the ‘other’ reason I’m doing this: I’m a bit tired of the long shadow of a school which mostly taught me I can’t do anything. It’s time to prove them wrong, and incidentally do all the things I wanted to do then but was told I couldn’t: In three years I’ll be a carpenter, with a German qualification, and the ghosts of that school can be firmly laid to rest.**

And when I think about it, I don’t think I’d have done it without this blog, and the generally very encouraging comments and emails you’ve been sending: thanks for coming along on the journey.

Besides, I have a suspicion that nothing the school can throw at me will be half as difficult as the forms I’m trying to fill in for the grants…

*I am not making that up: it was in my final exam. Thankfully one of the few decent teachers I had was my German teacher who is probably the reason I’m here now.

And on to stage two of the plan for World Domination through Training Courses. This time I’m applying for a course as a Rettungsanitäter, or in English an Emergency Medical Technician.

The reasons for this are many and varied and probably very boring to anyone but me. The course is fairly short, so I could fit it in before the carpentry course, but the job carries a fair bit of responsibility and it means I could work in an area that actually helps people rather than being part of a machine. In the (highly unlikely) event of us returning to the UK, the Immigration Service may more readily recognise this than carpentry as ‘a way to support your family’. We may need this because although I’m a British Citizen, I’m married to a “non-EU national” and notwithstanding the hysterics of some people it really isn’t that easy to bring a non-European spouse into the country*.

It may also be connected to the scary morning when our youngest son couldn’t breathe properly. Of course this is slightly ironic in a way as that morning was a major reason we started living car free in the first place, and this training may involve driving. I’m trying to get some practice before they take me out in a big red and white van.

So plan ‘A’ is that if all goes to plan and the carpentry apprenticeship works out, I’ll then apply for this school in summer, and spend May rattling to central Stuttgart and back on the tram (if there’s a safe and convenient cycle route I haven’t found it yet) and then I’ll have a month in an emergency room taking patients off ambulances as they come in. If I haven’t passed out, thrown up or done anything else embarrassing, I’ll spend a final month going out as the ‘third man’** on several different ambulances, and then I’ll come back to school for a week of revision and being graded on resuscitating mannequins and fixing fake injuries.

Graduation is in the first week in August. By mid-August I’ll be in Newcastle on Tyne watching a friend get married and then in September -hopefully- starting a 3 year carpentry apprenticeship.

Meanwhile I’ll be working in the Garden, organising bike tours, trying to ride a century…

Not too much then.

*Told you it would be boring.
** Read: “getting in the way”.

Well, not a great deal seems to have happened this week, but that would be a false impression. It’s just that not a lot has happened that I can make an interesting blog entry out of.* I can’t even regale you with tales of horrific winter blizzards and drifts up to the windowsills because even the weather is just in a big grey sulk like a teenager being forced to do their homework. When you start blogging about the weather being apathetic then you really are short of blogging subjects.

Still, I suspect it’s the calm before the storm, as next week will be my Praktikum, a trial week with the local carpenter, who fortunately for me is within an easy walk of where we live. If I manage to convince the boss that I can handle a week of eight-hour shifts without tripping over, passing out, crashing the van, or amputating my own thumb, I can hopefully start a full three-year apprenticeship in this company in September. In Germany we still have this quaint notion that training people is a good idea, so a lot of people here do apprenticeships like this in just about everything from social work to engineering, and in many cases it’s seen a sort of ‘job for life’, or near enough: we see it more as a “Skill for life” which will mean we can keep working towards our goals. I’ll go on about those another time.

I have been cycling as well, but as it’s mostly been the “drive to school/kindergarten/supermarket/garden” type of trip it’s hardly exciting stuff, unless you count the early morning “Papa Taxi” ride which occasionally means dealing with commuters in a two tonne weapon who don’t know what ‘Shared Space’ means. Last week we were going uphill on a road just wide enough for one car -so of course there were cars parked all down the side of it- when a VW pulled out and started to come downhill towards us. Lacking the abilities of spiderman to climb buildings** we waited until the driver realised they would have to wait for us to pass them. As we walked by the vehicle the driver leaned across and shouted in a you-are-being-told-off-voice that “Your light is really bright.”

With hindsight, “Good” probably wasn’t the most diplomatic answer…

*Not that this usually stops me, of course.
**And I’ll bet even he wouldn’t attempt that with a Bakfiets.

Happy Christmas, and many thanks for reading and commenting this year.

That is all.

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