You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Uninformed opinions’ category.
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.
One of the most common plants in our garden is the ash tree, Fraxinus Exclesior, a fast growing native hardwood. The owner of the garden loathes them, but I’m letting them grow just about wherever they chose to self-seed, or wherever the bird poo carrying them lands. I’m doing this because I like them, and because they grow fast and give good quality wood which I may be able to use in three years, but also because recently a fungus called Chalara fraxinea has come from goodness knows where and seems to like eating them. Alarming numbers of ash trees are dying off all over Germany.
Until February this year there was some hope that the UK would be spared: as long as no ash trees from the continent were brought in the fungus may not make it over the channel. Unfortunately no-one told the politicians this (or if they did, the politicians didn’t want to hear it) so they allowed the trees to be imported and exported, and Chalara fraxinea turned up as well. In several places.
The brilliant minds of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formed ‘Emergency Committee Cobra’ which has come up with such gems as “everyone should be responsible”. and advise people visiting forests in the UK to “Wash your hands afterwards“. Thanks for that.
According to this very comprehensive post on the Ubiqitous Blog this is nothing new: scientists have been repeatedly ignored when their concerns may inconvenience some corporate interest, and one who was asked to investigate a similar fungal attack on trees in a park had a gagging order placed on them to prevent them saying where the outbreak may have come from.
At the same time, the Environment Secretary (who supports a third runway at Heathrow, a badger cull and fracking, but dislikes wind farms, just as an aside) has suggested that the current outbreak of fungus causing ash dieback is ‘possibly just wind borne’, which is interesting because two weeks ago a forester in Germany old me no-one is sure how the fungus spores are transported.
Which would mean that in the UK, a scientist commissioned to investigate an outbreak of fungal based dieback cannot publish his or her findings for fear of legal repercussions, but a politician known to support corporate interests over the environment can make statements which happen to match up with the desires of the industry to keep going as usual, and that’s okay.
Is this a very strange situation, or am I missing something?
[Edit: Check the comments. It appears Ash seeds are wind blown rather than carried by birds. Thanks Kim.]
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.
Bakfiets making friends at the local supermarket.
Germany has a lot of ‘utility’ or transport cyclists, although the majority seem to hibernate for winter.
I can’t help thinking that if Ostfildern actually made some slightly better infrastructure and kept the cycle lanes clear we would get a lot more, but then my cynical side wonders if more cyclists is exactly what the local government is trying to avoid.
The plan was that by yesterday morning I’d have shaken off the jet-lag and thus I could get up reasonably early before the heat began to slow-bake every living thing, and go for a walk before returning refreshed to speak bad Japanese to my extended family. Of course it didn’t work out like that because my metabolism still thinks it’s in Europe and we’re in the crash zone between a couple of tropical storms and an area of high pressure which meant that every cloud passing over dumped its water on us, and then moved out of the way so the next one could join in, but about mid-morning I got bored of waiting so I went out anyway.
It took a while to get my ‘Japan legs’ back: apart from anything else, cars drive on the left, most of the time, and I lived on the mainland of Europe for ten years and learned to drive there as well, so I tend to get confused by this, but also because in Japan street signs are considered advisory, pavements/sidewalks are a part of the road with only a white line to show where pedestrians are supposed to walk, and zebra crossings are a nice decoration for pedestrians to look at while waiting for a gap in the traffic.
On the other hand roads are narrow and traffic is fairly slow so it’s not particularly dangerous as long as you remember to look right, or left… and jump out of the way when you get it wrong, and there’s none of the nasty aggression you get from European drivers, so despite getting mixed up several times no-one hooted at or gesticulated wildly.
Bicycles are required to ride on the pavement/sidewalk, which takes a bit of getting used to having been brought up to think that riding on the pavement is an abomination causing desecration and a mark of the coming apocalypse. Speaking of bicycles, the bike I intended to use here has gone, probably to be with its owner in Tokyo, so I’m now trying to figure out how to get hold of another one.
In other news, the suitcase finally arrived, broken beyond repair and missing a strap that was holding it together but at least containing a change of clothes.
A friend has asked for ideas on ‘how to start cycling’ for someone who owns a car but wants to cycle more for transport, especially commuting. Now, I’m not terribly well qualified for this as I never owned a car and only got my driving licence when I was twenty six because we were in a rural area and I mistakenly believed I ‘needed a car’. Here are my paltry suggestions, I hope more experienced people can add others:
- Don’t panic: the streets look scary, but they looked pretty scary on your first driving lesson too, and you made it.
- Get a decent bike: Yes, I know supermarkets are selling ‘bargain’ bicycles, but how much are you really going to use a bike to get around if you have to pedal to get downhill with a following wind? Especially if it doesn’t have lights/mudguards/luggage rack. And your ‘expensive’ bike will still work in ten years time: your car won’t.
- Get at least one good lock.
- Freeze your car keys: put them in a margarine tub full of water and put it in the freezer: that way you can get at them if you need to, but it’s a lot less convenient than having them by the door.*
- Put your bike keys by the door.
- If you feel the need for a helmet, get one, if the idea (or cost) of a polystyrene lid puts you off, don’t.
- Explore: bikes can go places cars only dream of. Find regular routes you are happy with. In six months your mental map of the town will look different to a motorists, so you’ll send drivers down dead end streets.
- Always hide after giving drivers directions.
- Learn how to ride safely. learn about blind spots, door zones et c.
- Please, stop at red traffic signals.
- Wave at other cyclists.
- Learn which sort of car to watch. Locally it is Taxis, old men in big cars (especially Mercedes) and young women. Other places are different. I don’t know why.
And of course:
- Enjoy yourself, smile and wave at drivers, even when they are swearing at you. It’s nicer than shouting back and it makes them madder than anything else you could do.
*maybe not if they’re one of those new-fangled electronic keys…
And so back to the fun and games of Stuttgart 21 (Give the people what they want, etc). The background to the story is here, and some more recent developments are here. It’s German Railways (AKA Deutsche Bahn or DB) and the (then) centre-right state government’s plan to rebuild Stuttgart’s man station and quite coincidentally make some of the most valuable building land in Germany available for sale. Nobody in Stuttgart wanted this except the project partners, who said it couldn’t be stopped because:
1: There would need to be a referendum in Stuttgart. That’s democracy: a small group can’t control everything their way. (except us obviously: see point 4)
2: Oh, wait: there can’t be a referendum in Stuttgart because some of the money is coming from the state, not the city. (and we may lose)
3: The contracts have been signed and it would cost too much to cancel them.
4: Shut up. Politicians make decisions, not people.
5: The dog ate our homework.
6: Go away or we spray you with water cannon.
After the authorities learned the hard way that water-cannoning peaceful crowds of protesters including women and children was A Very Bad Idea, there was a mediation process, and the Stuttgart 21 partners agreed to a ‘Stress Test’: a computer based simulation to show that the new station really could take 30% more trains than the old one.
The agreement was that if the ‘stress test’ showed the planned eight platform station was too constricted, then they would have to figure out how to make a ten platform one instead. (for comparison, the current station has seventeen platforms).
This would cost more of course, but when the agreement was made it was the ‘good old days’ when the CDU were in charge and there was an apparently limitless fund financed by the taxpayer, but now the Green Party are in, and they’ve quickly decided the project will now have a maximum 4.5 billion Euro budget. If it costs more DB will have to pay for it themselves. Currently costs are spiraling and some estimates suggest they will end up on the other side of 20 billion. We’ve already had hissy fits from Deutsche Bahn.
DB won’t let anyone in on the ‘stress test’ claiming they can do it themselves. (this is the company that ‘forgot’ several kilometres of track and a tunnel in their original cost estimates) so the Greens commissioned an independent ‘Stress test’ which reported back last week that an eight platform station can’t work.
Stuttgart 21′s supporters are strangely quiet at the moment.
Now we wait for the ‘other’ stress test.*
*But I bet I know what it’ll say…
Very cold, apparently. In the last week we’ve had cold rain, freezing mist that ignores the three fleeces you’re wearing and goes straight through to your bones; Snow; more snow; sudden 24 hour snow which was never heavy but did manage to make the roads sufficiently slippery that the trucks climbing the Scary Hill of Doom were spinning all wheels and making progress at less than walking speed. In fact I think the wheel-spinning was just to stop the truck sliding back down the hill. Meanwhile a restive traffic jam had developed behind the truck and was snaking over the entire valley and the bus had given up and gone home. When it gets to this level in Germany you know there’s serious weather going on. Although the snowplough being stuck in traffic didn’t help either.
This morning the sun came out, so the roads will be clear by lunchtime. Ostfildern still haven’t realised that people transport themselves on those funny pedal-powered objects in winter, so they don’t bother clearing the cycle routes, which will be like an ice skating rink for a week, so no-one can cycle on them, so the council claims they don’t need to clear the lanes…
Still, we can go sledging, which makes up for a lot.
Actually, maybe a kick sled would be a good idea…
I whine about Ostfildern’s apparent resistance to cycle infrastructure plenty, but I will say this for them: they’ve made sure that there’s a comprehensive network of signs for cyclists. Using these you can generally navigate your way anywhere you want to go, mostly avoiding busy roads. Of course, because I live in Ostfildern I already know my way around (and importantly, when to ignore the signs) so they are of limited use. Whereas when I need signs, like I did in Bempflingen* last week, there aren’t any.
Actually that’s not entirely true: there were a few signs in Bempflingen: it seems that the policy was to save money by only putting in every second sign, or possibly by only ordering signs pointing to the right. The village had also made them marginally larger than a postage stamp, and placed them on existing signposts, after first ensuring that these were properly hidden behind a bush or a house.
As a result I had a lot of opportunity to get to know Bempflingen rather well, and I can report that it’s an attractive village with a pleasant church and a very nice mill with a water wheel, which I was able to view from several different angles. Unfortunately I was trying to find the way to Bad Urach and back, a round trip of 100km, so it was not the best time to be on a magical mystery tour of the local dead ends, all of which had a clear view of the next village, but no way of getting there.
So there’s something Ostfildern have done right. I am happy to set the record straight. Now if they could possibly move along a bit with actually surfacing the cycle ways and making it possible to ride in the town centre without the feeling we will be flattened by a large truck, that would be even better. Thank you.
I’ll bore you further with the trip to Bad Urach another time.
*And who decided that ‘Bempflingen’ would be a snappy name for a village? and did this person have any connection to the person who decreed that the first road I crossed would be called ‘Klarwerkstrasse’: ‘sewage works street’?
Electric cars have become the next big thing in Germany, partly in response to the problem of Peak Oil. There’s a huge amount of money going into a new infrastructure, and much investment in advertising about PR about how these are the eco-friendly, low impact future of personal transport.
Like Hydrogen was a few years ago.
Anyway, I came across this web page from a German power company which makes a few interesting statements, such as:
“Did you know that…
…The total CO2 output of an E-car from energy production to using the energy in driving, is 50% better than a normal car, on average?
… E-cars have already reached a range of 150km (Just under 100 miles) and in the near future will soon reach 350km?
And the the jewel in the crown:
… Even if 25 percent of the German car fleet was E-cars, electricity consumption in Germany would only increase by 4%?
That’s a selection fromn this page (In German)
That 4% somehow stuck out. It looks a bit like a “€0.99” price tag, designed to look less than it is, and to reassure us that all is well: it’s business as usual and we only need to get an electric car to join the magical expedition to electrically powered Nirvarna, and don’t look too closely or you may notice that we’re not even taking buses or large goods vehicles into account. And this is only one in four cars, so what will the other three use?
But lets follow the rabbit hole. How much is 4% of German energy usage? Based on this English language report, which uses figures from 2007, German power demand is an average of 122.3 gigawatts. A 4% increase on that is a mere 4.892 gigawatts giving a total demand of just under 127.2 gigawatts if we swap 1 in 4 cars to pure electricity. Great, let’s all go and get an electric car.
Except that on page 27 of the same report, something else crops up. What with phasing out nuclear, shutting down aging power stations, the inevitable delay in building new power stations and a possible shortage of skills and parts to make these power stations come on stream, Germany is going to have a shortfall of 45-50 gigawatts in the next ten years. Add the 4.8 gigawatts for those extra electric cars and…
Not so good then.
So why is our Government pouring billions into keeping this unpleasant, antisocial, and downright dangerous transport form going? Because Germany has too many big powerful car companies to let it die.