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I’ve discovered that learning to be a carpenter makes me part of a tribe. The college where I’m learning the basics of carpentry (Try not to cut your finger off, etc) teaches other skills as well, so when we emerge from our workshop pulling sawdust out of our ears, we’re suddenly surrounded by people learning interior decoration, housebuilding, car repair, and half a dozen other things, all standing in little tribal groups.
You can tell what everyone is learning because every tribe has a different colour of trousers. The decorators have white, or a base of white at least, with all manner of colours on top, The car mechanics wear blue, the electricians have grey; and the very strange people learning house building favour traditional black corduroy. We all lurk in ‘our’ part of the campus every day as if someone had marked out territory boundaries with paint.
We don’t have this in the UK: probably because people change career much more frequently, and because courses in most trades last a matter of months rather than years. In Germany I’m not permitted to call myself a ‘carpenter’ until 2015 when I (hopefully) pass the exam and I’m entered on the register of craft persons. The same applies to the people learning to fix cars or paint houses: everyone has to have an apprenticeship lasting a minimum of two years, and the expectation is that they will keep working in their trade for their entire career, and in some cases for the same employer.
Most carpenters here wear khaki, the better for hiding sawdust, except for the occasional rebels and one Brit who failed to appreciate the significance of this and turned up wearing grey.
Not that that’s important of course: I certainly did not just order a pair of Khaki trousers because I want it to be obvious that I’m learning to be a carpenter and not an electrician.
I needed a new pair of trousers anyway.
I hope that is understood.
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.