I’ve said before that cycling into the next big town is a simple matter of pootling through vineyards and gardens. Unfortunately riding back out again is rather harder work.

Step one is simple enough: find the shortest traffic free route through the suburbs of the town and  avoid being run over by the dustbin lorries that seem to infest these back streets.

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The next image was taken about 500 metres behind the church seen above. The weathervane on the tip of the tower is directly behind the camera, which makes this hill seem rather excesive, frankly.

This road is closed to cars, but there are always one or two who decide to take the short cut. Inevitably they decide they want to overtake on this section.

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At the top of the climb is a housing estate in a forest built in the days when everyone was going to use cars, and therefore with no infrastructure for bicycles whatsoever. Often when I ride here the local drivers have tooted encouragement, waved enthusiastically out of the window as they pass, and for some reason pointed frantically at the pavement.

I don’t know why this happens often here but almost nowhere else. Perhaps they just aren’t used to seeing cyclists on the road.

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The secret exit out of the top of the housing estate into fields.
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And the top of the climb looking back to the north, 20 minutes and about 200 metres after the first photograph. The reward for this climbing is a magnificent view towards the distant hills that mark the watershed between Rhine and Danube. Typically on the day I had my camera, it was too cloudy to see beyond the next plowed field.

We decided it was time for Beautiful Daughter to come on a bike ride with us. This caused much head scratching while I focused the remaining operable brain cells on a way to keep her baby seat from wobbling about in the Bakfiets.

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After massively over thinking things and sketching out wooden frames and other ideas, I remembered that the simplest solution is the best, and that we had a 200kg rated climbing rope that would work just fine. As long as I could still tie knots.

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About ten minutes later I had the seat tied down. unfortunately I’d also carefully tied the rope around the steering rod that runs under the bike. This meant that I could ride perfectly well as long as I didn’t have to turn any corners.

With some colorful language, another five minutes untying and retying the rope, and a total expenditure of €0,00 later we had this result. It is remarkable how the seat for smallest member of the family requires almost the entire Bakfiets.

Baby_Bak_03_alltogether

When we go out as a family these days, people notice. Here is the mothership with the satellites waiting outside the shops. The boys often lock their bike to the Bakfiets as it is heavier than the cheap cycle stands provided. The roof was to keep the wind out rather than any rain.

Beautiful daughter was a somewhat bemused at first, and gave the bakfiets a thorough inspection. Her brothers helped her to relax by by riding alongside and pulling faces. Inbetween she played with her cuddly toys before settling off to sleep.

Baby_Bak_03_entertainment

In flight entertainment was provided. She found the sight of Papa puffing up the hill more entertaining.

So, yes, I’ve been a bit quiet again. This is because filling in forms and sending multiple job applications makes for boring blog entries. You all know what it is like and don’t need me to remind you.

It doesn’t help that I’ve been diagnosed with Asthma which means I probably can’t work in a normal carpenters workshop, so the Job Centre is checking this with the doctor to see if I’m officially not able to be a carpenter, and therefore need retraining, and as with most government offices, this is taking a while.

So after being sensible for the last few years I decided to use the time to do something ‘silly’, or to put it another way, something I really wanted to do but was always told was silly.

I decided to try being an oral storyteller.

After much encouragement from an established English speaking storyteller in Germany, I put a show together, called it “A great British Evening” and made some posters.

GBE_Postcard_front_merged

And people turned up.

Even better, they didn’t run away during the interval and made positive comments. Some of the students even came twice. We also had a healthy amount in the tips jar, which is encouraging as people tend to be honest with their wallet and pay what they think their evening was worth. Now I’ve got a list of subscribers, a website, and I’m planning the next evening. “A Great British Evening” was a mix of history and stories from different people groups in Britain from the Romans through to the beginning of the modern age, so maybe I could do “Another Great British Evening” about the industrial revolution.

I’ve got several other leads I’m following up as well…

So last night I was riding the Bakfiets along the main road in the village, in the dark, and noticed I was being followed by something with a lot more lights than I had. Looking back this turned out to be a Big Black Truck.

About a thousand trucks drive through the village every day, which causes much harrumphing from the locals while they wait to pull out from side streets in their 4 x 4’s. This one had just squeezed around the sharp corner at the top of the hill and was rolling  about fifty metres behind my back wheel. I looked again to signal for a left turn, to find it was still there, but noted with surprise that he was hanging well back, giving me space and allowing himself a generous braking distance. Gratified that he was doing his best not to glue me to his massive bull bars, I signalled, pulled across the road and waved to acknowledge that I had seen the fifty tonnes of black and chrome just behind me. I was rewarded by a short flash of headlights with enough candlepower to safely guide ships, which projected my shadow on the buildings opposite.

It being rather late, there was no traffic in the opposite direction, so I could pull into our street easily enough. I stopped to wave again and got a quick honk on the horn and a wave from the shadowy figure in the cab as the behemoth rumbled out of the village into the darkness.

Why can’t it be like this more often?

(And let’s not ask why cyclists are sharing space with such massive vehicles on narrow roads in a small village, that’d spoil the story…)

 

 

A few weeks back, Tony from The Rock, who writes a very entertaining blog about the smallholding his family shares with several dozen assorted animals, posted a photo of a new mug which expressed his love of cycling. I made a positive comment, and thought no more about it.

Then a couple of days ago, a parcel arrived in the post, which turned out to be a cycling magazine, and my own mug…

 
Bikemug

 

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And to avoid it ‘wandering’ in our rather large family, he even got me a personalised version…

Many thanks Tony, that cheered me up no end…

I have not fallen off the face of the planet.

I’m just working on a couple of projects and generally looking for a job, and it is taking a lot of time. We are also hosting my lovely parents and as we see them but once or twice a year, time with them takes priority over things like blogging.

This post is a blatant attempt to fill in that gap by using a piece I wrote for a writing group I’m part of. I was supposed to write a short piece on ‘Music Lessons’.

More on topic material will come soon, I promise:

I avoided music lessons as much as I could, I suspect the music teachers were quite glad about this. There were a few difficult times in School, of course, including one memorable term where they tried to make us think Mozart was cool by making us sing drippy songs to the sound of a harpsichord. I disliked Mozart for years.

There was one unavoidable music hazard, and that was when it was raining, and the teachers were in a flurry to stop us from pulling limbs off each other with boredom during the lunch hour (this is north-west England, you’d think they’d have come up with a plan for rain) and we’d be herded into the big assembly hall for a ‘sing-along’, something almost universally dreaded.*

We’d troop in and adopt various interpretations of ‘sitting’ while Enthusiastic Teacher handed out instruments, ranging from the expensive Glockenspiel (only for the trusted few) down to the triangles and battered castanets with saggy elastic. Those of us too slow or not trusted even with these relatively unbreakable instruments, had to Clap When Instructed.

Enthusiastic Teacher would bang out a chord on the piano and we would all make an approximate noise, whereupon her head would appear over the piano, the better to see those of us trying to hide. She would glare at us, and bang the piano again. All kinds of chord, ranging from ‘Enthusiastic Harmony’ to ‘Bored Moans’ would ensue.

Satisfied that we were enjoying ourselves whether we liked it or not, the teacher would begin playing. This was the cue for a cacophony of sound to erupt while various new and interesting rhythms were tried on various old and battered instruments and the glockenspiel degenerated into negotiations that would put the Middle East in the shade.(“I’ll let you play this song, Lucy, if I get invited to your party in March”).

None of this was important to Enthusiastic Teacher though: as the song continued, she would regularly shoot up from behind the piano shouting “I want everybody singing, including the boys hiding behind the piano! I can see you! Sit up straight! And clap! Now! and Now! and Now! Sing up…”

I have never experienced longer lunch breaks…

*Seriously, you don’t need corporal punishment: just threaten eight year old boys with having to sing with girls for an hour, we’ll do anything…

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Xtracycle outside trade guild office

 

In my last post, I mentioned that I was collecting certificates for the carpentry apprenticeship. these are the ‘other’ certificates issued for the practical exams by the trade guild, as opposed to the theory certificates from the state. I’d explain more but it really isn’t interesting.

For readers who haven’t been following the blog for the last three years -or have for some reason neglected to take notes- a local company took me onin 2012 as an apprentice carpenter –to my rather great surprise, and sent me to college for a year making different small projects before graduating to my first piece of furniture. Once the trade guild (and more importantly, the insurance company) were convinced that we could be trusted with sharp and fast moving objects, we were allowed to work in our companies.

Dissilusionment set in at this point: I’d joined the course to learn a creative job where I could make things like this (preferably with tools like this), the system wanted me to spend the next thirty to forty years making semi-disposable shelving units out of formaldehyde-filled industrial woods with ridiculously complex machines. Attempts to use hand tools whenever I could met with consternation.

I managed to pick up a work related injury, and the college suggested I take my exams six months early. They suggested this three weeks before the exam. Much revision ended in three days of exams and then making my final project in February -using hand tools most of the time: I am nothing if not stubborn- and suddenly I was finished.

The summer graduates will have an exhibition of their work hosted by the college and then be invited to a grand handout of certificates. As there were only three of us graduating now, there won’t be any exhibition and we were invited to tag on to the next awards ceremony, which incidentally would have finished late at night, some distance from our apartment and the nearest station, but then it was for the car mechanics so I guess they assumed everyone would drive there.

Which is why my apprenticeship ended on Friday, with me cycling down to the local trade guild office*, and picking up the final certificates from a bored secretary.

An odd way to finish two and a half years, but at least I finished.

*Which had a car park, but no cycle parking. A pattern emerges…

Due to some monumentally bad planning on my part, I managed to have four appointments in our local big town on different days last week. The town in question is only a bit over five kilometres away, which comes in at a mere 3.2 miles, but before you serious transport cycling types scoff, it is also almost 200m lower, or a rather more respectable 620 feet, most of which is crammed in a relatively short part of the ride.

The quickest way (down) is the busy, but straight main road.

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 but if I have the time, it is far more pleasant to use the old road…

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…which meanders without any urgency through the vineyards…

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…especially as this route is closed to motorised traffic, so I can stop and take pictures.

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This was another one of those mornings when I was reminded there are far worse places to live and ride a bike.

You really aren’t supposed to have this much fun on the way to an appointment, especially when the reason was to pick up my results for my carpentry apprenticeship…

I don’t have to plant everything in the garden just yet, as I’m waiting a bit this year in an attempt to time the narrow window between ‘not ready for harvest’ and ‘bolting out of control’ so I’m actually around to harvest something. Nonetheless I’ve been digging the garden as fast as I can: my parents are coming this Easter and my mum, who is a keen gardner, will want to know how I’m doing. It would be preferable if the garden is not a bramble strewn wasteland when this happens.

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Apart from digging out the beds, I also cleared the grass off the parking space at the top of the hill (top tip: don’t leave the remains of the pile of potting compost and cow poo out on paving over winter) and filled the pots for our apartment from the compost bin. I was feeling rather virtuous today when I arrived to find that the warm weather has set the grass off again and the paths are starting to look decidedly shaggy.

At least there’s a visible difference between ‘paths’ and ‘vegetable bed’. For the next week, any way.

Coming back to our village this week, I came across a new bit of shared use pedestrian/cycle route that hadn’t looked like this two days earlier.

Nuroad_01

The previous surface had been getting rougher by the year, but even so I couldn’t help feeling there were other places they where this could have been more useful.

Cynical people would of course suggest that this wasn’t the point: it is March, and the surfacing budget must be spent before April the first.

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Obviously there wasn’t that much left in the budget, as this is the other end, just at the bottom of a hill where a nice flat surface would be really welcome. If you are wondering how long the largesse lasted, the barn above is the same as the one in the previous picture.

Still, this is the second year running that the tarmac leftovers were used on this route, and at the current rate the whole way to the next village should be nice and smooth in about six years or so…

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