I may be a tree hugging hippy but if I don’t want to end up tripping over my flowing beard, I still need to shave occasionally, so what passes for intellectual capacity here has been intermittently occupied with finding a method of shaving that still allows me to pass for normal in The Towns.

I abandoned electric razors over a decade ago when planning a trip to Nepal. Plugs were in short supply in the mountains, so I’d changed to a well known brand with Three Parallel Blades. I thought no more of it until I realised that although this had undoubtedly been the better choice for a month of washing in a river, they were still contributing to landfill, and I really wasn’t getting a very good shave out of them.

I heard a story from about how some years back the shaving industry decided they were not making enough profit with simple razor blades. They solved this by persuading the unshaven masses that the safety razor didn’t work and exciting combinations of plastic and metal which cost about five times as much were a better option. Apparently they knew the best shave was offered by the humble safety razor, but hey, enough advertising can solve almost any problem.

This appealed to my inner hippy and when the Three Parallel Blades ran out, I swapped them for a safety razor, brush and lump of soap, and do you know, this really does give a better shave, the old school razor blades are cheaper and easier to recycle. To add to the smug green glow I even used an old tea cup for the soap.

Yeah, man. Down with the purpose made soap dishes of tyranny and capitalism.

Then the local shop stopped stocking razors and soap, which I suppose was inevitable. So until I find a decent shaving shop in Stuttgart, I now have to order stuff online via the evil corporations which arguably defeats the point of the exercise.

It isn’t easy being green. And before someone asks, I’m not really sure I want to go for the real traditional approach

 

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I’m still working as an intern. Currently I’m at the Kulturwerk, an arts centre for people with psychological issues and/or substance abuse problems to get their lives back on track. My job is to work alongside clients working in the theatre section preparing for shows, train them in soft skills and generally help them get ready for normal work. Once a week I go out with a team of people who used to have substance addictions and we do theatre presentations in schools followed by group work and question and answer sessions.

I’m having far more fun than you really are supposed to have at work, so to make up for it I’m supposed to write a Very Boring Report, and this is taking up a lot of time and creative energy.

I also have to attend team meetings without falling asleep.

I’m working in the centre of Stuttgart, a city trying all kinds of creative ways to reduce pollution from cars as long as they don’t actually involve reducing the number of cars, so there’s little meaningful infrastructure for bicycles except for a few white lines and hopeful slogans. I live about 200m higher than the city which makes the ride back a little arduous, especially when being buzzed by impatient SUV drivers, so cycling is reduced to a short ride on the commuter bike to our local tram stop and a tram ride down the hill.

I can still do this and barely touch a road, and the public transport system drops me off right in front of Kulturwerk so I really shouldn’t complain too much. But I still do.

 

I started my second training placement this week, which has been busy, with lots of new people, new workplace and new responsibilities, so I’m not really in the right state of mind to write a finely honed blog post. Instead, here’s a set of pictures from another ride I went on using my sister in law’s borrowed bike.

Corner shop.

 


Back street.

 


Local shop seen from under a small arcade.

 


Railway station, so small it doesn’t have a ticket barrier, but not so isolated that it lacks a drinks machine.

 


Old house, still inhabited despite appearances.

 


Railway crossing the Miyagawa river

 


Roadside business, Miyagawa village.

 


Rice harvester unloading in the countryside. Passing rice harvesters on the narrow roads was a minor hazard.

 

“Wind Clan”, apparently the place Cadillacs go to die.

 


Tamaru (“Tama-Loo”)  Station complete with hand painted sign over the door.

 


Very optimistic taxi waiting for the next train at Tamaru.

 

Cycle lane. In the manner of cycle lanes the world over it lasted for all of half a kilometre and vanished into a road Island.

Grateful as I was for the use of this bike, it lacked certain things I’m used to, like 25 other gears. I’d cycled about 9km in an hour and it felt like a lot further, so this is as far as I got.

I am not working out schemes with Eldest Son to take bikes with us next time and go on a tour. Not at all.

Just before the start of the summer break, our college group went out on an end of year outing, and some bright spark decided we could go to an art gallery.

It could have been worse: they were talking about an ‘interactive’ tour which I’ve been on before and didn’t very much want to go on again, or some kind of ‘fun and games’ silliness where the extroverts have a great time and the introverts just put up with it. Instead we went to an art gallery, which was showing an ‘exciting new’ exhibition called ‘soul sickness’ by someone who thinks it is cool to be anonymous, “about how our senses work, and how some people (Which may include the artist, or may not, because no-one knows who he is, isn’t this cool?) have trouble relating to seeing the world”.

I’ve worked in theatre so my expectations were pretty damn low, but this still managed to be worse.

There was the ‘exciting video installation’ that turned out to be a lot of letters mixed up, ‘representing confusion and difficulty seeing the world’ until the ‘aha moment’ where they all switched off and came on a word at a time forming a single sentence repeated dozens of times. While we were getting over this excitement, we were ushered into another room  with  ‘exciting’ ‘sculptures’ of card that were so badly made I could have knocked one up while waiting for the tour to finish with a knife and steel rule (€35 each, value expected to rise into the upper thousands as long as the artist becomes more famous).

There was also rooms to ‘experience’ things like ‘sensory overload’ which I didn’t go into because I have High Sensory Perception Sensitivity, and spend lot of the time avoiding ‘sensory overload’ so I didn’t need to have lots of noise blasted at me in a dark room thank you very much. As one of my colleagues said on coming out, we could have blown the whole budget for the outing on getting drunk, and the results would have looked about the same.

The main (ie: Biggest) sculpture was an ‘exciting’ installation consisting of several large flat slabs of chipboard with varnish applied in a way that would send my carpentry master into fits, with a bit white lump in the middle.representing a tree of dreams, or possibly an ice floe.  Or possibly a computer game environment.* Either way it was really cool…

This was followed by several hours of small talk around a barbecue on a canoe club launching ramp under a motorway overpass, with loud music. providing another session of sensory overload. But that wasn’t art, so it was free.

*Or possibly, as one person suggested, a giant pillar of Pigeon guano…

Even though I’m back in Germany and sitting at my desk , things are slowing down because of the joy of sending out CV’s to possible employers ready for next April when I finish my course (hooray) but then have to decide what to do with my shiny new qualification.

In theory I have lots of choice because I’m trained to work with people with disabilities and without, but also people with Pscychological Psychological illness and addictions, or in general education in a tech college or a training centre. The reality is that there are dozens of places out there that I could apply to, but only a few actually want anyone, and there’s no central clearing house so I’m having to search very carefully which takes ages. At the moment I’m putting a pin in a map somewhere that looks nice (Personal criteria being “is it outside of the city?” and “Does it have a railway station (Preferably with trains coming more than once a month)” and then searching for “Protected workshop” or “Integration workshop”, or something to do with education.

I’m not complaining as this is kind of a nice situation to be in: I can look for a pleasant place to live and for a job I enjoy, but it takes ages and it is nerve racking because my CV is rather long and rather unusual so people will either love it or chuck it in the bin, and there isn’t a lot I can do to change this. My solution is to say make it the way I want it to look on the possibly rather cocky basis that if they don’t like it, I wouldn’t be happy working for them anyway.

I seem to have collected certificates like cyclists collect spare parts for bikes, so I now have a good ten pages worth and that’s with the British ones reduced to A5 size and two a page: when I went to school they seemed to give us a certificate for every subject, which confuses German employers used to see one from your school, and ask why on earth I have a certificate from the ‘Northern examining board’ and also the ‘Southern examining board’. They brighten up when they see ‘Oxford and Cambridge’ but are inevitably disappointed when I explain. On the other hand the carpentry apprenticeship has to be accredited by the state and for some reason I need a separate one from the carpenters guild, and there are four for my machine operators licence alone which seems a bit excessive. But in Germany, I have a Certificate, therefore I am, so I’m not leaving any out.

My German is fluent but not perfect so I need to get it checked, which takes longer and much goodwill from kind friends, and there there are references…

Anyway, the goal is twenty packages, which isn’t cheap but it means I can say I tried, all going off to various places near and far in the hope of landing somewhere where someone wants an Occupational Therapist or carpentry trainer, refugee tutor, theatre coach or museum interpreter. The last one is a long shot I know but here’s a really nice open air museum up in the hills where they demonstrate traditional crafts like carpentry and woodturning.

Ah, for a working day wearing a smock, and making chair legs in a traditional barn…

Last week I was left to my own devices for an afternoon, so I went exploring up into the hills, an interesting experience on a three speed heavyweight like this which is built to go trundling a couple of kilometres to the shops and back.

After following a couple of promising routes which turned out like this:

 

I managed to get out of the city and into the hills, where the rice harvest hadn’t quite started.

I could have gone further but that meant going downhill, which would have meant coming back uphill, so I turned around and headed back towards the coast.

I passed a couple of these on the way. I thought they were just unfinished buildings, but seen close up they are Tsunami Shelters, built after the massive wave that hit Japan in 2001. This one is 9.5m (31ft) tall. You could fit all the surrounding buildings underneath it. This region wasn’t affected so badly by the Tsunami but they seem to have taken the attitude there’s no point taking chances.

A bit awkward for wheelchair users though.

Writing signs on Japanese roads must be quite a skilled job.

Eventually I found a way to the sea. I don’t speak Japanese so for all I know the sign could say “No bikes beyond this point” but nobody scowled at me when I cycled past it.

There was a school directly behind me when I took this picture which is an example of the basic unfairness of the Universe: all you could see from my school was a slag heap.

The two rocks of Meoto-Iwa which are considered to be ‘Married’ symbolised by he rice rope hanging between them. It occurred to me afterwards that I was probably not supposed to take a bicycle here at all, but no-one seemed to mind. Probably they just assumed that as a stupid foreigner I didn’t know any better.

Honestly, they build half a cycleway and then just stop…

By this time it was getting a bit dark so I headed back, got lost, found the coast road and managed to ride about three times further than I needed to in order to get to my in-laws home, narrowly missing a barrier across the road in the way.

I since discovered that on several occasions I was  just a few kilometres from something interesting. Am dreaming up schemes to take a proper bike with me next time.

 

We’re in Japan again, visiting Beautiful Wife’s family and getting slowly oven baked. Hence the seaside picture, taken while pootling about on a borrowed bike.

Elder Son says it’s a “girl’s bike” but I don’t care.

 

Things are busy again for reasons which will be obvious pretty soon, so I haven’t written much. Instead here’s Beautiful Daughter on our regular road trip, which is far more interesting than I am anyway.

Beautiful daughter generally drags me in the direction of the door by about ten in the morning, insistently saying “Ride to cow farm, Ride to Rabbits… so off we go.

First we ride out to the ‘cow farm’, and then walk to the meadows next door to pick dandelion leaves…

Then we ride to the next farm, and feed the rabbits. Those rabbits have a good thing going I reckon; they’re certainly very fat.

We say hello to the two ponies…

Before going a few more kilometres out into the fields, where there is yet another farm, With even more interesting friendly animals…

…and a Pile Of Sticks. Which have to be tested very carefully.

Eventually we find our way back to the apartment. Via the playground. Unless I remember to avoid it.

We could do this by walking of course. But then it would take all day with the distances involved. Thank goodness for Bakfietsen…

 

So I’ve been a bit preoccupied for a while and got out of the rhythm of writing here. sorry about that. I’m trying to get back and start writing so if there is anyone about, welcome back. have a look around. Mind the dust.

As a starter someone suggested writing ten things from the day. Not good, bad or profound, just ten observations:

1: This morning a red kite flew past the window. I know they’re just an exotic waste disposal unit, but they are stunning birds, especially viewed from the kitchen.

2: I don’t have any exams for at least four months.

3: After the summer holidays we should start our animal assisted therapy training, which I am very excited about. The Boys are also excited because they think we’ll get a dog despite me telling them repeatedly that we can’t.

4: The Boys want a Bernese Mountain Dog. Or a Husky.

5: After the holidays I also start my second internship. I’ll write more on that another time, rest assured.

6: Beautiful Daughter is more beautiful each day, but she’s getting bigger and going up hills on the Bakfiets is harder work.

7: Youngest Son has decided he likes rugby. No-one here has heard of Rugby. This means he has to play with me, so we get more time together.

8: I still think rugby balls are a silly shape though.

9: Eldest Son and Lovely Girlfriend of Eldest Son are in the UK with my his grandparents. They have had important Cultural Experiences, like Fish and Chips and Eating Ice Cream on a Cold Beach in the Rain.

10: It is surprisingly hard to think of ten things when you have to make a list.

Will have to attempt this more often.

After some frantic paint scrubbing the mural at college is about 99% complete. It isn’t perfect but it is as close as I can get. A few more details here and there but then I can put the brushes back in the craft workshop, and the rest of the class can use the sofa in front of it. Another job can be ticked off the list.

I’ll take a proper camera at some point and make better photos too…

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