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.

Nuroad_02

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…

After living in a car focused town for so long, it comes as a shock to find genuine, well designed bike lanes just a few kilometres away.

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Bike lanes, no less, which go all the way along this side of the main road, inside of the parked cars and in to the centre of the town. I’m not sure why they look so shabby, in particular why someone decided to spend time and money scraping the red surface off at this point, as it was very much present further along (where I naturally forgot to take a photo). The blocked area is so drivers pulling out of side streets can see oncoming traffic without blocking the pavement and cycle lanes.

proper_bike_lane

Riding along it was a novel experience of knowing it was going where I needed to go, and not having to watch cars everywhere. It was also a shock not to have to dig out a map every five minutes to see where I was being taken next and how to avoid it.

lots_of_bikes

It also made a nice change not being the only wierdo on a bike.

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And thanks to the driver of this vehicle (under contract to the German Automobile Club, no less)* We can see that the cycle ways are not only direct, they are wide enough for two bikes to ride side by side, or for one truck to park.

*The nice people who sent us free Hi-vis vests a few years back.

There are days when I ride somewhere because it is the fastest way to get somewhere…

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…and days when I grit my teeth and tell myself over and over that it is good for me and the environment in the hope my smug green glow somehow has mystical weather-protecting qualities, and get home with a beard full of ice and shoes full of water.

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And there are days when everything comes together and the sun shines and the air is clear, and even though it is a long way to go and the temperatures are below freezing you couldn’t pay me enough to travel any other way…

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…so if you came here  for the ususal grumpiness, it has been delayed by good weather. Normal service will be resumed. Eventually…

Things normal people carry by bike: Books, laptops, shopping, small children…

 

Swedesaw

Things I end up carrying by bike: swede saws.

 There is a good reason for this, honest.

I was given a large piece of lime wood (D: Lindenholz) to hopefully convert into carved spoons and other items. The wood has to be split or it will be damaged as it dries, which meant hauling it to the garden and attacking it with an axe and heavy hammer, and hauling it back to the workshop to cut into smaller pieces for carving.

The problem with this plan was that it required your truly not to leave the swede saw in the garden. Which I promptly did, and had to collect it with the Xtracycle.

Mind you, I noticed that drivers gave me plenty of space…

(I’m still open to suggestions for garden planting…)

Suddenly it is March and almost too late to deal with the greatest challenge of the year. I’m not referring to the whole complex business of registering as unemployed, or even sorting out our tax returns, but of course the challenge of getting the garden ready for spring and deciding what to plant.

In the first season in the garden I planted out a variety of seeds directly into the ground, which considering the ground is basically solid clay and infested with slugs, worked remarkably well. The second year I read lots of instructions, prepared seedlings, manured the beds, et c, and achieved mixed success. I decided this was because I was trying too many things at once and went for simple last year: potatoes and onions with a few other random seeds that I found lurking about.

We put more spuddies into the ground than we got out and I think I managed to harvest one onion before they were chomped by slugs/mice/birds/trolls.

It didn’t help that I’m still pretty clueless and that I planted everything at about the same time, so the surviving plants reached maturity while we were in the UK, bolted, fell over and got eaten.

This year, I’ve decided on a different tack. I’m going to concentrate on three ‘bulk’ crops in the garden: a root crop, a bean variety, and… something else, possibly onions or leeks, or kale. With only three varieties to worry about, I can hopefully be a bit more certain of what needs doing and when, maybe even get to them before the Mice.

Being about as clueless as four years ago, I’m passing the question to the real gardeners out there: What three varieties would you recommend?* The garden is west-facing, so it gets very warm. Is there any way of avoiding a massive growth/bolt in August/September? Or, with the clay being the solidity it is, should I just give up and open a pottery instead?

*Let us discount Rhubarb, Celery, and Cauliflower: these are not vegetables but abominations.

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