My goodness but aren’t cities noisy? Our college is right by the main road into Stuttgart and all you can hear when you open the window is endless traffic, horns honking and sirens. Quite why anyone would want to drive in Stuttgart is beyond me (or live there come to that, but that’s a different story).

Anyway, for various reasons I’ll probably take the tram into college in future, so yesterday I needed to change my season ticket. This was only a couple of stops away but I decided it would be quicker to cycle to the office rather than walk to the tram stop, wait for a tram, and then work out the way from the next stop. I found a route parallel to the main road/tram route, and set off.

At first, the roads had a slightly Parisian feel with tree-lined boulevards, and cafes, but as I got closer to the city I found more and more traffic until I had to cross a complex junction with traffic lights and a taxi trying to turn around in front of several cars. I’d looked on a map and it seemed I could cross over this lot and cut down a narrow street which would send me in generally the right direction on fairly quiet streets. Having wriggled between the various stuck cars, I spotted the street between two buildings and aimed there.

After a couple of seconds I realised that this street probably wasn’t on the usual tourist cycle routes. The flashy cars with lots of gold trim were the first clue, followed by the buildings with blacked-out windows, but it wasn’t until I saw the names of the businesses inside that I realised why they were blacked up.

We don’t have shops like that in our village, I can tell you.

I just concentrated on the road and got out of there…

The new college course began on Thursday, with two days of administrative business and the ridiculous waste of time called ‘getting to know you games’, which as usual were run by extroverts and endured by the introverts, and ensured that the introverts all clammed up and were less able to get to know people than if we’d been left alone.

On the plus side, this is a college course so we have similar holidays to the local schools -but with minimal coursework, because the tutors are aware that at least half of us have families and frankly we find them more fun than textbooks. We also have three months placement each year, as early as possible “because we figure you want to get out and do the job instead of learning theory”. In our course this lands straight after the summer holidays so we have about four months of theory, then four months of holidays and placements and four months of theory. Then repeat for year two.

The stuff we are learning looks good and as if it might actually be relevant to what we are supposed to be doing afterwards, which could be just about anything that involves training or therapy. Of course being me, I want to try everything…

Last minute preparations for starting college tomorrow included going to the local chain supermarket to get supplies. There I discovered to my horror that not only had they opened a cut price bakery in competition with our local company, but to make space for this they had stopped selling my favourite bagels, which were the only reason I’d come in the first place.

Now I’m bagel-less, and as I’m determined not to support the soulless chain bakery, I need an alternative for lunch at the college, preferably vegetarian that will last the morning without going dry or soggy, and keep me awake in the afternoons.

Oh, and simple to make in batches over the weekend to avoid disasters as I try to get it ready in the morning.

I’m good at coming up with ideas for most things, but not food. Any ideas?

From the ever interesting ‘No Tech Magazine‘:

“The German-made Carla Cargo is a three-wheeled cycle trailer with an electric assist motor. It can be pulled by any type of bicycle (including a cargo cycle or an electric bike), and it allows you to carry heavy (up to 150 kg) and bulky cargo (a loading platform of 60 x 160 cm). Uncoupled from the bicycle, the Carla Cargo works as a hand cart for large or heavy loads. The vehicle weighs 40 kg including the battery, and has a range of 40 to 60 km”

It turns out that the company is based in Freiburg, not too far from Stuttgart, but a million miles away in terms if cycling infrastructure.

More details and a picture of the bike with a recumbent tandem here:

Electrically Powered Bicycle Trailer & Hand Cart (DIY)

So I promised you some slightly more interesting news than our plumbing adventures, and on Monday I was provided with it.

Around the end of my carpentry training we found that I have mild Asthma, and after some visits to various specialists I was solemnly informed that I would have to retrain*. To be honest, this was not a great disappointment, but it raised the question of what I could be trained to do.

At first the Job Centre suggested a business studies qualification.

Stop laughing.

Next on the list was ‘technical designer’ which sounded better but means sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day designing disposable furniture…

Besides, our long-term goal involves moving towards a simpler, more sustainable way of life as independent of the ‘normal’ economy and system as possible. Becoming more connected with the same consumer economy seems to be the opposite of what we are aiming for.

Unfortunately you can’t explain this sort of thing to the job centre. Worse, because I’m a carpenter everyone assumed I was good at maths.

I said, stop laughing.

Finally, a friend who actually knows me suggested I learn to be an ‘Arbeitserzieher’, a qualification that doesn’t exist outside of the state, let alone Germany. The nearest translation is a work therapist (‘Arbeit’ means work and ‘Erziehen’ is to nurture and educate). I could work in anything from protected workshops to city farms, theatres, or therapy centres, with anyone from children to vulnerable adults or people with disabilities, using things like woodwork, lino printing, bike repair, cooking, or animals. I would dream up creative ideas that I could do with clients to help them.

Put another way, I get to keep playing doing the same job as the last seven months, every day. And getting the perfect training to realise our future goals.

The only problem would be that I’ll have to go to a college slap bang in the centre of Stuttgart every day for two years without getting hives. Assuming I manage that, I’ll then have another year doing the job with regular evaluations, and an exam at the end. Oh, yes, I also had to convince the Job Centre that they should fund this.

On Monday they finally agreed and signed the contract.

The course starts on April the 21st, and right now I feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

*Honestly, I’m not trying to be a perpetual student, although I appreciate it may seem that way sometimes.

So, here’s the smallest member of the family, almost  eighteen months old, and collecting rocks. As you do.

She is currently at the ‘collecting things’ stage which is causing all kinds of problems especially as she recently ‘collected’ the key to the cleaning cupboard, which normally resides in a drawer well out of her reach, for obvious reasons. While she hasn’t mastered the art of opening a door with a key she has mastered the art of Putting Things In Strange Places. The key vanished.

Then the kitchen sink got all bunged up.

Usually the Tiny One can find things fairly quickly (Something she certainly inherits from Beautiful Wife as I frequently have to call my phone to find it), but when we asked her this time she just looked quizzical.

And offered us a rock.

Fortunately a few phone calls later and the Xtracycle was pressed into service to collect some borrowed Emergency Plumbing Equipment.


So now the sink is free from crud and usable again. Unfortunately we still don’t have a key for the cleaning cupboard.

On the other hand, we have plenty of rocks…

That isn’t the most exciting thing to happen this week. I should have something much more interesting soon, just bear with me…

In a new challenge for the Great Present Making Project, Middle Son asked for a skateboard for his birthday. I suggested we make one together but he declined, possibly thinking that one of my making projects would last six months and would look and ride like it was made of a barn door.

His younger brother, being less familiar with my project making timescales and perhaps more optimistic about the results, jumped in and asked if he could make one with me, so off we went to the workshop.


Firstly, we found some Sycamore and walnut that had been gathering dust for years in the wood store. Sycamore is a creamy wood, while Walnut is a dark brown that goes even darker when oiled. We played with it for a bit and when Youngest Son had decided what he wanted we glued it and clamped it, then left it for the weekend.


First thing on Monday morning I ran the lot through the planer to smooth it off.


I then had a slight panic because I thought I’d made it too short. I have made some howlers in the past so I’m paranoid about this.

Fortunately I hadn’t, and once my heart rate had calmed down a bit I went on to the next stage.


This is after I’d cut end off my board and planed the main board down to about 15mm, which I was pretty sure was enough to stand up to being ridden on. I spent much too long faffing about trying to get the stripes all lined up before I glued the tail on. Then I hid for several days before finally getting the courage together to undo the clamps.


I further tested the join by sanding down the block at the back to make a smooth(ish) curve for the tail. I did this when Youngest Son was elsewhere as I was not entirely sure this would work.


When the tail didn’t fall off, I sanded the board so it was vaguely skateboard shaped.


Organised people would have marked the holes for the wheels before making the rounded shape of course, so they could use the straight edge of the board and get it just right. It took a bit of jiggerypokery with a engineers square to do the same from the centre line, but I think I got away with it.

After I drilled the holes I didn’t need the machines at work, so I could take the board to my borrowed workshop space on the other side of the city. People still ask me why I have an Xtracycle…


Now that no more machines were involved, Youngest Son could get a lot more involved in the final sanding and shaping…


…a job he took very seriously, working through to the finest grade of sandpaper we had. Then using the back of the sandpaper for the final bit


We were having so much fun we forgot to take any more pictures, so you’ll have to imagine us oiling and waxing the wood and sticking the grippy tape on the top. Beautiful Wife was around to photograph the wheel fitting…


And the first test ride. Youngest Son is delighted and so far the skateboard hasn’t even fallen apart.


I’ve long known that the world is run by extroverts, and last week I came across another example; for my seminar in Tübingen my employer only refunded one return trip for the week because “we have overnight accomodation”.

The accomodation is in shared rooms, so lots of contact with strangers 24 hours a day.

This is a bit like telling a left-handed person “Just use right-handed scissors.” It is not going to happen.

So I had to work out a way to travel to and from the seminar that wasn’t too expensive. After a couple of days experiencing the hilarity that is car sharing (Late one day because of traffic, and another because the driver had a flooded apartment and cancelled) I decided to spring for a ticket on the way to Tübingen, then cycle from Tübingen to Herrenberg on the way back. Herrenberg is on the edge of the Stuttgart transport zone, and as my railcard becomes an all lines pass within Stuttgart and region after midday, this meant I could catch a train to within a short cycle ride of our village and make the whole journey for nothing.

In practice it would have been less stressful if I hadn’t lost track of time visiting a good friend in Stuttgart (‘introvert’ doesn’t mean ‘antisocial’) and realised I needed to get to a station 25 kilometres away in about an hour and a half, on a route I didn’t know, uphill. And that I hadn’t eaten in several hours.

It worked out reasonably well though. The route was well signposted until I got to Herrenberg, where I was sent on to a major road into Stuttgart with lots of impatient drivers, but this is just a reminder to any tree hugging hippies from Tübingen that in the real world bikes are not a proper form of transport. I still made it in time for the train.

I got myself two fresh Pretzels as a reward. This is the second as I ate the first too fast…


The only real issue was that the S-Bahn/outer suburban trains are too short to accomodate an Xtracycle…



Last week I was in Tübingen, for a seminar connected to work. Unfortunately this meant not much time to enjoy the scenery or cycling facilities, although I did find time for a quick ride around.


On the other hand, as my friend from Tübingen said: “In Stuttgart, people will scowl at you for being a tiny bit different. Here, riding an Xtracycle and wearing a big Akubra hat is not in the slightest bit unusual, so no-one will look twice”


He was right too. It was nice not to be the resident wierdo for a change.


Observant people may have noticed that as well as having more daylight in the previous post, I’m also riding the Xtracycle again, after possibly the longest time out of service since I fitted the ‘Free Radical’ on the back of my Raleigh bike almost ten years ago.

I had got used to the normal sized commuter bike and I was a bit concerned that I’d feel the extra weight of the Xtracycle a bit too much, but it feels like I’m flying. I’m still not sure quite why this is, after all that plank on the back weighs a bit, and then there’s all the junk that accumulated in the luggage carriers that I keep forgetting to take out again -you can see some poking out of the back of the bike in the picture- but there you are. Riding is faster, smoother and more comfortable.

It isn’t perfect yet; the gears are still a bit strange, which is either because I’m still using the 19-year-old original mechanism, or possibly due to the incompetence of the bike wrench. I suspect the latter.

Unfortunately destiny means the Xtracycle and I will be parted for a few more days as I need to go to another seminar in Tübingen, so the commuter will be coming with me again.

Tübingen is known for having pretty good cycle infrastructure, so I’ll try to take pictures to bore you with when I get back.

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