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The kind people in charge of the carpentry department gave me permission to park in their delivery bay, so I can take my Xtracycle to college and know it is safe all day, albeit lightly coated in sawdust by the afternoon.

They think I’m very strange, but harmless, or maybe they feel sorry for me for being ‘too poor’ to own a car. I, on the other hand, spend the last hour or so of college dreaming of the ride home.

Today was a particularly stressful day with a modular test all afternoon which I may or may not have passed, and much time trying to understand maths equations. Knowing that this is what came afterwards made it bearable.

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This is the ‘Wangerhof’, which marks the half way point between our village and the college I attend. If I’d used a better camera and had better light, you would be able to see, ten kilometres in the distance on the right, the spire from the village church poking above the skyline, and to the left, the hills near the town I’m aiming for. What isn’t as obvious is that this also marks the end of significant hills on the way in: from here it is mostly flat or downhill, with a very gentle climb towards the end of the ride.

Notice highly professional green rubbish bags to waterproof luggage, a trick I learned working in Nepal where bags were often carried on the roof of taxis in monsoon season. Having spent upwards of eight hours on some of my drawings I’m not about to let them get all soggy before I hand them in.

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We get our seed potatoes from a small farm shop in the next town which is 2.5 kilometres away as the crow flies, rather smugly in this case because crows don’t have to go down into the valley and up out the other side like we do. Or carry twenty kilos of spuddies back for that matter.

Eldest Son rode with me for the first time on this route, having discovered that with a grown-up bike that has better quality parts, hills are a lot easier to climb. He’s now of an age where he legally has to use the road, so I’m taking him out as much as I can to get some traffic experience, and as the next town was recently rebuilt to make sure cars had even more space to go as fast as they wanted, including a section of one way system, where better to learn?

I carefully navigated a way through back streets which brought us out right next to the farm shop without touching the main road at all, except that the shop had moved, meaning we had to ride the length of the town on the recently rebuilt road, but Eldest Son dealt with the situation very well, and I’m sure the large SUV behind us on the very narrow one way system was tooting encouragement.

Potatoes loaded at the farm shop with an explanation of the reason for the move (Someone bought the premises and they’re making a high-end office furniture showroom: “Just what a small community needs” as the person measuring our potatoes remarked.) and we were off back home, with Eldest Son happily negotiating the rest of the one way system.

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In the valley with Xtracycle full of potatoes.

The real challenge came on the way to our village which is at the top of a 1-in-4 (25%) hill (You can see the hill in the top picture although even that frankly doesn’t do it justice). The Xtracycle went up it very well, my legs less so. Eldest Son was kind enough to wait for me by a bench so I could collapse for a bit, before continuing home for tea and medals, or in my case, to transfer the potatoes into the Bakfiets to shift them to the garden.

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After getting its fifteen minutes of fame a couple of weeks ago, the Bakfiets is now back doing the usual job, carrying 20kg of seed potatoes, 1 kilo of onions, some shopping bags for shopping in the next village, several pieces of very beautiful wood that is apparently uneconomical to work with and therefore fit only for burning unless I took it out of the workshop, three bags of rather smelly compost, a candle and a ‘rubble bucket’ How long before the poor thing gets as filthy as before? I reckon a week.

For those interested the seed potatoes are half earlies and half lates, we are supposed to plant after May the 20th  here because the climate can still throw a wobbly and freeze before then, so I’m not too late this year. As usual I read the label showing the variety very carefully and promptly forgot it before I’d left the shop.

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Eldest Son passed a milestone on this birthday by getting his first proper adult bike. After the initial excitement of finding his new present in the living room, he quickly realised that the potential of a bike is very limited in an attic apartment…

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So once he had got back from School and we’d got it down to ground level we went off for a test ride, where he demonstrated his pleasure with his new bike by vanishing over the horizon whenever I wanted to take a picture.

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German children and teenagers ride the sort of bikes I dreamed of in the UK. This one even uses a hub dynamo which Eldest Son was particularly insistent about as he was fed up with having a bottle dynamo whirring away and slowing him down whenever he had to go somewhere in the dark.

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It is in a different league to the heavy mudguardless mountain bikes I had as a teenager, but then, so was the price, so I guess it works both ways. One question remains though, how did his handlebars end up being higher than mine?

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We were accompanied by Middle Son, who was very happy at the new arrangement as he inherits Eldest Son’s ‘old’ bike and can now go much faster.

This is why we decided to pay the extra for a very good bike this time: we will be using it at least ten years several times a week and in all weathers, so it will have a lot to cope with.

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…besides, they’re worth it…

The camera is working again, as in we gave up the search for a USB connector and got a new one on Ebay. I now confidently expect the old lead to turn up within 24 hours.

Anyway, On the card was the latest quick and easy project I blatantly copied from someone at college:

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I’d promised my parents a set of plates made of leftover pieces of wood as a Christmas present, and we’d agreed they could pick up when they came to visit us for easter: naturally I left actually making the things to the very last minute. Of course, after I’d cut everything to size the night before they came and carefully arranged the strips into a pleasing pattern, glued and clamped them, they fell out of the clamp and spread themselves all over the floor, but that is the way these things must be and they turned out okay in the end.

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As Spring had officially arrived I made the annual trip down the Hole To The Centre Of The Earth to turn the water on, without getting attacked by anything.

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With the Bakfiets out of service for a week to avoid frightening animals when we used the brakes, we also had to use the Xtracycle for shopping which is perfectly practical but having got used to the nice clean lines of the Bakfiets, a bit untidy. To add extra spectator interest, I forgot the rule that when loading the Xtracycle, always start with the heavy stuff on the kickstand side, or the bike tips sedately away from you to the amusement of anyone watching.

Another rule I forgot today is that you should never cut towards your finger with a sharp blade or chisel, which is why I’m typing this with a plaster on my left index finger* after cutting dovetails in a way that would certainly have had marks deducted if I were in college.The damage was very slight, which was fortunate as my first reaction was to be pleased at how sharp my chisel was…

*This is the finger which has a slightly numb patch since I severed a nerve twenty years ago making models, and come to think of it, the cut was caused by doing exactly the same thing….

Beautiful Wife was out for the morning and I took the chance to get to the garden and cut some of the more rapidly growing weeds while the sun was shining. This done I stopped for a break in the shadow of the big cherry tree before riding home for lunch. The birds were singing, the garden was looking almost tidy after a session with the shears, and all was well with my world.

Then my phone buzzed: Beautiful Wife was calling to ask how the salad preparation was going.

That would be the salad* that Beautiful Wife had asked me to make this morning, which I’d forgotten about and was currently in kit form, in the fridge, in our kitchen. Where I rather crucially wasn’t.

Saying “I forgot and I’m in the garden” wasn’t going to be a good move.

Beautiful Wife told me she’d be home in fifteen minutes and hung up happily.

I threw the tools in the shed, grabbed coat, fleece, spare boots and water bottle and shoved them into the Xtracycle, set off, swore, came back and locked the gate, set off again, and climbed up the track to the road in about forty seconds, and crested the summit of the hill in time to annoy a driver who apparently thought that cyclists should give him priority at all times, raced down the long hill and back up the other side, joined the main road between cars, shot through the town centre, down the back streets and home, left everything on the Xtracycle, ran up the stairs and started throwing salad into the sink.

By the time Beautiful Wife came back I was pretending to nonchalantly cut radishes.

 *Salads being the only thing I’m allowed to make after the last experience with my cooking.

We took advantage of the good weather, lack of rain, slight reduction in the rain to go on a bike ride this afternoon with the boys because three growing lads in a tiny apartment is a powder keg by about ten in the morning. We visited a couple of local farms where the farmers don’t mind you making friends with the animals as long as you don’t complain when they try and eat your boots, and the boys had a great time watching some cows eating lunch, a horse being attached to a buggy, (Not as unusual here as you’d expect) and having their shoes attacked by goats, before we rolled back down the hill to pick up a bag of compost and check the seedlings in the garden.

This was not propaganda to make the boys enthusiastic about trying this ourselves one day.

I hope that’s clear.

They want chickens, cows and goats.

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Eldest Son goes to a school some distance away, which is a perfectly normal here: schools tend to be far enough away that children are sent off on their bikes or public transport to get there. This is a great thing, of course, because they gain independence and experience navigating the real world without parents (except when they are brought to school in Mummy’s SUV, of course, but there’s always one).

During school hours, there is a direct tram from the next town to a stop just across the road from the school. Unfortunately this useful service goes off to bed at about six, because grownup people don’t need public transport, obviously. So if there is a parent’s evening at the school, we need to get on a tram into the city, change to another tram back out of the city, change again, go one stop, and change a final time for the last bit of the journey to the stop for eldest son’s school. This seemed a little pointless, especially as the last change involved waiting for ten minutes for a tram journey that lasted exactly fifty-seven seconds, so this time I took my bike.

Whereupon the clouds above delivered rain in large quantities.

Thankfully the bike storage at the school is covered, so the saddle didn’t get wet*, and I met another cycling parent who showed me a way through the black hole of fast roads and contraflows in one of the lesser suburbs of Stuttgart, so we got home quicker than I’d have managed by tram. I used the extra time drying off clothes, but never mind. It’ll be dry next time. Hopefully.

*The main concern of a Brooks user when it rains: ‘Must keep the saddle dry.’ The madness is catching, I tell you…

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Now it is officially spring again, the cyclists are coming out of hibernation. The Xtracycle and I spotted this classy looking bike at a local metro stop.

Having more cyclists is a great idea in theory, as long as they remember they aren’t driving their car down the Autobahn and expect everyone to jump out of the way.

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