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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 and I tried to do some planing with an electric planer, the idea being that we can reclaim old timber and make cool things out of it. The planing didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, mostly because electric hand planes are not really made for this. Still, we had fun working together and trying stuff out.

Eldest Son is marking points where he is not entirely satisfied with the finish. Will have to think up a better method.

Kim Harding, and others, are trying to get trying to Strict Liability back into the political agenda in Scotland. Strict Liability is part of traffic law in Germany, and in fact most of the world,  outside of the UK.

Some time ago, Eldest Son had a very minor collision with a car on a Spielstrasse (shared space street, 7km/h limit). Being about six at the time, Eldest Son didn’t know that in Germany you give way to vehicles coming from the right, didn’t stop on a junction, and was clipped by a very expensive vehicle speeding up the hill. Eldest Son was fine, but Expensive Car had some minor damage.

Beautiful Wife learned to drive in Japan, and didn’t know that in Germany you should always call the police when you have an accident, so when the driver said “we don’t need to bother calling the police”,* gave her his address, then drove off saying he needed to go to an appointment, she accepted it.

A few weeks later a rather large bill arrived.

We have liability insurance, so we wrote to our insurance company and explained what had happened. They found it very amusing, wrote to the driver and reminded him about Strict Liability, in particular that if a car hits a child, the driver is always liable. (Driving over the speed limit was also a bit naughty, as was not calling the police, which in Germany made it a hit-and-run, but we’ll ignore that)

The driver tried to make much of the point that he technically had right of way on the junction, and his lawyers sent us a threatening letter with an even bigger bill in the hope we’d panic and pay up, which we passed on to the insurance company. They wrote to said Lawyers and asked them to kindly stop messing about, and that was that.

Had Eldest Son been injured, the rules would mean the driver of Expensive Car would be held responsible. whereas in the UK it would have meant a long legal battle for us to get compensation or simply not be held liable for scratching his paint. His insurance would have had to pay, at least partly, for treatment and rehabilitation, pushing up his premiums. Drivers -unfortunately- seem to be more aware of this than just the danger posed by a ton of metal to vulnerable road users, and it makes them slightly more careful. As I recently heard a policeman complain: “Unfortunately, as soon as you drive a car in Germany, you are assumed to be responsible if any accident happens” ** I’m still convinced that German drivers are more cautious around pedestrians and cyclists than British drivers, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t because German drivers have a better understanding of the value of human life.

It also sends a clear message that the law is there to protect more vulnerable people. I’d have thought this was a given in any civilised country, but that’s just me.

*A phrase rarely heard except from drivers involved a motor vehicle collision and from people with a black jumper,  crowbar and torch, kneeling in front of a broken safe at midnight. They could be right, of course.

**And this was the policeman supposed to be telling us about pedestrian and cycling safety. The mind boggles…

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Entirely inadequate picture of a winter sunrise. I’d like to claim I leapt out of bed this morning and photographed the first sunrise of the new year for the blog, but I’d be lying.

So here it is, 2014. This marks a big step for us: from the beginning of my carpentry apprenticeship in 2012 until yesterday, the end date seemed far, far, away, safely tucked away in the distant future of 2015.

From today, graduation is ‘next year’. This apparently means people can reasonably start asking what we plan to do ‘next’, meaning, of course, after the apprenticeship is over and I’m a state-registered cabinet maker.

To the surprise of no-one who has known us for any length of time, we haven’t a clue, except to say it probably won’t involve settling down to a normal middle-class German lifestyle. We would like to make a move in the general direction of our long term goals. I really should blog about them sometime.

What are your resolutions and plans for the year?

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I always find the whole business of Christmas presents rather stressful. Finding the ‘right’ present for people is fraught with difficulties and seems to be missing the point in any case.

A few years back Beautiful Wife and I decided it was much simpler to tell each other exactly what we’d like for Christmas and then leave it at that, and this year she requested a Cajon bass tube to annoy the neighbours with, while I asked for two new woodworking chisels. My parents have also adopted this system and very kindly bought me a  brass bell from Lionworks in the UK, photographed (badly) above.

Presents for three boys are less stressful: lots of Lego. Of course I had to spend the afternoon building things with them.

It’s a tough life.

How was your Christmas?

The carpentry has been working on a lot of projects for a new house being built in the next town. Amongst other things we were commisioned to make some really heavy double doors for the garage, which have been a challenge for even the master carpenters and seem to have caused all the trouble they could throughout their construction. Last week they were to be delivered and in a combination of urgency, bravado, and not wanting to leave the heavy lifting to other people yet again, yours truly ended up leaping into our small van to haul said doors inside. In doing so I pulled my back muscles so I’m off work tomorrow, in the week before Christmas.

This has not filled my employer with Christmas cheer.

This also means I can’t possibly make Youngest Son’s bed in time for Christmas day, as it is currently in pieces in the workshop.

Such is life.

On the other hand, if I have tomorrow off, then I can do some revision and coursework meaning less to do in the holidays, and thus more time playing in the forest with the boys, so on balance I’m happy.

I may even manage some blog entries.

When we look out of our kitchen window, we can see a forest over the top of the house opposite. It is only a few minutes walk away, and offers all kinds of options for adventures.

Still, what with homework and garden work, we forgot to go there for far too long, so this weekend (when I should have been doing homework or gardening), I took the boys across the valley instead.

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Just after this picture was taken Middle Son achieved an excellent flying tackle of his big brother for the purposes of tickling him, then lost the advantage by falling for the old “What’s that behind you?” trick. He was still squinting at the horizon when Eldest had legged it half way up the hill.

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The sun set over the village while we were in the woods.

Being boys we chased each other through the trees and howled at the moon.

rocket

The boys were given a foam rocket to play with in the garden: it works when you push a tube into another tube and fires the rocket out uing air pressure.  No batteries or silly noises.

Youngest Son is seen making a test shot across the valley. Note rocket at extreme right.

It worked well until he realised that bracing the tube against the ground meant you could fire the rocket much higher. It now resides near the top of a holly tree and will remain there until it finally falls down again.

Everyone who takes a carpentry apprenticeship in Germany has to make a ‘final project’. I have to make mine by August 2015. Much to the amusement of my fellow students, I’ve been planning it for about six months already, but there are plenty of stories where people either didn’t finish in time or arrived at the presentation room carrying projects covered in wet varnish. I did the last-minute thing quite enough when I was at school, and this time I fully intend to be in the presentation room with a finished piece and a self-righteous look on my face while fellow students pull in sticky bits of furniture. This is why I am so popular.

My first idea was a really cool toolbox* so I could live the hippy dream of travelling while repairing things for people, astonishing them with my skill and receiving accommodation in return in a sort of communal barter system. I may have got a bit carried away with that idea.

Beautiful Wife suggested I make a Coffee Bar to fit onto the Bakfiets. When she is working with various organisations dealing with ecology and justice, I could ride it over and she could serve coffee. The combination of an unusual vehicle and the smell of fresh coffee would attract people over and we could introduce them to Fair Trade and low(er) impact living, all at the same time.

I wondered how on earth we’d present this to my carpentry master, who has to approve the plans and finance the materials, but that probably wouldn’t be too hard because it is essentially a kitchen unit and we make those all the time. Okay, so it would need to be very waterproof and as light as possible, and most kitchen units don’t have holes in the bottom to fit onto a bicycle frame, but it’s the same basic idea. The idea of driving my Bakfiets into the examination room also appeals, as does being able to blog about it here although I’ll probably do that in any case.

Hang on, I could make mobile bike workshop…

Any other ideas? I need to make something out of wood, remember…

*And only a carpentry student could think of a toolbox as ‘really cool’.

I have never understood this idea of getting a souvenir on holiday, at least, not why it has to be a badly printed t-shirt or snow-globe paperweight. So when Beautiful Wife asked if I wanted to get something in Japan, I suggested a Japanese wood working plane.

A Japanese plane is different to a Western plane. A Japanese plane is pulled towards the user, and gives a finish so smooth that in theory you don’t need to use sandpaper. And I am a geek.

This is why your correspondent spent one morning in Japan racing about the back streets of Hamamatsu in the company of my brother-in-law The Fireman, who comes from a family of traditional craftsmen, and very kindly gave up half of his day off to go looking for woodworking tools.

He’d suggested an old hardware store full of pulleys, pipes and tools of various descriptions. It was the sort of traditional Aladdin’s cave where the owner, by rights should recognise what you want, and instantly find it in the dusty shelves.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen.

The Fireman, possessing the sort of determination needed to go into burning buildings for a living, had another plan and drove off down a back road as only a fireman can, cut through some nondescript suburban subdivisions and pulled up outside another shop.

Inside were display cabinets of planes, wrapped in brown paper packages*, hand-made in Japan from blocks of oak. Success.

When I took my new souvenir to the manager, he seemed pleased that the plane was going to Germany, “German carpenters have a good reputation in Japan” he told me. “Very competent, “ He tapped his forehead “Very intelligent”.

Hopefully I won’t damage this impression.

Still, it is  better than a snow globe.

*Not tied up with string, There was also a merciful absence of kittens, mittens, copper kettles or singing children.

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