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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.


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.


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.


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.


I have to start year two of the apprenticeship, so I’m in Germany while Beautiful Wife and the boys make another tour of relatives, and Tokyo Disneyland. The boys have five more days of being spoiled before they have to endure the 12 hour flight home.

We went out together as a family before we left for Japan. The speck in the distance is Middle Son: Eldest and Youngest were halfway home already.

Five more days…

As mentioned earlier, it’s festival time and Beautiful Wife’s home town is caught right up in it. This week the local part of town was supposed to deliver a load of white stones to the local shrine, on a cart. The cart was a wooden affair with two wheels and a wooden tail that dragged on the road and was used for steering. In front were two ropes I reckon are at least half a kilometre long. The load on the cart consisted of about ten smallish wicker baskets full of white stones.
I don’t see this catching on as a transport solution.
Moving this involved what looked like half of the local population including -somewhere- my sister-in-law, her husband The Fireman and their children. They and a couple of hundred other people hauled the cart for perhaps fifty metres, chanting, then one of the leaders running between the two lines changed the rhythm and walloped the road surface with something that looked like a cross between a Pom-Pom and a broom. Everyone then ran from side to side holding the ropes. After doing this for a few minutes they carried on.
It had taken several hours by the time we saw them, and they still had a couple of kilometres to go.
At the end of the procession we got a call that one of our nieces had sunstroke. As the entire family apart from Beautiful Wife are nurses, doctors or paramedics, and she was in a mobile medical station there was no immediate danger, but she did need to get home, pronto.
The question was, how to get her there.
There was a massive line for a taxi, so bearing in mind this is an emergency, Beautiful Wife went to ask if we could get the next available one. The answer: The Rules say everyone must wait in line. No Exceptions.
But, we pointed out, this is a little girl with heatstroke and we needed to get her home and cooled down.
The Rules say all must wait in line. No Exceptions.
Could her Daddy the Fireman come and get her then?
The Rules say Private Vehicles Are Not Permitted.
We pointedly watched several private cars pulling up and collecting people.
Well, you could go and fill in a form requesting an audience with the person in charge of the festival, who would require full vehicle details, registration number, drivers insurance details and safety record, and if satisfied will issue another form requesting Special Permission for a private vehicle to enter the festival area. We would have to take this to the traffic management office. If they were satisfied this was a genuine emergency, we would be issued with a form giving Special Permission for one vehicle to come and collect us*. It would be quicker to just wait for a Taxi. Hopefully it would be a ‘big’ one that The Rules say can carry seven people.
As all the taxis are the same type and they all apparently have four seats, this last bit was a mystery, but rather argue with someone wielding a Bt43z6 form and willing to use it, we went to join the queue.
Beautiful Wife worked out a relay system to get Niece to the Taxi stand at the right time which swung into action as we got to the front. A normal looking taxi turned up and the driver waved all seven of us on board. Eldest Son and I ended up sharing the front seat. Asked if there is an extra seatbelt.
No, just the one.
Sorry, isn’t this a bigger taxi? I asked.
No, answered the driver as the meter shot past a thousand yen and continued upwards, it was a standard four seat taxi like all the others, but as it was an emergency, he’d made an exception…

*This was mostly guesswork as there was no time to translate it. It may not have been quite this complex.

Every time we come to Japan we have The Gathering of the Clan and most of Beautiful Wife’s immediate family all turn up in one pace at the same time. Social gatherings with people I don’t know well have a habit of going wrong: I don’t know what to say or what to do and I feel I should somehow ‘start conversations’ or keep them going. This never works, and I end up either with an ever lengthening silence between myself and other person in the dying conversation as I try to figure out what to say next.

I am not, you will gather, an extrovert.

The first event on this occasion is the Happy Family Photo. This is to be taken in the hotel lobby, a gloomy place designed by someone who thought gold plate and moulded glass chandeliers were the height of good taste. Two syrupy blonde children with floaty nightshirts and disturbingly blue eyes gaze out of an oversized oil painting as the hotel staff and several family members reorganise the lobby to make it possible to photograph almost 20 people at once.

Once the entire lobby is rearranged to taste, the various members of the family have to be herded into position. Much discussion. Everyone talking at once and pulling your correspondent (whose Japanese gets as far as “Hello”, “Yes”, “Welcome Home” et c). Into place. Then someone changes their mind. More discussion and more pulling of uncomprehending Brit. Camera in place, everyone grins inanely, and then the photographer notices someone’s foot isn’t in quite the right place prompting another round of discussion and pulling back and forth. Just as I’m about to suggest they replace me with a cardboard cut-out (Easier to move and less likely to kick off in the next 30 seconds) a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and everything is perfect. Photos taken and we’re released to go to dinner.

It’s going to be a long weekend.


A couple of weeks before Japan, Beautiful Wife was out for the day so Youngest Son and I  made a mess built a wooden aeroplane.

I don’t have a workshop at home, so the kitchen has to double up for these occasions. As you can see I’m as badly organised at home as at college. We tidied up just in time before Beautiful Wife got back.


Adaptive use of large bits of cardboard by Youngest Son early in the morning.

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