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The exciting bit of news I hinted at last week is that we have another tiny person due to join the madness here in a mere five weeks. Beautiful Wife has a beach ball tummy with a very wriggly occupant who has already managed to kick, or possibly elbow, at least one of his or her elder brothers in the ear.

Preparations have been going on for some time: I’m trying to make a way to fit the baby car seat into the Bakfiets, and Eldest Son and I spent a chunk of this morning building a borrowed crib. How we will fit this into our already cramped bedroom is a detail which we have yet to work out.

Another detail is a name: All the boys have a vaguely Germanic first name and a Celtic middle name, which causes consternation to the school because their systems don’t allow for a middle name and then the teachers can’t pronounce them. We seem to be getting stuck this time, still, there’s five weeks to go yet…

One of those weeks is full of exams. Must remember that bit…

Suddenly it is the end of year two at college, so we had an exam. The system of putting everyone in a room and telling them to make something perfectly in seven hours because their whole future depends on it still seems very odd to me, but what do I know?

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This isn’t the exam: it’s what happens when you get too enthusiastic with a hand plane and have to add an extra piece of wood to make up the difference. That long piece of wood is the replacement for 2mm that I took off by mistake: but for that lack of attention I could have started the next step on making a box. I’m choosing to see this as ‘character building’. Or something.

Anyway, the carpentry is now closed for three weeks and we’re off to the UK, which is always an interesting experience. I will have to get used to offering pounds in shops and looking to the right when I cross the road. We’re going by train which can be fantastic or stressful depending on how well the German and French railways, Eurostar and whoever is currently running trains to York  have got their act together. On previous occasions we’ve been through Brussels but this time we will catch a direct TGV to Paris, where we have to make our way from Paris Est station to Paris Nord without getting lost.

As the two stations are a few hundred metres apart and each the size of a cathedral, that shouldn’t present too many difficulties, but if you don’t hear from me in the next week, you know where to start looking.

After we passed Eldest Son’s previous bike to his brother we noticed the brakes had the stopping power of a damp sponge. On closer inspection it turned out that it was because they were worn down almost to the metal, so Eldest Son and I took an hour or so to sort the problem out. I always found practical things like fixing bikes a very mysterious thing and never really felt confident to try and I want the boys to feel much more confident in this sort of area.

Eldest Son was understandably nervous about making a mistake that could result in his brother ending up in a pile at the bottom of a local hill, but after I assured him that I’d be with him as he fitted the brakes and that I’d also check the brakes after he’d finished and make sure they were safe and tight he was happy to have a go. As he started it occured to me that a few short years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to adjust my own brakes, let alone be the person who checked someone else’s bike.

Judging by the speed with which by Eldest Son sorted the brakes out, I don’t think I’ll be getting much practice in the future either.

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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…

 

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Eldest Son turned twelve this week. There was a surprise waiting in the living room when he got up on his birthday…

 

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The seedlings at the Very Smallholding are finally beginning to sprout, my lack of success so far being mainly that I hadn’t got around to planting things. The nice new clay starter pots are my replacement for the self-made newspaper pots I’d used for the last few years. Simple but effective greenhouse made by Grandma after she got fed up of me whining that my cold frame had collapsed.

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Notice carefully placed watering can to make photo of plastic sheet into art.

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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