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So last night I was riding the Bakfiets along the main road in the village, in the dark, and noticed I was being followed by something with a lot more lights than I had. Looking back this turned out to be a Big Black Truck.

About a thousand trucks drive through the village every day, which causes much harrumphing from the locals while they wait to pull out from side streets in their 4 x 4’s. This one had just squeezed around the sharp corner at the top of the hill and was rolling  about fifty metres behind my back wheel. I looked again to signal for a left turn, to find it was still there, but noted with surprise that he was hanging well back, giving me space and allowing himself a generous braking distance. Gratified that he was doing his best not to glue me to his massive bull bars, I signalled, pulled across the road and waved to acknowledge that I had seen the fifty tonnes of black and chrome just behind me. I was rewarded by a short flash of headlights with enough candlepower to safely guide ships, which projected my shadow on the buildings opposite.

It being rather late, there was no traffic in the opposite direction, so I could pull into our street easily enough. I stopped to wave again and got a quick honk on the horn and a wave from the shadowy figure in the cab as the behemoth rumbled out of the village into the darkness.

Why can’t it be like this more often?

(And let’s not ask why cyclists are sharing space with such massive vehicles on narrow roads in a small village, that’d spoil the story…)

 

 

I was hoping to be able to write about some cycling adventures, but now the flu is subsiding I’m trying to get all the paperwork done for various offices that need to have The Right Piece Of Paper to be convinced that I’ve finished the apprenticeship. They can’t do this until they have The Other Piece of Paper from a different office, who need The Correct Form filled out with Supporting Documents… I’m sure it is the same everywhere but I wonder if it is the German love of bureaucracy: it certainly keeps a lot of people in work.

It doesn’t help that I’m possibly the worst organised person in Germany. Today I had to go and get a fresh copy of some Very Important Forms which I’d neglected to send to another office on time and promptly lost. Mind you, that meant I got a ride across the fields in bright sunshine, when I’d otherwise have been stuck inside shuffling paperwork, so being disorganised has advantages.

Besides, I do try to be organised, it just seems to go wrong. All year I’d been carefully filing paperwork together in big ring binders and stacking them safely in the loft, and yesterday when I needed a specific form I knew exactly where it was.

Unfortunately this didn’t help when the loft hatch jammed shut.

Still, I knew where the form was, even if I couldn’t get to it. That’s an improvement, right?

…what was the question?

One thing I’ve learned is that in Germany, or at least this bit of it, there is pretty well no problem that can’t be cured with tea. Stomach ache, stiff joints, fevers, tiredness, stress, and acne can all apparently be dealt with using some concoction of dried fruits and flowers, and there are probably cures for hair loss and missing limbs.

With this background, it was inevitable, when a friend heard me wheezing like an elderly dwarf with a smoking habit, that they would present me with a bag of the local chemists special anti-cough herbal tea.

I’m a tree hugging hippy and quite happy to try and sort out ailments with moss and tree bark, especially as it means potentially sticking two fingers up at the big corporations. On the other hand, I’ve not found one of these teas yet that looks or tastes like anything more palatable than a pile of compost, and the last time we gave Beautiful Daughter a ‘natural’ remedy for her tummy ache the poor girl screamed the place down for about twelve hours, so I’m not entirely sold.

Anyway, this morning I opened the bag and found what looked like a mix of dried flowers and grass, put it in the ‘reusable’ tea bag, poured the water in, sieved the bits out after the reusable tea bag spewed them all over the place, and poured a cup.

Ignoring the colour, it wasn’t that bad. Will have to see how effective it is, but as I’ve about a gallon of the stuff to drink down, I think I’ll be able to say I gave it a fair chance…

Any other suggestions how to get rid of a cough?

More cycling related posts as soon as I can ride and breathe at the same time…

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The long silence was not due to my having gone out on the lash to celebrate the end of the apprenticeship. That would be unlikely because 1: I am ‘somewhat’ older than the average apprentice and I don’t need any help to do more silly things in public, 2: An extreme introvert who tends to hide during parties, and most importantly 3: I really dislike the taste of alcohol. I appreciate this puts me in the running for the Most Boring Person on the Planet competition, but regular readers knew that anyway.

The last two weeks were mainly spent doing a translation job for a documentary (I now know enough about heart disease to make me seriously paranoid), getting my CV up to date, playing with the boys and Beautiful Daughter, and cycling through snowstorms to pick up ‘important’ pieces of paper from various offices.

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Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad organisation and poor time management.

Oh, and I now have the paperwork to prove that I’m a Real Carpenter, at least as far as the state of Baden-Württemberg is concerned. Still working in what we do next though…

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It snowed yesterday, Dec the 26th. Growing up in the UK I’d known this as Boxing Day, but here it is the “zweite Weihnachtstag” The second day of Christmas.

So I’m calling that a white Christmas. Just about.

One thing though, who nicked all the other colours?

So the end of the carpentry apprenticeship is just around the corner: exams in May, final project a few weeks later, and the question I keep getting asked is “What will you do afterwards?”

I don’t know what I’m doing next Saturday. Next year is a bit ambitious.

The local expectation is that I’ll get a job as a carpenter, start a savings account as a down payment on a house, and patiently push chipboard into a machine for the next forty years or so. Assuming that infinite growth is possible on a finite planet, and the bottom doesn’t fall out of the financial industry again, the reward for this monotonous plodding will be a suburban box and retirement at about 75.

Stuff that for a game of soldiers.

As well as not being very enthusiastic about the whole chipboard-and-machines carpentry, I’m not really that good at it: the sort of work I’ve been doing for the last couple of years requires me to be very methodical and mathematical, two words that came up frequently in my school report, as in: “Andy isn’t methodical and for goodness sakes don’t ask him to do any maths.” Maths for me is a creative process: the answer I come up with is far removed from what the teacher writes on the board.

On the other hand, carpentry is a broad field and I’ve got a degree in theatre studies and ten years experience doing all kinds of theatery things from set building to acting. There’s also a lot of big theatres nearby.

I’ll start there and see what happens.

There is a long term dream as well, but I’m too tired to go into it now and you’re probably bored already.

I am currently obsessively cutting wood joins in preparation for the end of year exam or the collapse of civilisation as we know it, whichever comes sooner. The exam is in two weeks so that is the main focus for now. I’m getting better, slowly.

Dovetails aren’t used much  in modern carpentry, as the industry is based on machines making semi-disposable chipboard furniture which can be put together in a few hours, and will be replaced in a matter of years*, so anyone practicing traditional woodwork is considered pretty strange. I can live with that.

When I’m not practicing woodwork I’m spending a fair bit of time doing maths equations which will form most of the theory exam. We won’t use those much after college either.

Still, it keeps the system going…

*and is full of formaldehyde.

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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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We cycle past these blocks of flats every week on the way to Eldest Son’s club activities and I’ve been meaning to mention it for some time*. It is an isolated section of Stuttgart called Asemwald, essentially made up of three blocks of flats, each 70 metres tall.

The trees are supposed to screen the buildings. When an architect feels the need to hide his building it really must be bad.

When the city built the flats they decided the best place was on a big hill to the south of the city. You can see it from miles away, in all directions. Unfortunately this also meant the 1800 inhabitants were far from the nearest railway station. The designers solved this by building a huge underground car park, and a bus stop.

There is a restaurant on the top floor of one of the buildings which is quite popular, possibly because when you are in it, you can’t see Asemwald.

*Which is why the trees apparently have leaves in November. I’ve been busy.

The carpentry apprenticeship is taking up a lot of time, because apart from the regular work we still have a couple of days at college a week and the regular module tests, and we have to learn technical drawing,  Now I can draw reasonably well, but my “scribble until it looks about right” style is having trouble adapting to the need to make all drawings to Din 199 (ISO 10209-1 if you are interested*). Any variation from the industry norm, right down to the font size, is marked with the Big Red Pen of Doom. We are supposed to have about six drawings this year which sounds fine until you realise that each one involves at least three A3 sized pages plus extras for details, and each page takes about three hours on a good day.

In the real world, of course, everything comes as a quick sketch on the back of an order sheet, fax or whatever the boss had on his desk as the time.

Writing about this is as interesting as watching paint dry. Having started on the “Paint and varnish” module, I now know this takes anything from 15 minutes (touch dry) to 36 hours (transportable) depending on whether it is a single component or two component paint, but only when the air humidity is kept at 65%.

So now you know.

On the plus side, I’m making a bed for Youngest Son, which is much more exciting but unfortunately difficult to photograph because it gets dark in the evenings when I can use the workshop, and I now have a safe place to keep the Xtracycle at college, which means I can now cycle there with all the fat textbooks I’m supposed to carry and not get sweaty back syndrome. So far it seems to be working.

More on that soon, or as soon as I’ve finished the next set of drawings.

*Probably not.

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