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There’s a great deal of hand-wringing at the moment in Stuttgart. It turns out that if you spend forty years building a transport system for rich people in private cars, eventually you run out of space, and rather more importantly, fresh air. Stuttgart is now registering the worst air pollution in Germany, and is breaking the EU limits on a pretty regular basis.

This of course has nothing to do with cars. Well, it is possibly connected to the numbers of cars, but it is really because Stuttgart is in a valley. Yes, that’s the problem, the valley. Not the cars. Anyway, we can’t really do anything effective to stop the pollution because that would mean stopping the cars, and we can’t have that. We just have to hope that the wind picks up and blows the particles outside of the city, which I’m sure will make the citizens of the next town really happy, or that it rains and washes all the muck down the drain, where it can flow into the river and be someone elses problem.

Unfortunately this hasn’t helped much, and neither has building more roads, so now the city has resorted to having a ‘Feinstaubalarm’ which roughly translates as a ‘Pollution alarm’, and on these days, adults can buy half-priced ticket, which should get people out of their cars.

Or not, if the traffic jam outside of my college is anything to go by.

Even so, the hotels association has started complaining that because of the Feinstaubalarm: people are ‘cancelling bookings’. When a journalist checked, this turned out to be about ten bookings in the last month cancelled because of the Feinstaubalarm.. perhaps. The Hotels Association demanded that the government should just sort out the traffic problem by ‘Making sure traffic flows freely’ and ‘Getting rid of traffic jams’.

That’s that, then. Problem solved…

One of my strange cycling habits is wearing an Australian-styled leather hat, simply because it keeps the rain/snow/hail off my face and neck when riding. I find that riding in he rain is much improved by not getting a face full of rain every time I run into a headwind.

Which makes it all the more of a bummer that said hat is now in a field somewhere between here and the local tram station.

Last night I came home in some of the worst winds I’ve ever known here, and ended up with a choice of holding onto hat and being blown off the bike or putting both hands on my brakes to stop before I was picked up and thrown off into a field. As the Xtracycle was moving diagonally at the time I reflexively braked, and felt the hat lift off my head and vanish into pastures new. Literally.

Frantic searching in a muddy field failed, which is hardly surprising as 1: searching for a brown leather hat in a couple of hectatres of brown mud the dark is unlikely to yield results, and 2: The speed the hat was moving I fully expected it to be a good kilometre distant by the time I was off the bike anyway.

I wish to apologise to any dog walkers within hearing distance who will have heard a considerable amount of vernacular English applied at high volume, but I happen to think it was justified.

By the time I got on the bike, the wind had died down and the rain had gone from ‘monsoon’ to merely ‘torrential’, and today the sun is out and the wind back to nearly nothing. I’ll have a look on the way in to work in the hope the hat hasn’t been blown into the next town or wrecked by the weather, otherwise I’ll have to start trawling Amazon…

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The last weeks I’ve been busy going to interviews for a college course and going to see various medical specialists and doing lots of tests. It isn’t enough, you see, for a doctor to diagnose me as having Asthma and therefore unable to work as a carpenter: I have to officially have Asthma and therefore be unable to work as a carpenter.

That established, I applied for the course, and was accepted, then the hard part: getting the Job Centre to agree to fund this. You’d think that was easy as they have put me on the retraining programme, they have acknowledged that the specialist lung doctor says I can’t be a carpenter, and they recommended the course in the first place, but the Job Centre is a bit like being stuck in an absurdist play and you never know what is coming next. After much telephoning and emailing I got a call from the Job Centre (retraining department) yesterday: they were happy, I could start in April. Finally, I thought. Then last night I read the email: the the Job Centre (retraining department) was in favour, but they don’t fund the course (which makes me wonder what they are there for) the funding has to be approved by the Job Centre (funding department), an organisation that makes absurdist theatre look like a beacon of sanity and common sense.

I’ll be told more on Monday… Hopefully

the last two weeks were mostly spent chasing offices and forms, which frankly make for rubbish blogging. We’ve been advised that it would be good for us to change the status of Beautiful Wife’s music tutoring to ‘self employed’, and at the same time we were sorting out various forms for different things we are trying to do. At one point I went down the hill and back up again only to end up with a grumpy ‘assistant’ who didn’t. In fact, so bad was his ‘assistance’ that I had to go back down and up the next day, and the day after that, each time with a separate bale of forms and supporting documents. Still it’s a free work out…

In the middle of this we got our passport application for Middle Son and Beautiful Daughter back from the British Consulate, and found that not only had they changed address but they had also stopped processing passports so our application now has to be sent to Liverpool and all our documentation has to be translated from German to English and other things need explaining with covering letters*, and oh, by the way the UK doesn’t use the EU standard for biometric passport photos (Of course it doesn’t, it’s not like the UK is in Europe or anything) so we had to go to a specialist photographers in the middle of Stuttgart.

In the middle of this, quite by accident, we found a letter from the local government saying Beautiful Daughter has German citizenship, so we now have to find out what that means, probably that she has three passports…

Told you it made for rubbish blogging…

*This would seem to be the point of having a passport office in the embassy, so that the staff know the local situation, but that means dealing with foreign people and spending money.

I had a couple of posts lined up to write about on Friday, when my computer threw a sulk and refused to respond to anything. It claims this is because of an error in the hard drive, but it happened a mere few days after I got a smart phone for work.

This is not a coincidence.

As I am unable to understand, much less repair anything that requires more finesse than hitting it with a hammer,  I sent a cry for help to my incredibly patient computer tech friend.

He assures me it is fixable, which would be nice, as my laptop is my main tool for translating.

So, normal service will be resumed as soon a possible.

It’s that time of year again when the snow turns to ice, glues itself to the road surface, and stays for weeks. I kept cycling as long as I could but eventually it came down to a choice of riding on ice or along a busy narrow road with drivers who rather object to sharing the space with anyone.

And then the weather report said it would get really cold. Even if the bike had had incredible ice tyres like Disgruntled, cycling in temperatures of minus ten would mean all kinds of cold weather clothing which I’d have to haul around all day, so I’ve been going on the magical mystery tour on the bus. This does nothing for my energy or mood.

To try and get some exercise back into the morning routine I’ve taken to abandoning the bus once we get into town and walking the final bit to the railway station. No time is lost by doing this as the bus goes wandering around the inner ring road and takes as long to reach the station as I do on foot.

I also enter the city via a  stone bridge and a city gate, which gives a rather glamorous mid-European vibe to the start of the day.

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Winter has kicked in with a vengeance, and for the last few weeks I’ve been leaving home before dawn and arriving after dusk on weekdays. Once out of the village it is pitch dark, and the wonderfully retro bodged halogen light I fitted on the commuter bike hasn’t got enough oomph to break through the dark and fog that are a feature of the ride, especially on the section where the local council has thoughtfully closed the pedestrian/cycleway to accommodate building work* and I have to navigate over the fields and around some trees largely by memory. When I’m riding in traffic I’m fine while I keep moving but as soon as I stop I become invisible.

I reckon I’ve got at least eight more weeks of this, so I’ve finally got a modern light, which actually lights up the road, and stays on for a few minutes when I’m not riding. It’s a bit of a risk having a better quality light on a bike I’ll leave in a public space most of the day, but the bike parking space seems pretty safe, and weighed against crashing into a tree or being run over, it makes sense.

If I muster up a lot more self discipline than usual, I may even fit it to the bike and take photos before next March.

*Because it isn’t a road, so it’s not like anyone important will be using it.

The other day was the sort where you can only find one glove. I’d been working late the night before so I was tired and therefore grumpy, and when I found the other glove (in the jam cupboard, don’t ask me) it was torn on one finger. By this time we were late and we barely got the boys to school in time via several Mercedes infested ‘traffic calmed’ streets. Despite the late working I was still behind schedule, and I had a theatre workshop to prepare for that evening; the job hunting wasn’t going well (although there’s been a bit of progress since, which I will hopefully, possibly hear more on soon); and it was raining with a damp grumpy drizzle that chills the air and your bone marrow. And the farmers had had a ploughing festival the day before where one of the main events was apparently “See who can leave the biggest pile of mud** on the cycleways”. Grump, grump grump.

Which would have made for a bog-awful morning except that:

Youngest Son gave me a huge smile and hug as picked him up out of bed and held on to me like a limpet for thirty seconds before being distracted by his advent calender.

On the way to work I was passing a tree and spotted a buzzard was sitting on one of the low branches, a bare two metres from me. I’m not sure which one of us was more startled by this, but for thirty seconds we stared at each other before he decided I wasn’t going to keel over and provide him with an easy meal, which I’m glad about because frankly, buzzards are pretty big when viewed from two metres, and flapped off to a tree further away.

*The nearest I reckon I’ll get to “Dances with Wolves”.

**I’m going to optimistically assume it was ‘Mud’.

A long-term friend in the UK is getting married next year, which means I have to find out a way to get to Newcastle via my parents house in York. Normally we go to the UK via the channel tunnel, but this time there’s a small complication because he’s getting married in August, when there will be some kind of sports event in London, so the city will be full to bursting point and beyond.
Fortunately my destination is Newcastle, far up in the frozen north where trolls live, so there are alternatives. Most likely is a train journey to Rotterdam, a peaceful nights sleep (optimism springs eternal) as we cross the North Sea by ferry and next morning, catch the train to my parents hom in York. Simple.

Except that the railway stations of both cities are some distance from the ferry terminals.

Okay, so take a bike: cycle from Rotterdam Centraal to the ferry, and from the ferry to Hull station, and while I’m at it, from York station to my parents house.
Look Rotterdam up on Google Earth. Can’t find a bike lane anywhere. Mutter dark mutterings about the claims of these blogs then realise the ‘road’ I’m looking at is a cycle lane. With a white line down the centre. Follow same from station to ferry port. Hooray for Dutch cycling infrastructure, and apologies to the above named bloggers.

Check Hull.

Oh, dear.

There’s only a few kilometres between port and railway station, but it looks as navigable as a set from ‘The Matrix’ and slightly more dangerous. The roads are a mess of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts with enough space in the centre for a small farm, built when city planners knew cars were going to be the only way to travel*. There’s the occasional cycle lane for a couple of hundred metres, usually ending at road islands and dual carriageways.

Obviously the chief trolls don’t use bicycles very much.

I could give up and use a taxi through Hull, but that would mean I don’t have transport for the week or two that I’ll be in the UK, which would seem a bit silly for the sake of six kilometres, and nor would I be able to ride in Rotterdam.

The other alternative would seem to be finding a native guide, or at least a map.

So, if there are any cyclists in Hull who are versed in the secret ways of the Matrix, I’d be glad of any tips, decent maps, or better still, a local cyclist willing to guide me through hostile territory between ferry and railway station and back again a couple of weeks later.

Please get in touch through the comments or contact box. Many thanks.

*This was ensured by making lots of dual carriageways, flyovers and roundabouts so it was impossible to travel without a car.

Such is the level of my cycling addiction that I cracked after three days of our holiday, liberated a bike from our friend’s garage and set off for France. Okay, so France was only six kilometres away, but it sounded good.

Two kilometres out of the village I decided to pump the tires up. This was a Very Silly Idea: the number one rule for using a borrowed bike is if it ain’t broken* don’t fix it, and don’t worry about details. After five minutes of frantic pumping there was less air in the tyre than before. I rode the 2 kilometres home with just enough air to keep the rim off the tarmac, muttering darkly about my utter stupidity in trusting a cheapo standard issue pump. After much digging about in the garage, I found a pump: amazingly, it actually put air into the tire. Off we went again.

My goodness but you can ride fast in flat places. The first real ‘need to change gear’ climb was the Rhine bridge. I moved the gear lever, there was a loud crunch and the bike stopped. Pedalling didn’t help and neither did swearing. Getting off and looking at the transmission revealed that the chain was tighter than on a fixie and the rear mech was horizontal. Clearly the last person to fix this bike had shortened the chain. They’d also jammed the quick release skewer in the ‘open’ position, which was interesting.

On to train, home, I persuaded the ‘quick release’ skewer to open with aid of a hammer; dropped the wheel; reapplied chain on a smaller gear, and put the wheel back on; properly this time.

New years resolution: Always, always always take my bike with me on holiday: Especially if it’s a flat place.

Except when we go to Japan, because I can’t afford to take the Xtracycle on a plane.

I wonder if I could get a Brompton?

*‘Not broken’ in this context being defined as: ‘assembled’.

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