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I may be a tree hugging hippy but if I don’t want to end up tripping over my flowing beard, I still need to shave occasionally, so what passes for intellectual capacity here has been intermittently occupied with finding a method of shaving that still allows me to pass for normal in The Towns.

I abandoned electric razors over a decade ago when planning a trip to Nepal. Plugs were in short supply in the mountains, so I’d changed to a well known brand with Three Parallel Blades. I thought no more of it until I realised that although this had undoubtedly been the better choice for a month of washing in a river, they were still contributing to landfill, and I really wasn’t getting a very good shave out of them.

I heard a story from about how some years back the shaving industry decided they were not making enough profit with simple razor blades. They solved this by persuading the unshaven masses that the safety razor didn’t work and exciting combinations of plastic and metal which cost about five times as much were a better option. Apparently they knew the best shave was offered by the humble safety razor, but hey, enough advertising can solve almost any problem.

This appealed to my inner hippy and when the Three Parallel Blades ran out, I swapped them for a safety razor, brush and lump of soap, and do you know, this really does give a better shave, the old school razor blades are cheaper and easier to recycle. To add to the smug green glow I even used an old tea cup for the soap.

Yeah, man. Down with the purpose made soap dishes of tyranny and capitalism.

Then the local shop stopped stocking razors and soap, which I suppose was inevitable. So until I find a decent shaving shop in Stuttgart, I now have to order stuff online via the evil corporations which arguably defeats the point of the exercise.

It isn’t easy being green. And before someone asks, I’m not really sure I want to go for the real traditional approach

 

I’ve noticed that when you are a carpenter, people expect you can do all kinds of things. Like run a spoon carving workshop at the farm. I’d never carved a spoon in my life, but a few YouTube videos later I cut out a piece of pine and made a demonstration model:

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It’s okay. If you squint a bit. In a dark room.

Before someone else points it out, pine isn’t a great material for spoons, but we didn’t have any green wood so it was that or nothing.

The week after the workshop we were cutting down some trees on the farm. (I really should check these things before setting the dates of workshops…) and I was allowed first dibs on any nice looking green wood, so I took a piece of ash and made Spoon 2.1:

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It was meant to be half a set of small salad servers, but it seems a bit more like a wooden fish, and oiling it brought up all kinds of scuff marks and dings.

Rather than try and make a partner for it, I found a piece of silver birch and made spoon 3,1:

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A couple more attempts and I think I’ll be ready to make some as presents…

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At first glance this may look like yet another random picture of the Xtracycle on its travels, but allow me to draw your attention to the orange bike in the background.

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That is a Yuba Mundo, a longbike similar to an Xtracycle, and clearly used as a family transport bike judging by the setup and presence on a tram stop bike rack on a cold and damp October morning, when ‘normal’ people would have used a car.

Despite having a reputation for being a stroppy rebel who goes out of their way to do everything differently to other people, it is very encouraging to know I’m not the only person trying to get around like this…

In an effort to get my posting rates and hopefully my reading numbers* back up, I’m going to try and make an entry every day for the week, even a short comment or observation. I think I spend too much time fretting about writing and not enough time doing it.

Todays observation: A good sign that you may have been neglecting the garden, is that you consider using a scythe to do the weeding. On the Patio…

*Sad, but true…

The logistics of getting this workbench into this room required half a dozen elements to be in the right place at the right time, including, but not limited to a van, a good friend willing to haul a forty kilo lump of beechwood and steel into the van and put up with my driving, in return for having his bike fixed…

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…a patient previous owner who was willing for me to scrape together the money and get my backside into gear to collect, instead of just putting the workbench on Ebay (where he could have got a much higher price), and some very kind people who have allowed me to make a mess in their former bakery until the end of the apprenticeship without demanding rent.

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Bakfiets demonstrating yet another advantage of bicycles for those of a lazy disposition: no need to carry stuff from the door to the workbench.

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In theory this is a practice space to get ready for exams. Except that with three boys, there are far more interesting things to do than just make dovetail joins, especially when mum has a birthday coming up, and there is the possibility of making presents.

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I can always do the dovetails after the present is finished.

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Hopefully. If I’m allowed to.

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After getting its fifteen minutes of fame a couple of weeks ago, the Bakfiets is now back doing the usual job, carrying 20kg of seed potatoes, 1 kilo of onions, some shopping bags for shopping in the next village, several pieces of very beautiful wood that is apparently uneconomical to work with and therefore fit only for burning unless I took it out of the workshop, three bags of rather smelly compost, a candle and a ‘rubble bucket’ How long before the poor thing gets as filthy as before? I reckon a week.

For those interested the seed potatoes are half earlies and half lates, we are supposed to plant after May the 20th  here because the climate can still throw a wobbly and freeze before then, so I’m not too late this year. As usual I read the label showing the variety very carefully and promptly forgot it before I’d left the shop.

There are times a Bakfiets can’t quite carry everything you need, especially when you need bulk consignments of compost from the local council tip and it is at the bottom of a steep hill, so last week a long-suffering friend allowed me to fill his nice clean trailer with fresh compost and deliver it to the parking space at the top of the Very Smallholding. Strangely he didn’t offer to help carry the stuff down the steps into the garden two buckets at a time, although he helpfully pointed out the parking space could have been at the bottom of the garden, so I was lucky there. Then he went home.

Young people these days, honestly.

The pile sat on the parking space, steaming quietly for a week until I got around to laying a cardboard mulch on two beds and to carry bucketloads of compost down to pour over the top ready for the mimited planting I’m going to do this year.*

It took me sixty trips, negotiating the steps from the gate, crossing the patio, mincing over the broken steps to the grass, sliding down the steep, increasingly muddy hillside to the veg beds, dumping the compost on the cardboard, climbing back up the hill, onto the patio and up the steps, wondering why I hadn’t looked for a nice flat suburban garden like normal people have, where a wheelbarrow would be a useful implement instead of a gravity-fuelled danger to man and beast.

As I half dumped, half dropped the last bucketful on the bed, a neighbour came to call and asked what I was doing. I explained that the cardboard was to kill off the undergrowth and give me clear well prepared soil for planting this year.

My neighbour scratched his chin, looked at the fresh beds, and opined “Ah, mulching. Well, you know what they say about that: it’s for gardeners too lazy to dig…”

*I’m very short of gardening time this year and we will be away in August, so I’m limiting myself strictly to onions and potatoes**.

**And some beans I thought I’d give another chance, a handful of leftover leek seeds, a few courgettes that are growing by themselves, and possibly perpetual spinach, but apart from that, definitely nothing else.

 

One of the many phrases my dear mother had to say, several times each morning.

Well, now I did. It took several more months than I’d like*, but finally, the bed for Youngest Son is finished, meaning that he no longer has to sleep on the floor.

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I did learn a massive amount about working with real wood, not least that modern woodworking machines aren’t really made for this, so sometimes hand saws, mallet and chisels really do work better, with the added advantage that they don’t suddenly turn themselves on and nearly remove the ends of your fingers.

On the other hand, it was quite disturbing how little advice was available apart from ‘use the machines’: very few of the very experienced carpenters I work with have ever made a join like this, so I had to spend a fair bit of time working stuff out for myself. I did wonder at times if I should have made a few practice joins instead of just leaping in and promising a bed, but the idea of being dragged off to get a bed from a furniture shop provided powerful motivation for not giving up.

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The joins looked pretty rough in places, but it is amazing what a bit of sandpaper can do. I used this method because we’ll need to take the bed apart again if/when we move house, and ‘normal’ joins wouldn’t allow for that. Besides, I wasn’t convinced I’d get the cuts perfect so the wedges would hide my mistakes allow for some adjustment. Because I was using joins no-one locally had apparently attempted in living memory there was a question of how they would stand up to regular use, but after a week of being a bed/trampoline/climbing frame, the frame hasn’t shown any sign of wobbling or squeaking.

I brought the bed home on the Bakfiets, which only added to the strange eco-warrior/treehugger/village idiot image but which worked perfectly well except that I completely failed to take a picture.

Now I’m getting all manner of suggestions for future projects, and I’ll make a start on some of them as soon as the garden has received some attention, and I’ve fixed the headlight for Beautiful Wife’s bike, and done all the other extra jobs no-one tells you about when you read books on ‘living simply’…

*This will not surprise my parents either , from memories of how long it took me to do anything when I lived at home…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week I was given my ‘Half yearly’ report for year two of my carpentry apprenticeship. This means I’m just over half way through.

In Germany an apprentice learns a trade with a company, so you really do learn on the job. It is great because a lot of young people learn a trade, but I’m hugely disappointed how much a carpentry apprenticeship here is about speed, money and feeding machines, not skill and love of woodworking.

I’m in a minority of one on this, so my goal now is to finish the apprenticeship, get my certificate, and look for some extra training in traditional carpentry. Meanwhile I’m getting as much practice as I can and currently that means making a bed for Youngest Son with simple mortise and tenon joins.

Last week a horrified colleague asked why on earth I was working with Japanese saws, chisels, and a drill inherited from my grandfather when there is a hall full of expensive and complex machines a few metres away. I replied that when my son sleeps on this bed I wanted the knowledge it was me who made it and not a machine, and because I wanted to build a future in working with wood, using my hands, not a computer screen. The joins aren’t perfect, but if you want perfect you can go to IKEA and get a perfect, soulless bed. This one is full of imperfections, and full of love.

Then with impeccable timing, the bedpost split.

Anyway, soon after this conversation, the tutor at a woodworking school I’m interested in posted a particularly passionate article on his blog about educating people in traditional woodwork, I commented and told him the story above. He replied:

So discouraging and yet I know it’s true.. …Hang in there, what we are doing is making a difference… …your letter just won you a free nine-day course here at the school. Just let me know when you want to come by choosing a date on the scheduled classes.

Emphasis mine.

So at some point in 2015 I’ll be off to this school in North Wales.

Even a feeding chipboard into a machine for eight hours didn’t stop me grinning for a day afterwards…

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This is now the view from the bottom of the Mighty Steppe.

The Throne Room is the result of some pretty creative thinking on the part of our chainsaw wielding friends a couple of weeks ago. They decided it was a waste to let all that lovely wood burn, and it would be much more fun to make a circle of benches where we could invite friends to come and hang out on summer evenings.

The invitation part was mentioned several times. I suspect an ulterior motive.

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The Throne itself was cut from the trunk of the tree and simply turned sideways: there was no way it we could move it any further. It took three of us about twenty minutes to get this into position, so I’m not worried about it moving.

It still needs some work, mostly sanding and oiling so it is waterproof and doesn’t lose the lovely colouring in the wood. It will also need drainage holes and/or a roof or the seat will stop being a bottom rest and become a water feature.

Still, it’s a bit more interesting than a standard garden-centre bench.

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I can’t oil the bench until the wood has dried out, which could present a problem. Observant readers will notice the original trunk and roots lurking in the bushes behind.

I’ll need to make a fire hole in the middle of the circle. When I’ve finished digging the veg beds, chopped all the new firewood, cut more of the brambles…

And people ask why we don’t have a television.

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