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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?

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.


At the Very Smallholding there is very little shelter, apart from a small section of the patio which is under some overhanging trees. So naturally when the rain started while I was doing some gardening I carried the Xtracycle down the steps from the gate and put it under cover.

Then went back out in the rain and carried on gardening.

It was only later I realised this may be considered slightly strange.


Whenever we are cycling beyond the next village, we don’t need to ask if there will be a hill. The question is how many hills there will be. Accompanying Eldest Son to his Saturday activity -3 kilometres away- involves a steep downhill into a valley, followed by a steep climb up the other side. We then do the same in reverse. I’m not suprised that Eldest Son isn’t always very excited to go.

The constant presence of hills is one problem we have when trying to encourage cycling here. Hills are very clearly, very visibly there, all the time, and they look much, much steeper when you are at the bottom riding a bicycle.

In the other hand, you do get a nice view from the top.

This argument has failed to win over the masses to cycling, although that does leave plenty of space at viewpoints.


Catching the ‘super’ ferry to Shozu Island.

Your correspondent on the right, jet-lagged, ill shaven, and in need of a shower. Pretty well normal, in other words.


There’s a modern art scuplture at out college of two men hauling about a tonne of plumbline over the heads of visitors. This is the plumbline from below.

That’s year one of college finished. It’s been a good one too, with lots learned and a lot of good new friends. I’m now on the trade guild register as an apprentice carpenter, and I’ve got a licence to use all kinds of dangerous machines. Next year will be mostly in my employers workshop and dealing with customers, and then I get to make my final project and exams in a bit less than two years.

I doubt I’ll have got my act together by then, of course, but I can live in hope.




Trying to keep three hyperactive boys occupied on weekends can be difficult: there is only so much imaginative fun to be gained from our garden.

One of our favourite alternative places is a local play area which thankfully has more than the usual swings and roundabouts, but things like towers to climb and trampolines to bounce on. It also has a big water play area where Youngest Son is turning a water wheel and hiding from the camera.


Meanwhile downstream, the older brothers are working on some serious water management and mud pie construction.


How the weather isn’t.

I should have been at the garden today. The beds need weeding again, and I’ve not had a chance to unleash the newly sharpened scythe on the brambles (although a trial swing in the veggie beds went through several varieties of weed and the side of a compost bin), the seedings are finally growing to a point they can be planted out and there are more steps to be dug than I want to think about, and I’m sitting in here with the rain beating on the skylight behind me like a British boarding house on a bank holiday weekend.

Usually the spring rain falls so hard the runoff on the roof pours so fast it misses the guttering altogether and pours straight on the garden below, then clears up by the time you’ve finished your bike ride*. This weekend we’ve had constant rain: heavy, light, and by way of variation this afternoon, angled.  There’s no point going to the garden in this weather as the shed leaks and the clay soil will glue to the spade leaving it useful only as a club to beat the weeds with. I know I keep going on about this, but I really need some reliable, comfortable shelter in the garden. I’m working on that, admittedly painfully slowly, but hopefully I’ll soon have some progress soon.

I’ve spent most of the day helping Eldest Son with a history of Hamburg, and sketching woodwork projects. I’ve discovered that dovetails are part of the test in a few weeks and my final project in 2015, so I really need to get some practice, which means ordering some wood at work, which means working out what I need.

I’ve also been wondering -in that melancholy way you do when the rain is hitting the window- about what to write about next: I can’t go cycling or gardening and a sane person can only take so much information about woodwork. I’ve lived here and this way so long I don’t really know what is interesting to someone looking in through these web pages.

Please give suggestions below. Or expect more entries about the weather.

*Usually about five minutes before you get back…


That strange distant glow is the sunrise, finally coming early enough that we could see it on the commute into college.

At the current rate I’ll be able to see the outside of our house in daylight on weekdays. I’m not sure I can take the excitement.

The last days of college before the Christmas break were spent frantically trying to finish a walnut picture frame. The trouble with a complete frame is that it only takes one mistake and the whole thing is a mess, and you only find out after you’ve put all the parts together. Compared to this, making one tenon join is easy.

As I’d messed up my practice attempts that wasn’t exactly comforting.


Making one of the joins with a 6mm chisel and mallet. The other half of the join is is on hand for testing purposes.


Frame assembled, showing some quite hideous wonkiness on the nearest corner. Fortunately these vanished during the gluing stage. There were a disturbing number of cracks in the joints as well, but it’s remarkable what can be hidden using a mix of sawdust and glue. The finished frame was just straight enough to become a Christmas present for Beautiful Wife.


My Japanese saws: these cut on the pull, not the push which allows them to be finer because even I am less likely to break the blade when cutting. For the picture frame I used my Dozuki (nearest the camera) which has especially fine teeth for cutting tenon joints.

Notice friend and hideously competent carpenter B in the background, working hard with the Raubank while I’m messing about with a camera. This explains why he got a higher grade than me.

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