You know when you realise you should have just kept quiet?

As part of our Occupational Therapist course we have art projects, and each class is supposed to make a mural for their classroom. This is quite a welcome idea because our classroom is a concrete fridge looking out onto a busy main road. It is dark, sterile, and apparently houses a breeding colony of spare tables.

We were divided into groups to make proposals for the murals, and told which walls were possible candidates (not the one with an ugly mural on it already, sadly) and off we went.

One issue we have in the college is a lack of space to relax, so we put two and two together and decided that the mural should be something to make the darker end of the room look a bit brighter and more airy and a place you could enjoy being in. As we have a coffee machine in the corner we went with the flow and said it could be a cafe.

So I was told to draw a sketch, which I happily did, on the basis that it kept me busy.

The group liked it, or possibly just didn’t want to draw an alternative, so I was told to make a more detailed sketch. This time I was worried as I knew what would be involved if the design was accepted, and in particular who would be expected to make the picture.

They liked that too. Then someone suggested a skyline of Stuttgart viewed through the window using the method known as Quadratura

And someone else who I will one day force to eat my paintbrush said “Yeah, sure. Andy could do it.”

I know I’ve painted pictures before, but I’ve no real training whatsoever, and this is massive: about 2m by 4m (Ca 6′ by 12′).

And that’s just one. Current plans are for there to be two or possibly three ‘windows’ across the entire dark end of the room.

Looks like I’ll be busy over the holidays…

Well, the pollution alarms are continuing: we had some rain so a lot of last months crud is currently heading downstream to northern Germany and ultimately the Netherlands (sorry) but apparently it didn’t get rid of all the muck so our elected leaders are getting to grips with the situation, and taking a proactive approach to solve the problem once and for all. Yes, once again, they are Putting up Signs. In this case they are very large signs facing the main roads suggesting that drivers might, just possibly want to consider using the half-priced public transport, maybe?

Judging by the numbers of traffic jams in Stuttgart, the signs aren’t really working. Traffic delays are the main subject of conversation at college: people are taking up to an hour and a half for journeys that only take thirty minutes before*.

I’ve also seen the traffic jams because I pass them on the way to college, usually on an empty cycle route.

I think that Stuttgart could save a lot of money if instead of making the ‘Please consider public transport’ signs very large to be seen from a speeding car, they make them postcard sized and put them alongside the road, so that drivers have something to read while waiting for the traffic jam to lurch forward another twenty metres. Something like “If you are reading this, you could have saved 20 minutes by using a tram”.

*When public transport is delayed by ten minutes this is evidence that the whole system is unreliable and that sensible people should use a car, but a traffic jam is simply an annoyance, the fault of all those other cars and evidence that the government should just build lots more roads.

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…

fixingabak

The Bakfiets had a puncture. This usually means Saturday will be spent fixing it, as the back wheel is quite tricky to get out of the bike, and more to the point, very fiddly to get back on again, or at least to put it on again so the bike moves in a straight line and the brakes work.

It was therefore very annoying that when I had wrestled the wheel of the bike, repaired the puncture, fought the wheel until it went back onto the bike, and then put the brakes and gears beck together so we could use it, the tyre went down again.

Twice.

I was planning to replace this tyre at some undefined point in the future as it was worn down from seven years of carrying children, shopping, party supplies, scrap, exam projects, luggage, and furniture, to the point that the tyre was so loose it didn’t even need tyre levers to take it off the wheel any more. I decided to take the drastic step of actually spending money, went online and ordered a puncture proof-ish tyre, a new inner tube and extra wide rim tape, in the hope of sorting out the problem permanently. Then it dawned on me that I also needed to replace the gear shifter, as the bikes eight gears were now down to seven on a good day, and those were not always predictable due to the twist grip shifters habit of shredding cables, so I also ordered a proper trigger shifter, on the basis that I may as well just fight this battle once and deal with both problems at the same time.

All this came to about fifty euros, which is probably the most I’ve spent on the Bakfiets in one go since I bought it.

I also managed to persuade the Elder Son that as he is now riding the bakfiets several times a week, he should learn how to fix it by helping me, and se surprised ourselves by managing the whole repair in an hour and a half. Elder Son says this is his influence.

Annoyingly, he’s is probably right.

arbeitsplatz

Work station prepared for client.

Posting has been pretty slow of late as I’m about to do my next practical exam for my Occupational Therapist training, but finally after a lot of proofreading by my mentor at my internship placement, I’ve sent off my 3000 word report for the first read through by my tutor at college. Now all have to do is prepare the instructions for my client and I’m ready, with two weeks still to go.

I’ve even managed to get the new workstation ready. I still can’t get used to the idea that I can make this sort of thing and call it work…

Even better, thanks to my mentor at my placement spending several hours working on the grammar and spelling, I know it isn’t complete drivel.

And the best part is that I have a long four-day weekend and I don’t have to use it for the report. I can’t do any more until my tutor gets back to me, and he has the weekend off too, so I can forget it until next week with a clear conscience and spend time with my family.

There may even be more blog entries. Perhaps. If a certain toddler lets me have fine minutes break…

The weeks are passing quickly in my internship and it is exam season again, but this time it is for real. I Have a real client with real learning difficulties and I have to write them all up in German, so as before I’ve spent a day writing 3500 words of flowing German prose or complete drivel.

Now I’m pooped.

See you next week…

Things have been pretty quiet here because as well as having various friends and family around, and starting another term at college, we’ve been dealing with all the excitement of a new school year for the boys, which means things like parents evenings, where the teachers take about two hours to give enough useful information to cover on one typed sheet of paper, and then two or three parents have a long discussion about supplies of bottled water or the colour of the trampolines, while everyone else wishes they would shut up so we can all go home.

Even though I ride a bike to most of these evenings, much to the horror of several other parents, there’s not much interesting blogging material to get out of them, except for the occasional howler we get from the teachers. For example, the French teachers assertion that to make up for the lack of lesson time, she expected the children to practice in the lunch break.*

The best so far was the class teacher for our eleven year old, who described the year as “getting off to a bad start.” The class has a ratio of 25 boys to four girls, and unusually they’ve had to move classroom several times in the first days after the summer holiday, and she couldn’t understand why they were so loud and unsettled.

So you’ve got 25 healthy eleven year old boys**, excited to be seeing friends they’ve been away from for six weeks, readjusting to school (and in many cases German culture), you make them change classroom every few hours for a few days so they can’t get into any routine, and then get annoyed when they won’t just sit down, keep still, and do low grade clerical work for several hours a day.

Brilliant.

*“It’s a lunch break. The clue is in the name”, as one parent pointed out.
**We were left in no doubt as to who the teacher was talking about.

All the forms are filled in, and filled in again because they were the forms from a different state and even though the information is the same, it is in a different order (the joys of a federal system)…

The other paperwork has been handed in and copied, extra paperwork chased up, (promised, chased up again, promised again, arrived, discovered to be the wrong paperwork, chased up a third time and finally delivered).

Copies of all paperwork made, translations made and certified…

…form signed at the bottom and passed over the desk, processing fee paid, and finally our application for naturalisation in Germany is sent off.

It took almost an hour for some poor secretary to photocopy all the documentation. Now all we have to do is wait and see if it will be accepted at all, and then find out what the next stage in the process is…

Posts have been a bit thin on the ground of late, mainly because I couldn’t think of an interesting way to say we were having a lot of fun going on bike ride.

anyway, I’m now back training.Right now I’m at the end of week one of my training placement.

To recap, I’m getting  retraining is due to health issues, because carpenters can’t have asthma.

Now I’m in a workshop that takes people with light to medium level disabilities leaving school and help them adjust to a work environment, and run all kinds of education projects alongside. I get to spend all day doing creative stuff that helps people

I get the best of both worlds because as a former carpenter I have a machine operators licence and therefore can use all the machines to make interesting stuff and try ideas out.

It’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop, but I’ll try and find something to be grumpy about for your amusement…

GTB_01a

Since working at a local bike shop and maintaining the ever expanding family bicycle fleet (currently at nine bikes for six people, one of whom can’t ride yet, and your point is?) I generally think I’m pretty competent at basic cycle repairs, but there are some days when I wonder if I should be allowed out with as much as a hex key in my hand.

Take Wednesday as an example. After successfully not losing one of the wheels while juggling them between bikes, I’d also fitted Elder Son’s saddle to the commuter bike, as mine apparently wasn’t up to snuff. This done, we toddled off to prepare ourselves for the 80k ride the next day (ie, get lots of chocolate).

In the morning, we were just climbing the first major hill, when The Elder Son mentioned that his saddle had moved. When I tested this by poking it a couple of times, it wobbled and almost fell off.  We flagged down a fellow cyclist and were directed to a shop in a town a few kilometres away, where I shamefacedly confessed to not having fastened the saddle properly. The owner came and had a look, and announced that I had also managed to put the post on backwards. Fortunately he was sufficiently amused by this to not charge us for fixing it properly. I expect that story will go around the regulars for a while…

 

GTB_02

Elder Son thought that his brakes may be snagging as well. I lifted the bike and checked both wheels. They turned freely. I harrumphed at this lack of trust in my maintenance skills.

Despite this we made it to Gutenberg. This is at the end of the valley and going further means climbing about 350m in 3 km (830ft in 2 miles), and I’m much too lazy for that sort of thing. So we took a not at all posed picture of the bikes in front of the church door and set off.

 

GTB_03

After a quick break for lunch…

After our return I found the cause of the ‘dragging brake’. The valley that I’d assured Eldest Son was nice and flat climbs 300 m in 25km. Thats just under a thousand feet in fifteen miles.

Need to work on navigation skills as well as maintenance…

 

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