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The Elder Son -who made his debut on this blog riding a bike with stabilisers- needs a new bike to go to work. This it a matter of some urgency because at the moment he’s using the commuter bike, and it is only a matter of time before ‘my’ commuter bike becomes ‘his’ commuter bike unless I find an alternative.

So we’re going on a bike hunt.

The charitable organisation I work for runs several local bike shops as a way to help people gain skills and get back into work. They also recycle bikes and at this time of year there are usually a dozen or so refurbished items in unfortunate colour schemes in front of the shop, perfect for the rebuild/repainting we had in mind.

So we went to see what we could find. There are two such shops on the other side of the city, so we’d have plenty to choose from. The weather report threatened storms from mid afternoon., but there was no sign of them after lunch, and anyway, we were following a tram route the whole way, so we could always leap on the tram and come back in the dry. We snorted in derision at the weather report and set off.

Of course, after we’d been riding about half an hour -ie, we were far enough away from the apartment that it would take a soaking to get back- it started NAR. This, UK readers will know is ‘Not Actually Raining’; a very gentle drizzle or spit of rain that makes it clear that a good soaking is entirely possible.

We arrived at the first bike shop. instead of the line of bikes I was expecting, there were three: a mahoosive upright town bike, a tricycle, and a pink bike with stabilisers and plastic flowers. I suggested to Elder Son that the pink bike would suit him, but he’s fussy about things like that and wouldn’t even try it out. Young people these days.

The second shop had no bikes at all unless you counted a pile of bent scrap frames out the back.

Then the rain finally came. Not the British style of spring rain, that falls solidly but gently for hours: this was a German ‘auditioning to be a monsoon’ rainstorm, which hits the ground so hard it bounces twice and cracks flagstones.

Thank goodness we were at the tram stop, we agreed smugly.

Then we found that the station was closed for repairs and there were no trams running for the weekend…

 

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The exams are over, certificates handed out, My new contract is signed and I am once more a commuter. For the next year at least.

I’m even sort of being paid, as this is a probationary year to get ‘proper’ accreditation so I’m only a ‘sort of’ Arbeitserzieher/Occupational Therapist. Of course the local transport authority doesn’t recognise this distinction so instead of having an ‘all zones’ student card I now have to pay more for a two zone commuter railcard. Still, it was good while it lasted.

I even have the luxury of two different routes to work -you’re excited, I can tell- but as one means going into the main railway station during rush hour (So… many… people…) I opted for the slightly slower way that trundles down the hill into the city to within a fifteen minute walk to work. There is a bus which in theory comes every eight minutes, but I soon discovered that bus timetables are a work of fiction when the drivers of Stuttgart all decide to go into the city at once. Besides the bus clearly likes to visit every corner of the suburbs before finally going to where I work, so there really isn’t much difference in time.

Of course, you will now be wondering why I don’t just cycle into the city, and it would be nice, as it is only about 12km one way, but Stuttgart is in a 200m deep valley, and in an effort to make sure everyone has lots of ‘choice’ about how to travel, the city has built several very wide fast roads which ensures that you can get there any way you want, as long as it is in a car.

Besides, most of what I’ve seen in my first month commuting has confirmed that the average driver in Stuttgart is not only unable to see a large yellow tram with three headlights from about ten metres away: they also have trouble noticing pedestrians, other cars, ‘no parking’ signs, mahoosive dayglo pink fire engines with flashing blue lights,  and the difference between a road and a pavement, so I don’t want to test if they will see a bicycle or not…

On the tram approaching the stop for my finals, I found a some notes I’d mislaid for the ‘Learning and Development’ exam lurking in the depths of my bag. The title said “The four main factors essential to learning” and although they were definitely in my handwriting I couldn’t remember ever having set eyes on them before.

This isn’t the first time this happened: in my written exams I was floored by a question which I couldn’t begin to answer having mislaid the index card early on in my revision. In that case I’d had about 25 other questions and four hours to answer them in so I wasn’t too worried, but this time the education ministry had decreed that the entire two years of learning would be examined in four fifteen minute interviews. I’d have a total of three questions in ‘learning and development’ so if the ‘four factors essential to learning’ came up and I didn’t know the list by heart I’d lose a third of my grade. I slipped the notes into my shirt pocket, and kept checking them while I recited the ‘four factors’ all the way into college.

I was directed to a ‘waiting room’ in one of the classrooms. We were told that we’d be picked up by our examiners, taken to our interview room, and brought back to wait for the next one. I was duly picked up by the first examiner and we went to the interview room where I had to take three random cards off a pile, read the questions on the other side, and answer them. This set the pattern for the next hour: go to interview room, take random questions, try to answer questions without brain freezing, back to waiting room.

In ‘Learning and development’ the first randomly selected question was inevitably: “Name the most important factors for learning.”

After the fourth interview I was legally obliged to push off and not come back for a couple of hours, so I duly pushed. Two hours later I found my colleagues in a very good mood, mainly because we’d all finished a rather long examination process, and in several cases because they’d spent the intervening time in the bar down the road. We gathered in our now former classroom, which already looked a bit forlorn with tables pushed to the walls and old projectors and flip chart frames dumped in the corners.

When my name was called out I went to the front, took my certificate, shook hands with the tutors, and rushed back to sit down and look at the grades.

To my absolute astonishment I’d passed with a ‘1.5’, a comfortable margin as a pass is anything up to a three or four.

Suddenly two years of training ended, with a sense of anticlimax. Most people went to celebrate, but I exited via a back door and headed back to the tram. As I got on I felt something crackly in my shirt pocket and retrieved a piece of paper.

I’d been carrying the answer to “The four learning principles” all the way through my exams.

Exams are kicking in at the moment, hence the lack of posts here. The coming week is a practical exam, where I go off to a workshop for people with disabilities and train someone to do something, which is more fun but unfortunately less photographically interesting than my last exam.

I’ve been allocated somewhere way over yonder on the north side of the city (while people living there have to commute to a workshop just down the road from here, which seems a bit silly) It is also on a greenfield site and I’m not sure how many buses run past the door so I’ve borrowed a folding bike for the week just in case.

This of course involved a logistical exercise because the tram stop is in the next village, which meant a slightly complicated multimodal journey involving the Bakfiets, folding bike, and tram, but I made it in the end.

Tomorrow we’ll see if I need it.

We have a friend who is an artist, a proper artist who actually knows what he’s doing and earns money and everything. Every year he sends us and a lot of other people a postcard with an ink drawing on it as a new year card, and every year I told myself I’d try and do the same and promptly forgot about it.

This year I finally got myself into gear and drew a sketch of the Wolfstor in Esslingen am Neckar, then inked the lines over several lunch breaks, and possibly in the occasional dull lecture.

Click here to find the mistakes.

Last week we were given notice of about four modular exams, so I’m going to have to stop making pretty pictures and get on with revising. Still, at least I managed to make a drawing this year. Maybe I’ll remember to make the 2019 sketch before the year changes…

 

Towards the end of the holiday the weather got bored with being wet and windy, and went to just being cold for a couple of days, leaving your correspondent with the usual dilemma: Should I take advantage of the sudden blue skies to clean wash about three months of accumulated crud off the bikes, or should I just ride a bike?

No contest really.

Having made it through the unfortunate mess that is Stuttgart Airport, I broke out into fields again, and past this monument to a more civilised form of flying. Apparently this is where one of the first Zeppelins made an emergency landing in a field with the great man on himself on board.

After making repairs they took off again and flew to Friedrichshafen. Try that with a 747.

Off to the next village…

And on, through the fields. These hills are the same as those seen from our balcony. I really should stop whining about where I live.


This was my goal: Hardthausen church. Churches in the region are very distinctive so I tend to use them as markers on a ride.

As I approached Stuttgart again things began to unravel. a mix of poor signage and poor guesswork landed me riding uphill on a busy road with drivers honking their horns at me. I’m going to assume they and the motorcyclist who shouted something indistinct and waved a boot in my direction were simply trying to be encouraging.

Then after following the route around the airport for several kilometres, I found this:

There was a small piece of paper taped to this showing a ‘diversion’ that went back along the way I’d come, then through another village and into a valley, using another busy road and adding about 3 hilly miles to the journey.

The other side of the roadworks, the crane is the same one as in the other image.

Sharp eyed viewers will notice that I could have gone around the fence and cycled the hundred yards or so straight through the roadworks, as it was a Sunday and they were empty of construction workers.

Of course, I was very good and didn’t do this.

This isn’t far from our town, just a short ride down into the valley…

And up the Hill Of Doom on the other side, which is the unfortunate end of every ride around here and never gets photographed because that would require me to stand up straight and be able to focus after the climb.

I managed 32km in total. Not much but it wasn’t meant to be a serious ride. Anything more adventurous will have to wait until after exams.

Things are busy again for reasons which will be obvious pretty soon, so I haven’t written much. Instead here’s Beautiful Daughter on our regular road trip, which is far more interesting than I am anyway.

Beautiful daughter generally drags me in the direction of the door by about ten in the morning, insistently saying “Ride to cow farm, Ride to Rabbits… so off we go.

First we ride out to the ‘cow farm’, and then walk to the meadows next door to pick dandelion leaves…

Then we ride to the next farm, and feed the rabbits. Those rabbits have a good thing going I reckon; they’re certainly very fat.

We say hello to the two ponies…

Before going a few more kilometres out into the fields, where there is yet another farm, With even more interesting friendly animals…

…and a Pile Of Sticks. Which have to be tested very carefully.

Eventually we find our way back to the apartment. Via the playground. Unless I remember to avoid it.

We could do this by walking of course. But then it would take all day with the distances involved. Thank goodness for Bakfietsen…

 

The long drawn out and very boring process of getting German citizenship I’ve described before is continuing: we’ve had a request for a rather large amount of money and more copies of the documents we had to copy earlier. We have to take them to an office at some unspecified point in the future, so we are hoping this means we are coming towards the end of that one. Of course this means chasing different government offices who move at the usual speed of government offices everywhere…

Exams continue: you’ve all experienced them and they are as fun and exciting as way back when, so I don’t need to go on about that…

On the other hand I’ve got a project week this week, which means I can start a bit later and get to make stuff and call it work. My group has to make and design a gate that will open for a wheelchair without the user needing to undo a bolt or turn a handle, and close securely after they have gone through. This last bit is important because we are back at the city farm I worked at a couple of years ago, and the gate goes to the rabbit pen.

On top of this the weather is good at the moment and I can ride the Xtracycle to the farm, and not get muddy in the process, which reduces a lot of the potential grumpiness…

More exams loom. This week we have ‘Rechtskunde’ or law. We need to know the law for working with people with disabilities/psychological issues/refugees/young offenders et c,, what rights they have, including extra rights to protect them, and how to deal with different situations.Of course to do this we need to have a working knowledge of the law for everyone else.

It is very boring.

The picture above is my attempt at making it a bit more interesting and rearranging the information to help me remember it.

German speakers: I know “Rectskunde” should be “Rechtskunde”. Pencils don’t have a spellchecker, and by the time I noticed I’d filled in all the gaps…

It’s one of my favourite times of the year again, when the weather department realises it is spring and suddenly we go from freezing cold and rain to sunshine, flowers, and very nearly not a needing a coat. This also means I can ride most of the way to college instead of using the tram, and thus avoid the centre with all its annoyances without getting too muddy.

Most of the route is on routes through the forest and across fields where cars are supposedly not allowed.They are therefore indifferently tarmacked or gravel, and used as a turning circle for tractors ploughing. (The local town once made a big thing about how they employed a sort of park ranger who apart from anything else should keep these roads clean, which gave us all a laugh).

Having mudguards helps of course, as well as an improvised mudflap which is surviving far longer than I dared hope, but it is good to know I can ride through the forest and not hit mud or puddles.

Which made last week just the wrong time for the owners of the local forest to decide to play with their big tractors, and close the routes to Stuttgart so they could mess up all the trails undisturbed. It gave the journey an extra edge of adventure, especially as they only reopened them when they’d made sure there were wheel ruts across the trails wider than some local cycleways.

Just a small reminder that for all the hot air, we don’t really consider bicycles to be a proper form of transport.

Meanwhile, our version of Stuttgart is developing, slowly…

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