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Interesting as my current training may be, I am getting  bit fed up of sitting in lectures and writing stuff for exams, so it was a relief to be allowed outside to play complete a practical project.

The brief from the college was to go and find an organisation working with people with disabilities and ask if they need anything to help clients take part in the activities. I went with three other students to the city farm where I worked for eight months, who decided that what they’d like was wheelchair friendly entrance for the rabbit pen. “Wheelchair friendly” being defined as possible to just a wheelchair in and out without having to pull bolts or turn handles, in both directions, but without the rabbits escaping n the process.

The contraption above is what we came up with. As a wheelchair goes up the ramp and onto the platform, the weight presses the planks down, releasing the catch by the gate. The wheelchair can push through the gate which is hanging on those nifty sprung hinges you find on saloon doors in western movies, and when the wheelchair has gone through the gate swings shut, the platform springs up again thanks to two inflated wheelbarrow inner tubes hidden underneath, the door latches shut, and the rabbits are kept safely inside.

The plan was for the platform to be about ground level but we discovered the foundations to what looks like an artillery position right where we wanted to dig it out so it ended up rather higher. The ramp and barrier are by way of emergency solutions.

So far it seems to work. The gate opens and closes,  mass rabbit breakouts have been avoided.

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…

The farm has a ‘general’ kitchen used for all kinds of activities and one commercial kitchen used for preparing food for the homework club. which has to fulfill all kinds of rules and regulations. In particular, it should have a paper towel and soap dispenser: apparently failure to have one of these can cause an outbreak of biblical-quality plagues and the arrival of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (carrying a nasty letter from the Hygiene Department).

Of course we could buy a dispenser, but that would be boring and would require us to actually spend money, so the boss told me to “have a look and see what you think would work”.

I got together with some of the kids in the workshop*, and we made this.


I hadn’t done this sort of thing since I was officially signed off sick from my apprenticeship a year ago, and the space I had to fit the thing was squeezed between the wash basin and a fuse box**. I distinctly saw a spark come out of a hole I was drilling at one point but the cook is a former electrician and he assured me that if I had hit a live wire the resulting sparks would have reached halfway across the kitchen, so we carried on and I managed not to look too surprised when it fitted first time.


The piggy was made by incredibly competent student and former fashion designer M, who spent six weeks simultaneously putting up with me and the children, and somehow organising our chaotic workshop ‘when she had time’. Unfortunately she has since left the farm to complete her training as a kindergarten teacher.

There were mutterings that having a little pig in a strictly vegetarian kitchen is at least somewhat ironic, but we liked it, so there.

*We’re always encouraged to do this so the children can learn alongside us, make something for other people, et c. It also means that if we make a mistake, we can say ‘It was a learning project’…

**Germans seem to take a rather robust approach to electricity and water in close proximity. The same approach applies here to children and animals,  tall climbing frames, and sharp objects.



Washing up after lunch at the farm. Pickmax* the chicken helping recycle the food scraps. When there aren’t pickings enough outside, she sneaks into the kitchen and eats the compost there.

*Don’t ask me, I just work here.


A large section of the farm is given over to a ‘Hut Village’ where children can ‘rent’ a hut and build what they want, including a few things which would give the British ‘Health and safety’ officers headaches.

To avoid all the tools in the workshop vanishing, the village is centred around this elderly construction wagon where hammers and saws are kept, and nails are available for sale. The current rate of exchange is 5 ‘found’ rusty nails for one new one.

Since starting at the farm, I’ve lost a certain amount of bulk that had accumulated in recent years. It seems that all this stomping about, dropping hay bales on each other, running after escaped animals, running away from escaped animals, mucking out, and using heavy machinery is combining with a longer cycle commute* to get rid of some of that excess that is the bane of the over 30’s.

We burn calories faster than we can replace them it seems, which explains why any of the staff not involved in any of the activities above can usually be found stuffing our faces. At first the new staffers were all virtuous and only ate cucumbers or bananas or eco-friendly low-calorie muesli bars** but then we realised that this wasn’t cutting it and besides the muesli bars looked suspiciously like what the horses ate. We don’t want healthy stuff: what we want is chocolate biscuits, lots of them. And cake.

This is rather blindingly obvious of course, along with “washing your hands kills germs” but I wonder if the farm could market our ‘new’ discovery as a health plan: lose weight by working on a Real Farm: €150 a day including bike rental. Cake extra.

*And let’s ignore for now the fact that I avoid the hills by riding on the tram, okay?

**Yeah, right…


Early morning at the farm, the animals have been fed, poo cleared and the Kindergarten children have gone for breakfast.

I should be doing things like tidying up that hay, not loafing about taking pictures…


Arriving at work: gate open, children chasing goats, goats chasing children, geese vanished, big pile of poo to deal with.


So, here’s the new office, looking appropriately like a hangout for tree hugging hippies.

I was asked to start work a day earlier than expected, because the person in the workshop wanted to ‘show me around’ before he went on holiday. What he didn’t add was “And then you’ll be looking after the workshop for two weeks.”


During the holidays anyone can come and make whatever they want, so I’ve helped build pencil holders, several ‘boats’ including a galleon, a yacht, and enough pirate ships to lay siege to a small island; three hobby horses, a waste paper basket, lots of swords and a dozen animal shaped bits of wood including this family of elephants destined to be a set of bookends. When I wasn’t doing that I was sharpening blunt chisels and planes and making sure nobody injured themselves in a permanent manner.

To make sure I didn’t cause too many disasters I was teamed up with a ‘summer worker’ who turned out to be highly competent with children, and sewing, fortunately, otherwise all those ships would have been without sails. I got on with the woodwork, using the bigger machines and dealing with requests like “I want a rudder on the ship connected to a steering wheel at the front so that when I turn the wheel the rudder steers the ship”

Next week the farm is closed while we all recover, tidy up after the summer, and the new staff get basic some basic training on how not to get bitten by angry goats and other essentials. If I’m good, they say I’ll be allowed to drive the tractor:


I’m told there are lots of other things to learn about running a farm. Not sure what those might be…


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