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Happy Christmas, and many thanks for reading and commenting this year.

That is all.

The other day was the sort where you can only find one glove. I’d been working late the night before so I was tired and therefore grumpy, and when I found the other glove (in the jam cupboard, don’t ask me) it was torn on one finger. By this time we were late and we barely got the boys to school in time via several Mercedes infested ‘traffic calmed’ streets. Despite the late working I was still behind schedule, and I had a theatre workshop to prepare for that evening; the job hunting wasn’t going well (although there’s been a bit of progress since, which I will hopefully, possibly hear more on soon); and it was raining with a damp grumpy drizzle that chills the air and your bone marrow. And the farmers had had a ploughing festival the day before where one of the main events was apparently “See who can leave the biggest pile of mud** on the cycleways”. Grump, grump grump.

Which would have made for a bog-awful morning except that:

Youngest Son gave me a huge smile and hug as picked him up out of bed and held on to me like a limpet for thirty seconds before being distracted by his advent calender.

On the way to work I was passing a tree and spotted a buzzard was sitting on one of the low branches, a bare two metres from me. I’m not sure which one of us was more startled by this, but for thirty seconds we stared at each other before he decided I wasn’t going to keel over and provide him with an easy meal, which I’m glad about because frankly, buzzards are pretty big when viewed from two metres, and flapped off to a tree further away.

*The nearest I reckon I’ll get to “Dances with Wolves”.

**I’m going to optimistically assume it was ‘Mud’.

To the driver going through the old town yesterday morning at about ten past seven, in the dark.

You see those soft, squishy things on two legs? The ones about the height of your wing mirrors? Those are children, and we’d appreciate it if you don’t run them over. We understand that anything or anyone in your way is In The Wrong Place, but -and I know this is a trifling detail that is often ignored by very important motorists- as you came up the road you passed a sign saying this is a Spielstrasse, which means that they, and indeed that person walking their dog, the two people on bicycles and even the even the Nordic walkers, have every right to be there, and that you, despite your big flashy car, are required to drive at seven (7) kilometres an hour, even if the town council can’t be bothered to repaint the sign on the road to remind you.

You may have been on the way to a Very Important Meeting. You were still going too fast.
You may be a very experienced and ‘careful’ driver; you were still going too fast.
Your sat-nav may have told you this was a nifty way through; you were still going too fast.
You may have a big white flashy 4×4 with a metallic paint job, racing tyres on shiny wheels that don’t look like they’ve heard of mud, and four exhausts the size of drainpipes; you were still going too fast.
I know that seen from a car this road looks like a nice quick short cut to the bakery for you to pick up some lunch, but you were still going far. Too. Fast.
Especially for someone talking on a mobile phone.

If you want to go fast you can use the main road through the village, which the mere inhabitants of this village all avoid because of all the traffic. The only vehicles which have a right to drive the speed you were driving have blue lights and sirens. And no, your horn doesn’t count even if you were using it most of the way down the road.

That is why the person on the very long bicycle didn’t just squeeze to the side of the road in the manner of a submissive peasant so that you could continue on your way, but instead rode along the middle of the road. Because I’d rather you are delayed for a few seconds than you drive into/over any of the little squishy things in your two-tonne car.

Especially as two of them are mine.

Thank you for your time, and -I really mean this- have a safe journey.

Yesterday afternoon I was helping Eldest Son with his homework, when I was reminded that I had an important appointment, as in: now. As this was the culmination of several weeks telephoning people, emailing, and chasing up contacts, I wasn’t about to let it slip by so after five frantic minutes finding gardening (ie: ‘filthy’) clothes, work boots and gloves I legged it out to my friend who was waiting in his 4×4 with trailer.

The reason for all this activity?

Cow Poo.

Such is the way my life has turned out.

With seventy cows the local farm wasn’t about to suddenly experience a Bovine Excrement Deficit, but it seemed polite to go and check before reversing a trailer up to the pile and loading up. Ringing the bell at the farmhouse got the expected lack of response, but after wandering about for a bit I met an elderly family member. Unfortunately he spoke a very strong version of the local dialect, and was was deaf so we spent several minutes failing to communicate while the farm geese tried to provide translation and encouragement by honking.

I gave up and wandered around to the farm yard where I discovered it had all been unnecessary as there was a queue. A spotless Volkswagen was standing by the muck, and the owner was delicately scooping winter compost into the tiny trailer. As the pile was bigger than the car we figured there was no rush.

When Clean Volkwagen Driver left, we filled the bottom of our trailer with sawdust and then covered this with as much cow produce as we could, which proved surprisingly difficult, cow manure seems to achieve great density when dropped from a crane. We wiggled our way through the lanes to the Very Smallholding, and I offloaded the trailer while my friend drove to the end of the track and made a 37 point turn to get back. On arrival he remarked that the trailer load of manure didn’t look that much now it was on the ground, and I jokingly asked if he wanted to go again. His response of ”Well, we’ve got more sawdust and the trailer needs cleaning anyway” elevated him to a Hero of the Very Smallholding, and we went and got another load.

I now have a parking space full of very smelly stuff, which is possibly the best anti parking deterrent known to man, and now all I have to do is shift the whole lot down the steps and over the the future vegetable beds, in buckets.

And to think some people go out at weekends.

It’s been a busy week. unfortunately I didn’t spend it building compost bins with the boys, but that was more fun and makes a better picture than what I was doing which was trying to find a job.

At the moment we work in a small community based arts group. Organisations working in community theatre don’t have a vast amount of money at the best of times, and we’re very vulnerable to economic downturns: last week one organisation supporting our work sent us a warning to the effect that they won’t be able to help us any more: they’ve been there for us as long as they could and they did manage to send one final cheque which we appreciated: eating is a tough habit to break.

You may recall that I’d signed up with a translation agency in the hope of filling the gap in our finances but since then we had an inexplicable lack of famous German writers wanting me to translate their work, so it’s back to dusting off my CV and sending it off to various potential employers.

What I’m looking for is a job that allows us to stay here and keep going with the work we do, if voluntarily. Even better would be one that does this and gets me some training in the bargain as my theatre training was in the USA and not officially recognised here, meaning I have effectively no qualifications in Germany. It may even be possible as we’re in south Germany which so far is relatively unscathed by the crisis, but obviously it depends on who responds and what sort of work I’m offered and where, and if all goes very not to plan we may end up moving house again.

Mind you, it’s not like we are alone in that right now, and given the eye-watering rent and utilities prices in the Stuttgart region it may be a financial blessing in disguise, but as that would mean moving the family and losing all the relationships we’ve built up here we’ll save that for when we’ve exhausted every other avenue.

Apart from anything else we’ve just finished the compost bin.

When we’ve worked out what’s happening, I’ll let you know.

*According to WordPress, this is the third time I’ve used this title on the blog, should I be worried?.

This Sunday is ‘Volkstrauertag’, the German equivalent of Remembrance Sunday or Veterans Day. For obvious reasons it is a bit different here. In particular Germany makes a conscious effort to remember all victims of war, including civilians.

My paternal Grandfather was never in the millitary. This was not because he had any strongly held anti-war convictions, but because he worked on the railways and they needed him to do his job there during World War Two. During world war two, if you were in the south or east of the UK, you were on the front line, especially if you worked on the railways, and three months before the war began my Granddad was made a shunter guard, a “Special Man” -which we suspect meant he was paid as a shunter but worked as a guard- based in one of the biggest freight yards in the Midlands, the industrial heartland of the UK. Freight yards are dangerous places at the best of times, with wagons moving in u predictabledirections, with and without locomotives pushing them. The shunter had to run alongside moving wagons and put the brakes on, then couple wagons together with a wooden pole. During the war there was a strict blackout at night, and all movements were carried out in near pitch darkness, so he would be dodging rolling wagons and trying not to fall over track, run into posts, or trip on point levers, surrounded by several trains full of things like high explosives, weapons, food, oil and petrol, with steam locomotives showing a lovely white plume of steam. And then there would be an air raid.

Beyond the freight yards were factories, each one as likely to be bombed as the trains, and air raid shelters were of limited use right next to a train full of high explosives. In other words, my Granddad spent his working days and nights in the middle of a vast target area, and often the best he could do was put a helmet on and keep working and hope that his yard wasn’t the designated target that night, or that an equally terrified bomb aimer wouldn’t decide to dump his not-very-accurate bombs just as he was overhead so he can try to get home alive.

People regularly worked twelve hour shifts and my Granddad fell asleep riding his bicycle home several times. For guards the shift would end wherever they were at the time, so if he was on a train it could be stopped because of a raid up the line, sent back a bit, and then shoved in a siding until another train passed. He could be dropped off miles from home.

Always assuming, of course, that his home hadn’t been destroyed.

This would happen every night. For weeks. No leave, no ‘rest and recovery’ time, just a 12 hour break and the knowledge that next shift he’d have to do it all again.

Granddad wouldn’t talk about the war. Not many of his generation did: they just got on with what needed to be done, and and if they survived they went back and did it again the next day, so many selfless acts by non-combatants were forgotten. I do remember one conversation we had when I was a child which made me think there was more than he would tell. There was an old war film on television and he suddenly turned to me and said: “Just remember, when we see an explosion there, no-one is killed. In the real world it was different.”

He wouldn’t say any more.

Your correspondent looking remarkably like an elderly version of the Hovis Boy, in the name of art.

The youth group I work with are putting together their Autumn theatre and film project, which is now at the acting, filming and oh-heck-are-we-going-to-make-it-in-time stage. Part of the film story is a chase sequence on bikes, because when you’re making a silent film with a lot of slapstick what you really need is a comedy  chase scene on bikes. Especially when you’ve got a beast like the Bakfiets to put the bad guy in.

So last Sunday I spent the day with a large number of young people, riding about the village in vague period costume with a collection of patently fake weapons (like the ‘gun’ in the Bakfiets). In the rain.

On Monday we’ll be doing more sequences at a local castle. To get there I’ll have to ride the Bakfiets into a deep valley and out the other side, and back again. Thinking about it, we could make our own Hovis advert right there.

If anyone is interested, I’ll ask the editor to put some clips from the film on YouTube.

Over in Scotland Disgruntled has been having issues with Heeled Shoes.

I can testify that it isn’t a gender issue: I’m having footwear issues as well*. One problem with walking and cycling for transport is that most shoes are apparently only designed for short distances, I suspect the distance between the front door and the car. Walking more than about half a mile made my feet ache, even on nice flat tarmac. I’ve noticed this with several pairs of ‘normal’ shoes (‘normal’ being defined as ‘possible to wear in public without coming over all mountain man’). Walk more than a few minutes and you start to feel every cobble, flagstone, tree stump or clump of grass.

The only shoes that seem to work are proper ‘walking shoes’: the ones with ankle supports and thick soles you see ‘serious’ walkers putting on prior to dissapearing into the wilderness, but these apparently aren’t ‘proper’ shoes for situations where you are supposed to look vaguely smart.

On the other hand, cycling doesn’t hurt whatever shoes I wear, so maybe this is the universe telling me to ride my bike more.

What do you wear?

*Not with heels, before one of you comments…

When I asked what people may want to hear about from Japan, The ever entertaining Tony of Tales From the Rock suggested:

How about some pics or tales of normal farm animals, they must have some:) Japanese cows, goats, sheep etc

Hmm, tough one that. We’re still trying to find a camera which we can persuade to display the functions in English for one thing. For another, I haven’t found many working livestock farms yet, and those I have found are a long way away and won’t let us visit. There used to be a small butchers locally which slaughtered chickens in the shop window, but that seems to have gone, and goodness knows where they got their supplies from. Most milk cattle aare reared on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. In theory we’re where the cows for the famous Matsusaka beef are reared, massaged and listen to classical music before being turned into slabs of very expensive meat. (the photo in the previous link shows 100g selling for about fifty euro or fourty pounds) but I haven’t seen any of them: probably they’re all stall-fed.

Mind you, they may have just been slaughtered because the feed came from the Fukushima region. Apparently, all the meat on sale locally is from frozen stockpiles.

In Britain where I grew up, firework displays usually happen on the 5th of November. They’re impressively cold, less impressively spectacular and involve burning an effigy of some poor chap who was caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this case the wrong place being a cellar directly under the house of Lords (The UK’s upper house) full of explosives. As the people who were behind the plan were Catholic, the protestant government decreed that in a spirit of religious tolerance, this should be commemorated throughout Britain every November the fifth.

And so we had Guy Fawkes night, AKA bonfire night, immortalised in my childhood memories of damp rockets held up with beer bottles.

Then we came to Japan where they set off fireworks all through the year for any reason or none, with festivals throughout the summer, each one using enough explosives for the Battle of Waterloo. This is great for three small boys, so we head for a local festival. Unfortunately so do most other people within a hundred square miles, and as we arrive we’re confronted with marked and unmarked police cars across the road, lights flashing, with policemen all over the place. What appears to be a murder scene is actually all about directing traffic and when they find out we don’t live in the town, we’re directed to go and park elsewhere to watch the display.

As the explosions we can see are larger than the village itself this isn’t a problem, but Grandma-san is on a mission now and follows a road that gets gradually narrower until it peters out at a factory in a field. After consulting some locals she decides there’s a way through and despite much muttering from Grandpa-san about paintwork we head down an impossibly narrow gravel track with metre high grass on each side and down the middle. Just before we drive into a giant green house, we veer right and the wheels find tarmac once again, and back onto a road. I ask if this is the one which the police had blocked off. Much sniggering from Grandma-san.

Grandma-san tries to ask another policeman for directions in the local dialect, but he’s not convinced and shoos us into a patch of waste ground between several rice paddies and a boat workshop. This isn’t as bad as it sounds: in fact after a week of concrete and tarmac, it’s nice to feel wooden walls and grass again.

After all this we don’t get a lot of time watching fireworks, and what time we do have is frequently taken up by announcements for sponsors of the evening, but on the other hand it was warm, the fireworks we saw were spectacular, and best of all, no-one was burned on the bonfire.

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