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I’ve been a commuter for a month now. Not a proper ‘fight against early morning drivers to claim back the road from motor vehicles’ commuter, more a sort of ‘ride blearily through the fields to the next village and abandon the bike for a bus’ commuter. I only have a few hundred metres of road where there’s traffic and at half past six in the morning there isn’t even that much of it.

I’ve even managed to find some decent covered cycle racks (ie, not wheel eaters) which are pretty safe. I know this because the old peoples home next door has used them as to stack several new rolls of linoleum for a couple of weeks.

Normally I leave home at leave home at about 0615 which gives me plenty of time to get everything ready, discover something is missing, panic, run about the house trying to search quietly so I don’t wake up Beautiful Wife, wake Beautiful Wife, look for the missing item where she has told me to look, find it, pack my bag and leave, and ride over the fields at a reasonable speed catch the bus at 0635. The strange thing is, if I happen to be late (ie. When I’ve lost something and Beautiful Wife isn’t able to guide me to it), no matter how hard I ride, it still takes me five minutes longer to ride the same distance.


I’ve discovered that learning to be a carpenter makes me part of a tribe. The college where I’m learning the basics of carpentry (Try not to cut your finger off, etc) teaches other skills as well, so when we emerge from our workshop pulling sawdust out of our ears, we’re suddenly surrounded by people learning interior decoration, housebuilding, car repair, and half a dozen other things, all standing in little tribal groups.

You can tell what everyone is learning because every tribe has a different colour of trousers. The decorators have white, or a base of white at least, with all manner of colours on top, The car mechanics wear blue, the electricians have grey; and the very strange people learning house building favour traditional black corduroy. We all lurk in ‘our’ part of the campus every day as if someone had marked out territory boundaries with paint.

We don’t have this in the UK: probably because people change career much more frequently, and because courses in most trades last a matter of months rather than years. In Germany I’m not permitted to call myself a ‘carpenter’ until 2015 when I (hopefully) pass the exam and I’m entered on the register of craft persons. The same applies to the people learning to fix cars or paint houses: everyone has to have an apprenticeship lasting a minimum of two years, and the expectation is that they will keep working in their trade for their entire career, and in some cases for the same employer.

Most carpenters here wear khaki, the better for hiding sawdust, except for the occasional rebels and one Brit who failed to appreciate the significance of this and turned up wearing grey.

Not that that’s important of course: I certainly did not just order a pair of Khaki trousers because I want it to be obvious that I’m learning to be a carpenter and not an electrician.

I needed a new pair of trousers anyway.

I hope that is understood.

The mist is gathering in the valleys, a gentle reminder that it’s going to get somewhat chilly very soon, but for a few weeks before the cold really starts to kick in, I get to commute across the fields sun rise es over the hills in the distance.


Carpentry school is proving challenging, not least trying to keep up with the instructions. We have eight to nine hour days and we’re starting to get research assignments and presentations to prepare. I didn’t realise that as well as woodwork we’re expected to be competent in technical drawing as well, which is why I spent the afternoon drawing lots and lots of parallel lines without a ruler. I think the idea was to show it can’t be done.

The plan was to change from posting on Saturday to writing little posts as and when I could, but I’m still getting used to the routine (and probably too lazy) to get writing most evenings when I come home.

I was going to say that the good side to this is that when you do a carpentry apprenticeship, you can be fairly sure you’ll get a decent job, but then today’s newspapers were saying that our local car company is announcing things aren’t looking too good. In theory it’s a good thing if we are producing less oil dependent cars: that will mean a tiny bit less pollution, a tiny reduction in our resource destruction to make flashy cars whose drivers object to my presence on the road, but Stuttgert depends on the car industry and it would be nice if we could avoid economic meltdown until I’ve at least managed to finish my apprenticeship…

Anyway, I’m still here, don’t go anywhere…


I had a session attacking brambles this weekend: I need to get at the fallen pear tree to start cutting it over winter, and the prickly empire of doom was not only taking over our garden but also encroaching over the fence and our neighbour wasn’t happy. I tried to point out the advantages of blackcurrant jam for life but he didn’t seem convinced, so I got out the new scythe. I really need to figure out a new way to sort the brambles out or at least keep them to resspectable levels, and I have a horrible feeling the only effective thing will be putting something toxic on them: the only organic solution I’ve heard of is keeping goats on the land, which would require security fencing and possibly minefields: they only have to get into the neighbours garden once. A long term solution may be to grow trees on the steep parts of the hill to shade the brambles out, so wherever I came across an ash tree I cleared the brambles away in the hope it grows.

The area you can see took about two hours to cut and which a tenth of the total. I discovered several quite large saplings while doing this. Having brambles higher than the trees is probably a bad sign in terms of weed control.


Passing a station in a tiny village in the hills this summer. With the carpentry training going full swing now, I don’t think I’ll make a century like I planned to this year. I’m creaking when I move at the moment.

The first week is supposed to be the worst: after that my system should get used to it.

On the other hand, I’m learning about carpentry, which is good, even if it hurts.


Long-suffering readers of this blog will have noticed that I’ve been trying to get an apprenticeship or other qualification for a couple of years now.

It turns out that working with young people is a great job, but doesn’t bring in a vast amount of money. This is because everyone thinks it is a wonderful thing to do, but considerably less people think it’s wonderful enough to pay for. We also have some long term goals, and being a carpenter will help us reach these. I’ll say more about this another time.

Well, after two years of false starts, next week I’ll start an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker/carpenter, having managed to convince a local company that I’m not too much of a liability, and filled in a small bale of forms to persuade the government that no, I’m not attempting to get money for nothing but I would like to eat. The system here is that although I’ve got an employer, I’ll spend most of the first year in college learning the basics.

Assuming I actually manage to pass the intermediate exams in a years time, I’ll be working with the company that took me on as an apprentice until 2015. Then I have to pass the final exams, including a German and Maths exam* and then make something out of wood that looks good and doesn’t collapse when the judges poke it.

But that’s in three years time. This week I need to get my feet used to holding my weight all the time again, and then next week I’ll start commuting to college. Which starts at seven fifteen in the morning…

*Guess what my worst school subjects were.


Yesterday evening I had an invitation to visit a friend in York, and decided to ride. I’d borrowed a bike*, and York is one of the UK’s three ‘cycling cities’** that were being trumpeted to rival Amsterdam and Copenhagen as world-class cycling centres, so I figured I’d be okay. And I was, mostly because I started on a fairly minor road and some kind soul reminded me that in the UK people drive on the left before I met any traffic.

I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the bike lanes: certainly I’d have preferred them to have priority over side roads like in Germany, and it would have been even better if the one I was using hadn’t given up after a couple of hundred metres and pitched me into the road, but it wasn’t too bad.

In the other hand, I liked these nifty speed lumps in the roads. I’m sure you’re all used to them by now, but humour me while I ramble on about them like some country cousin discovering electricity: they are just narrow enough for a car to drive over them fairly quickly without spilling the drivers coffee, so cars seem utterly focussed on keeping their wheels either side of the things. I soon noticed that vehicles overtaking would go over (round?) the more distant bump, giving me a reasonable amount of room. Just as well as I was on the road all the way to my friend’s house and back: if I’d followed the designated cycle route I’d most likely still be out there.

Come to think of it, none of the drivers who passed were using their phone either, because they had to concentrate on the road to avoid leaving part of the car on the road. If only we could get them to treat pedestrians with the same respect as their own vehicles…

*Thanks dad…

**The others being Bristol and… where are the others exactly?


I’m currently visiting family in York, UK and generally being a tourist, as in wandering about in a bewildered manner getting confused by the simplest things. So far these included the inability of the bus driver to sell me a return ticket, how to ‘tender exact change’ in unfamiliar currency, looking the wrong way when crossing the road (which coupled with the apparent disregard for the pedestrian crossings shown by UK drivers could end badly) and working a self-service till.

Fortunately York is on the tourist trail and full of similarly bewildered foreigners, so I fit right in. I’m even stopping at random to take photos, although on getting home I realised that having walked along the walls, along the river, through the centre and past the minster, surrounded by 800 years of history, my camera card was filled with pictures like these…

Oh, well. I’ll try again, once I’ve mastered crossing the road.


Warm summer afternoon, three boys relaxing on the only vaguely grassy part of the Very Smallholding.


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