Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

So, Middle Son has decided he’s into fingerboards, and wanted to buy a skateboard ramp to use his with.  It looked very expensive for a tacky bit of plastic that would travel thousands of miles on a ship towards its destiny as landfill so I suggested we make one, and to my surprise he was excited at the prospect.

So this week I made a prototype to see if such a thing is possible using card, which he is very excited about:

So there you are. far from being a pointless activity for nerds with no use in the real world, Model making can be helpful in the family, and also Very Cool, apparently.

Any one else have any examples?

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A while back I mentioned having a rather fun day playing with someone else’s trains at our local church. The people concerned used the FREEMO system of putting modules together which I’ve explained in a previous entry here.


The idea has stuck in my head a bit since, possibly because I realised this as the nearest I’ve been to playing on my own model railway since Westerooge became too unreliable, and partly because I’ve reached a point in my carpentry apprenticeship where I’d be able to make a baseboard complete with a box to keep it in like the FREEMO ones below.


We have no spare space in our 96m² (1000 sq ft) apartment for a railway, so the box would have to be just the right size to go in the loft or nice enough to be used as a normal piece of furniture as well as a model railway box. The second idea seems better as I’m not keen on dragging things in and out of the loft all the time. I’m not sure what sort of furniture can hide a model railway though.

I’ve got a design for ‘Spitzenwald’ that could just about fit in a box like those, if I split it in two, but Eldest Son does very much want a model we can build together as well, so I think that would be first on any list.

On the other hand, one of the things about being a carpenter is that people come with ‘suggestions’ for things to make. I’ve just finished a pine bed for Youngest Son, and Beautiful Wife has pointed out that several pieces of ‘Furniture’ are still cardboard boxes with sheets over them, so it may yet be a while before the model railway box makes it to the top of the jobs list.


Perhaps I could solve both at once: “It’s a new coffee table for the living room. What? the bit that opens into a conveniently model-railway-sized flat board? You know, I never thought of it like that, but as you mention it, I do remember some designs that may fit…”

Does anyone else have problems of needing to ‘hide’ your model railway when it isn’t in use? How do you deal with it?

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So it turns out that going from working alone and sitting most of the day, to working in a big hospital and running about carrying stuff and patients, is a bit of a shock to the system. I had expected this and came up with a cunning plan to write three posts and then let them update automatically, but that one was scuppered by all the boring admin related stuff I had to get through the week before.

It was worth it though. I’ve been working with an incredible team for two weeks and I’ll rather miss going to the hospital on Monday. It’s also shown that I am capable of being an EMT / Rettungsanitäter / Ambo driver, and conversations with the crews who came to the hospital show that my experience at the school were to say the least, atypical, and that there are other options locally.

Meanwhile I’m working out a way to get to the UK without flying, which as usual is proving pretty awkward. I’m trying to find a way from Rottertam Centraal railway station to the ferry port and the P and O website claims there is a bus running from the “Eurolines bus stop Conradstraat, against TNT Post, next to the Albeda building (at the station side of the walking bridge).” Which frankly doesn’t make a lot of sense. I think I’ve found the location on Google maps, but experience of these things is they are written by people who don’t know the city and have never ridden a bus in their life, so if anyone reading this knows Rotterdam and could confirm the information, I’d be grateful.

I’m also going to get some sleep, so if you could close the door quietly on your way out, that would be great. Thank you.

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Trial and error

[This is an edited version of a post in the other blog to keep people up to date. More ‘on topic’ material will hopefully follow soon.]

I’m back home. This was not part of the plan.

The plan (skip this if you’re read it before) was to go off to north Germany for just under a month and learn how to be an ambulance driver, come home in June, get eight weeks experience and go back for exams in the beginning of August. The plan worked, despite certain practical problems, right up to arriving at the school. Unfortunately that’s where things began to unravel.

The problem was not the many-headed monster, the language or any of the other stuff I was concerned about. It was decibels, specifically coming from our teacher.

He started shouting in the first lesson: this school wasn’t going to be ‘average’; it would be the best; we were going to be pushed to the limit; he’d make us stressed as far as we could bear and then some. Everything taught each day would have to be learned in its entirety by the next morning. It would be tested by pulling people up to the front and grilling them, and woe betide any student that was not Good Enough.

Quite what this was meant to achieve I don’t know: all it did for me was stop my brain working.

To stay I’d have to spend the next three weeks trying to make myself fit into the ethos of the school, and that wasn’t the sort of person I am or want to be, and wouldn’t have made me a better ambulance driver either, so after watching five people get shouted at for an entire lesson I packed my bags and came home.

Now I’m back, and with a bit more time than before, so maybe I’ll get some modelmaking done. I’ve got the carpentry apprenticeship place in September which means I’ll learn to make some baseboards. (I’m not doing three years of carpentry so I can make baseboards for my toy trains, honest), and I’m digging up the modelmaking things from the corners they have been lurking in. Mind you, it’s also planting season, and I still want to ride a century, and the boys seem to have broken their bikes in unusual ways while I was away, and I think it’s about time I unearthed some material I was writing for certain model railway magazines…

*Exams in Germany are typically graded from 1.0 (perfection) down to 4.9 or 5. Britain as usual has to be different so my grades are all in letters, which causes no end of confusion.

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Last month I got a contract from the carpenter in the village to start training in September.

I’d have liked to attempt a witty yet profound post about this but to be honest I’m still in shock that they agreed, especially after watching me make the ugliest box in Christendom.

Assuming I manage to get the grants we need to pay for our living expenses, I’ll be at school from the beginning of September. I’ll probably end up travelling by bus and train, but I’m sure I’ll get a few good stories out of that.

I’ve got a year of the carpentry school. With German and Maths exams at the end. And this isn’t German as taught in an English school where you can graduate by saying “Where is the newspaper stand?” and “I am fifteen years old” *. My school grade in ‘woodwork’ was even worse than German, but I still think I’d have done rather better if the teacher hadn’t spent most of his time with the prettier female students, and the workshop had included luxuries like saws that were sharp, or wood.

This of course is the ‘other’ reason I’m doing this: I’m a bit tired of the long shadow of a school which mostly taught me I can’t do anything. It’s time to prove them wrong, and incidentally do all the things I wanted to do then but was told I couldn’t: In three years I’ll be a carpenter, with a German qualification, and the ghosts of that school can be firmly laid to rest.

Besides, I’ll be able to make some cracking baseboards for the Körschtalbahn…

*I am not making that up: it was in my final exam. Thankfully one of the few decent teachers I had was my German teacher who is probably the reason I’m here now.

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It’s Summer, and this year that means going to see Beautiful Wife’s family in Japan in a few weeks. I was all for cycling over but Beautiful Wife being more grounded in reality and far more patient with the interwebby thing excelled herself with the booking and found a flight that was relatively inexpensive, allows us to stay in Japan for a reasonable amount of time, and fly with an airline which we’re fairly confident the seats will be properly bolted to the floor. Normally we hope for two out of the three, so that’s pretty exciting.

It was important to get there this year because my very dear father in law is seriously ill, and getting worse, by all accounts, so we really want to get some time with him while we still can. I’m not sure what either of us will do without him: some people leave a big gap even when they’re a long way away, and with his wisdom and humour he’ll be one of those people.

We’ll be travelling about in Japan, and I’m really hoping that this year we can finally wangle a trip to visit family Hokkaido, which is the northernmost Island. Apart from the chance to visit one of Beautiful Wifes numerous eccentric aunts who we last saw at our wedding in Tokyo, I am assured that the place they live has some incredible scenery which is very different to the main island.

The fact that it also has a lot of these

and these

Has absolutely nothing to do with it, of course.

And while I’m on the subject, what would you go to see (railways or otherwise) if you were in Japan? What would be an interesting subject to write about?

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One of the problems with working in small scale theatre is that everyone thinks it’s a terrific idea but considerably less people actually want to pay for it, so it’s time to look for alternative and preferably flexible work so we can afford to do what we want to do in the Very Smallholding as well as build a model railway when track costs how much? and splash out on other luxuries, like food. Writing in English is a bit of a non-starter when you aren’t in an English speaking country (if you know otherwise, do tell) but a chance conversation with another Brit on a train has revealed that translation is a possible money earner.

I’d always assumed that to translate you need some kind of state certificate and the ability to write flowing German prose, but apparently most people only translate from their second language into their first, and agencies will test you themselves by sending a text and a deadline to make sure really able to do the job. As I’ve done a fair bit of translation of varied subjects for various people, I should be more than up to the task. All I need to do is write an application letter, get it translated into formal business German (ironic I know) and send it off to various agencies to see what happens, which is where you lot come in.

I’m told I have a slight tendency towards pessimism, and one of the ways this shows up is that I put things off -the draft of the letter has been sitting on my desktop for a week now, for example- so I’m hoping that by writing my intentions here I’ll be a bit more motivated to get on with the application. If you don’t hear anything about this in the next couple of weeks, feel free to remind me.

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Enough to do

I once showed someone a modelmaking project I was working on, and after inspecting it for several minutes they chuckled and said “I don’t think you have enough to do”. And wandered off.

Now I’m quite capable of being boring -I manage it here every week- but I don’t understand how, for example, making models shows that you have “nothing to do” but for example hurtling down snow covered hills on a giant plastic lollipop stick at great expense, an activity this particular person had recently been engaging in, is seen in a very different way.

Apart from that, I do have enough to do: three rather energetic boys ensure that a steady stream of broken toys find their way onto the modelmaking board, most of which find their way back into the toybox in more or less complete form. The car above is a good example: the cheap bracket on the pull-back motor had given up after being put under a spot too much pressure -probably from a small foot- so the back wheel didn’t go around. Five minutes with a jewellers screwdriver and a piece of plasticard later and a happy little boy was carrying it back for fresh races. Something like this happens every week.

After watching a similar operation a friend asked “Where do you learn how to do this stuff?”

“Here and there” I said.

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To York

So we’re off on the train to see my parents in York soon. Not this train: this train is the miniature railway at the National Railway Museum, which is just down the road from my parent’s house. If we get there quickly enough, the museum may even still be free.

Now I’m ordering all those little bits that you can’t get for toffee, or at least less then €20 here, like bogies(trucks) for stock, points for the eventual layout and couplings, so I can pick them up when I arrive. In theory I’ll come home with enough bits and pieces to be able to make gradual further progress on the model.

If you know of any good model shops, exhibitions or swap-meets* in the area, please let me know: I’m way out of touch on these things.

This is a cunning way to avoid admitting I’m no further on any models. Did you notice?

*do they even have swap-meets anymore? the sort with the messy tables full of bits? or are they all ‘toy fairs’ now, with the same bits at three times the price?

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Shed on Wheels

Except there’s no wheels: minor detail.

Progress stalled a bit this week because I’m working on building a bike for Beautiful wife, so any spare moments were spent in the shared workshop sanding and spraying the frame. Unfortunately the primer revealed tiny cracks in the frame so it looks like it may have to be scrapped.

I’m rambling…

I’m pleased with the finish on the van considering it’s all paper based materials and acrylic paints, and the body is incredibly strong so it’ll take a fair bit of handling from small fingers. It still needs hangers for the door and a handle to open it, and If I have time or inclination I may add some ventilation slats on the sides. Maybe.

Stephan hasn’t had a lot of time either (hooray for holidays coming) but he managed to get one end of the van built. We’re currently thinking about colours: we like the blue/grey finish which goes well with both locomotives, but he’s tempted by the idea of a mustard yellow or drab orange for a tools van. It’s his van, so it’s his decision.

Of course, we’re far from finished so we’re now thinking about the next project. At first we thought of a small low-relief engine shed, on the basis we’ll find somewhere to fit it. I’ve started taking pictures of barns and sheds locally to this end, but we’d really like one of the scenic breaks on our railway to be a city gate: the idea of a train coming through a stone gatehouse with shuttered windows is frankly too cool to turn down.

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