On making the wheels go round

(or: on letting go of what is not yet broken)

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, and you really want to keep it that way,

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

***

I cycled to work again today.

It’s been really cold lately and it was still around freezing when I left the house, late.

The wheel was stiff when I tried wheeling it away from the bike stand and towards the road. It felt like the brakes were jammed on tight, but they weren’t. After a bit of gentle persuasion and a few angry words it unstuck itself and off I went.

I assumed (see, there’s that bad word again, almost as bad as “planning”) there must have been ice in the works somewhere – it did get thoroughly soaked last week and it was icy this morning (never thought I’d have to scratch ice off the saddle, but I did).

***

I left work while it was still light to cycle to my maths/English/German student. As it turned dusky and got darker and darker I realised I was riding without lights. Argh. As a car driver, I can’t stand cyclists without lights.. as a cyclist, I try to be car friendly, in the hopes that they won’t run me over. Also, as I found out on Wednesday, lights are useful.

***

After we’d talked about adjectival attributes (?!) for as long as we could concentrate, I borrowed a front bike light from my maths kid’s mum and headed home.

Except I couldn’t. The front wheel was stuck again. It took me several metres of pushing and kicking and cajoling before anything happened. When it finally did start rolling, the nut holding the front wheel onto the forks starting turning too..

I stopped and did it up as best I could with gloves on. Another couple of paces and it was loose again.

At some point I noticed that the cables from the dynamo were hanging in the breeze and the box they’re supposed to join into was riding round in circles, presumably enjoying unknown freedom.

I prodded it a bit, retightened the nut and rode home, very very carefully.

***

It would appear that my dynamo has died.

When I said I was thinking about getting new lights, I didn’t mean I no longer wanted the old ones.

Tomorrow, I will have to find a bike doctor before work. Even if I was willing to buy new lights and ignore the dynamo, I am not willing to hurl myself at the pavement when the wheel falls off.

I expect I will have to leave my bike there and then walk to work or at least walk to the train station.

Sometimes I really love my life.

***

I think it’s time for a new motto/mantra:

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone! Do not touch it, use it or think about it. Do not criticise it. Do not think about changing it or replacing it.

Instead, be thankful for it..you never know when it’s going to stop working..

On days without news

Usually, the radio goes on when my colleague gets to work, and goes off when I leave. He can’t stand adverts, so we listen to ‘Deutschland Radio’ and ‘Deutschland Radio Kultur’  which generally makes for a good mixture of news and interesting information about a huge range of topics. Anything from book reviews to current scientific research to new films to phone-ins about illnesses to the latest in-depth reports about bombings or shootings or fires or whatever’s going on in the world, generally including interviews with multiple important, knowledgeable people.

Usually, I quite enjoy the mixture. There are obviously topics I’m not that interested in, but none of the programs run longer than 90 minutes, lots of them only 10 minutes or so.

Usually, we talk about what we’ve heard. I have a million background questions, and my colleague has a lot of excess knowledge.

This week, I am alone in the workshop.

I haven’t turned the radio on once. I’m playing CDs and enjoying letting my thoughts do their own thing, rather than be directed by the radio. Enya doesn’t have lyrics you need to listen to, sometimes not even any you can listen to accidentally. For someone who generally pays more attention to lyrics than the music, it’s quite nice to tune them out. To tune out all the words. There are so many words. All the time. The world is full of words.

When I think about it, it’s weird not knowing what’s happening, but on balance, I don’t miss the constant input.

At least this week.

Next week my colleague comes back, and the radio will go back on.

In the meantime, I’m going to sail away from it all.

๐Ÿ™‚

On the joys of living in a small town

There was a festival in my town today. A whole street full of small market stalls in celebration of local root vegetables (!!). The butcher sold special sausages and other people sold various other things. I had a hot one when I arrived, and planned to buy a packet of raw sausages to take home, once I’d been round the rest of the market stalls. By the time I got back to the butcher’s stall, I was out of money. When I asked whether they’d continue selling them during the next week the saleslady said they’d freeze and sell whatever was left after the market, but wouldn’t be making any more until next year. Then she asked where I lived. I told her and she wrote a number on the back of a business card and handed it to me. The butcher is apparently based a couple of towns away, but the saleslady’s mother lives on my street. She’ll leave a packet here when she packs up, and I should phone her to arrange a collection time…

..Where else would that happen??

On making the first mince pies of the season (or ever)

I don’t remember the last time I waited until this close to Christmas to start making mince pies…

Last night, a friend came over. She’s German and had never even heard of mince pies, let alone thought about making one. That obviously had to be rectified. Here’s the process of rectification:

Pre-rolled puff pastry. It was supposed to be specially amazing with extra butter, but it was sticky and soft and just generally hard to work with – next time I’ll stick to the usual stuff ๐Ÿ™‚
Normal sized tray – miniature moulds
6 rolls of puff pastry later there was still mince meat left in the first of 6 litre-tubs…
No way I’m going to faff about with a pastry brush – I dunk the lids in a mixture of milk and beaten egg, push one side into the top of a pile of sugar and hope they land sugar side up when I throw them towards the cases…
The first plateful (proper sized) – mostly straight out of the oven

๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ I think she done good ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚
(Photos feature my friend’s hands – I was wielding the camera :))

On the news

“The news” (as a whole) keeps telling me that scary things are happening in the world at the moment. I’m not too keen on scary things so I plucked up lots of courage as I walked past the newspaper salesman and risked a passing glance at the headlines on my way to the station. According to the main local paper, someone has found something poisonous on a bus in Berlin.

It seems “the news” was right. That’s pretty scary. I hope whoever found the poisonous thing is ok and won’t need too much therapy/anti-poison-medication.

On learning to use libraries – part 1

One of the guys at school on Tuesday said they’d never been in a library before. (!!) Ever. Not as a little kid. Not in school. Not during his apprenticeship or Meister training. Not accompanying someone else. Never.

I can’t imagine a life without libraries, but I know DB doesn’t see the the benefit of them and I hadn’t been to a library for a couple of years (= until recently) either – since moving here. On a potentially related note, I haven’t been aware of as many bad spellers or semi-illiterate/dyslexic people en masse anywhere else I’ve lived.

Having said all that, I have to admit a lot of ignorance about libraries in Berlin…

The rest of this post was mostly written on the train while I was supposed to be reading reliable sources to use in my essay. I added to it gradually over the following weeks, and then pushed it to the back of my mind for a while. I’m dragging it out again because I need NaBloPoMo content and don’t have much time to write completely new posts.

***

I am (back in September) trying to write an essay. According to the lecturer, it is expected that these essays are not only of highest quality but are substantially grounded in facts, figures and quotes from clever people. We are expected(/=required) to use libraries and ‘proper’ sources, instead of relying on ‘people-on-the-internet’ to tell us the basics in easy to read articles.

A couple of weeks (= now months) ago, I would have sworn I knew how to use a library.

Now, I’m not so sure…

***

It started when I could barely find my way into the first library I tried to use since moving to Berlin. (I still can’t believe it took me almost 3 years). I’m not at all used to libraries being upstairs, above residential flats. After browsing the sale-table and waiting for the librarian to finish talking to the people before me in the queue, it turned out I couldn’t get a library card without not only proof of identity (which I had on me), but also proof of registering to live where you live (which I didn’t).

I went home with an application form and a couple of books I bought in the sale.

***

The second, steeper, learning curve presented itself in the second library – one on the way home from one of the places I work, in a building that would be better suited, from the outside, to a museum. This time I was better armed with all the paperwork I could think of.

I wasn’t armed with the knowledge that libraries sometimes have unattended back doors. I stood at the desk for the best part of 10 minutes before deciding to investigate. Three people-empty rooms later, I found a couple of incredibly helpful library-ladies.

I was issued a library card and a password and a card number and henceforth expected to scan my books in and out by myself. I don’t remember ever having to do that before. They do have a very cool machine to do it with though. It looks like the kind of scales you sometimes get in supermarkets – the kind with a stainless steel plate and a touch screen – but it must have some kind of scanning device hidden away somewhere because it knows what the books are as soon as they land on the plate (and displays their titles, authors and publishers on the screen). Also, the label it spits out when you poke the right buttons isn’t sticky… but having a list of the books is a very sensible idea!).

The library is part of a Berlin-wide collection* of libraries, but is very small, in a residential area, so books about obscure academic subjects don’t take up much room on the shelves. As the librarian said, “They’d be out of date before they’d been read twice”. She did find me a book about laws and a couple of ‘personal experiences’ books though.

***

The third curve was hideously steep, and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t reached the top yet. Probably not even half way.

There are at least 3 universities in Berlin. Each has a number of libraries. One company I work for has some kind of agreement that I can use them too. I say ‘can’, I probably mean ‘am allowed to’** – there was very little ability involved.

For starters, I had no idea the uni had so many individual libraries until I’d followed signs to one and been told I was in the wrong place for the kind of books I was trying to find. The second one I came to was appararently also wrong, and the third one was only approximately right because it was “cental” and had a bit of everything in.

I wandered round the foyer of a deserted-looking university building for a while, looking for the library. I would probably still be there if the man in the sentry box hadn’t taken pity on me and pointed me in the direction of an even more deserted-looking staircase, mostly hidden behind a dividing wall.

Luckily the sign on the door said Library, because the first thing that struck me when I finally arrived, was the severe lack of books. There were tables and fancy reading lights and sofa-chairs and computers and a help-desk, but no books. I decided to act even more helpless than I felt and plead innocence to the librarian-students behind the desk.

Trying to get a library card was a joke, although not nearly as funny as trying to take books out turned out to be. There are boxes to tick if you are a student or a professor or probably a travelling monkey, but not if you are me. I was stumped and the librarian was stumped and after a lot of discussion and a phonecall, it was agreed that I would be considered a student because that was easiest way to convince the computer to give me a library card number that wouldn’t give me the rights to all the forbidden books.

In the middle of all this, I phoned DB to tell him I might be some time and to eat without me. That was good, because I have never spent so long achieving so little in a library***.

I grew up with the Dewey system. For anyone who didn’t, it’s a system for arranging books by subject. Each subject is allocated a number from 0-9, with each specialisation (i.e. nature -> animals -> mammals -> dogs -> dog training) getting an additional digit. It is usefull and used, in varying degrees of complexity, by practically every library I’ve ever used, EXCEPT FOR THIS ONE! This one has decided, for whatever reason, to sort its books by date-of-purchase.

The only way to find (=look for) anything is to use the search function on the library computers. Once you find something, or in my case approximately 3000 somethings, you have to go through the list, clicking on individual entries to open the drop-down info box, trying to figure out which you want to borrow. This decision can be based on the title, occasionally a brief description or a chapter list and the author, although since I don’t know anyone famous for writing about unemployment the author was unimportant. Once you’ve decided it might possibly be interesting enough to look at, you have to click through to get the 12-digit-number and write it out on one of the many stacks of precut scraps of paper littering the tables.

Armed with a list of long numbers, you can ask the librarian for permission to go into the book, get sent back to the locker room to lock your bag away, go back to the desk and be shown to a corridor leading to a long, narrow room jam-packed with bookshelves – far closer together than in any ‘normal’ library. So close that two people couldn’t stand back to back and look at the books. Anyway. The shelves are arranged by year. Helpfully, the years are written in HUUGE lettering on the floor. The last couple of decades (from 2000, with space for the next few years ;)) were crammed into the top floor, all previous years were on lower floors.

The 12-digit-numbers are each stuck on the spine of the books, the way Dewey numbers often are, so at least that much was familiar. What wasn’t, was the way they started on the top shelf of the first bookcase and continued along the top of the next 4 bookcases before snaking back along the second shelf.

A long time later I emerged, fully phased, with a grand total of 3 books.

Sometimes, it seems, you shouldn’t judge a book by its contents page either.

 

To be continued…

* collective term for libraries, anyone?

** or ‘may’. However, despite the best efforts of multiple wanna-be-hilarious teachers, I have so far successfully refused to establish ‘may’ into my active vocabulary (except as a month), and I don’t plan on doing so any time soon…

*** not quite true ๐Ÿ˜‰ I spent/d a lot of unproductive time in a lot of libraries. It just wasn’t as frustrating as in this one.