Green fingernails and evenings well spent

My neighbour, H, is making me a shelf. It started as an offer to put my coat hooks up. I told him the rack he was holding wasn’t for coats and we came to a strange sort of compromise where he agreed to build me a shelf which I could hang coats on.

Over the weekend he glued and sawed and sanded and planed and did whatever carpenters do when making shelves.

Yesterday he brought me the raw wooden shelf (it’s beautiful) and a box of different wood dyes which he proceeded to spread on a couple of cut off edge pieces so I could choose one. I didn’t think any fitted quite right. I wanted green. Apparently green isn’t a colour he uses all that often..

Tonight, after work, I stopped to buy fishfood and green wood dye powder. And turkey for a thank-you curry.

I was still frying onions and chopping peppers when H arrived. He stood and watched for a minute or so before pulling out his penknife and adjusting the doors on the kitchen cabinets. It seems carpenters are incapable of ignoring badly hung doors. Never one to stop other people working, I found him a decent screwdriver or two and pointed him in the direction of the sitting room and all my other cupboards. My floorboards are anything but level, and I don’t think any of the cupboard doors hung straight. I also had a cupboard where the door opened the wrong way. No longer 🙂

The cupboards and the curry were both finished/ready around the same time.

At the first lull in the after dinner conversation, H leapt up, announced his intention of clearing up, and started running hot water into the sink, ready to wash up. At this rate I’m going to be cooking thank-you dinners for a while… 😉 I certainly stand no chance of drying faster than he washes.

The wood dye is astonishingly easy to mix and keeps for 6 months or so in a jar. I bought 2 packets, a light and a dark green, just in case the labels were misleading. The first trial pieces were painted in a matter of minutes, leaving us time to talk about different sorts of sealing coats, wax or varnish, matt or shiny, and the best kinds of joints to stop the wood twisting out of shape.

Tomorrow I can paint/dye the shelf.

By the end of the week it should be up on the wall – can’t wait to see it finished 🙂

On making things harder for myself

Way back when I lived by myself, I used to cycle quite a lot (to work, into town, through the vineyards, etc). I lived in a very hilly place and I could cycle to work and back without getting off and pushing.

I now live (almost) in Berlin. Berlin is flat. The same way Holland is flat. The only hills that exist are man-made, full of rubble from the war. Because that’s obviously the best thing to do with rubble. Pile it up and cover it with grass. Maybe Silbury Hill is an ancient version of the same idea.


I have started cycling to work here. On the way there’s a bridge with a very long, very gentle incline. Just a couple of metres over quite a long stretch of road. 1-in-100 or even 1-in-50 is not steep by anyone’s reckoning. There have been days when I fought so much I actually contemplated getting off and pushing. There’s nothing like failing to cycle up an almost nonexistent hill to make you feel the need to get fitter..


I picked my bike up from the workshop on Wednesday.

They’d had to replace the front wheel and realign the back wheel and adjust the brakes and do something technical with the gears.

I asked them to explain what had broken in the dynamo and how I could avoid breaking it again.

My understanding of the ensuing explanation is as follows. It may or may not be an accurate representation of what they actually said.

The axel was slightly off centre which lead to unequal distribution of pressure/weight/something which lead to the metal walls of the dynamo straining and eventually breaking, which lead to everything coming loose.

It appears that these things just kind of happen…

…but that most people notice earlier.

I thought that was odd, and said so, because I’d brought it in the day after it died…

… except apparently it’s been dying for several hundred km.

He was amazed that I’d cycled it so far without realising that there was a problem. He showed me the pieces of the broken dynamo, and the pieces of a new one. The difference was incredible.

Not as incredible as the difference having a new wheel made to my perceived fitness the next morning tho!

I’d struggled to get to work in under 40 minutes and reach an average speed of anything above 11kph.

On Thursday I was there in 30, with an average of more than 14. And it was windy and snowing.

I was amazed.


I was also amazed (and a bit confused) to realise that my rowing machine was no longer set to the easiest setting. I have zero recollection of changing it so I have no idea how long I’ve been using it like that.

It reminds me of mistakenly skiing down a black slope and wondering why I was suddenly so prone to falling over..

On holes

There’s a hole in my Alfa, dear Liza, a hole.

Two holes if you want to be more accurate.

A black one if you want to be facetious.


There’s a hole in my bathroom, dear Liza, a hole.

There is now anyway. Luckily.

Until this evening it was so blocked up that there wasn’t much hole left at all.

It was quite gross and horrendously smelly.

I cleaned and unblocked it though, so it’s all good, and the vinegar worked its magic on the smell. I can hopefully bath in peace now, without flooding the whole room.


There are holes in my walls, dear Liza, there’s holes.

I finally borrowed a hammer and started putting pictures up today. It’s amazing how much more lived in a place looks when there are pictures.


Today was a strange day.

On the magic in the middle

It doesn’t appear to make any sense.

None of it.

And yet, afterwards, you can look back and see all the paths and patterns and logical consequences.

And it’s kind of beautiful. And strange. And magical.



I’m not there yet, not at the patterns and consequences stage, but I am at a place where I can stand and take some breaths without fighting to keep my head above water.

I got a lot done in the last week and a half.

Despite, or possibly because of, all the frustration and rain and aching muscles and late nights and long(ish) journeys and complicated German grammar and broken things.

* I have a new bed (which I carried across town)

* I looked at a new old car and decided it was too broken to buy

* I have a new mattress

* I rearranged my room (to accommodate the bed)

* I’ve got to know a neighbour (a bit)

* I read my water meter and my radiators and handed in the numbers. Before the deadline

* I cycled something like 70km and walked a bit too

* I fought the trains with a bike and won, overall and on balance

* I saw parts of the city I would probably never otherwise have visited

* I met people who made me question my prejudice (sparkly clean floor and still welcoming towards dripping wet and muddy strangers)

* I have new skis

* I talked to the people at the garage about my car. By myself. Without anyone ‘super-knowledgable-about-cars” to talk about the ‘complicated things’ for me

* I spent a couple of hours reading (doesn’t happen nearly regularly enough)

* I sorted out my aquarium (water change, rescued 2 shrimp from the filter and pruned plants), and cleaned xDB’s aquarium filters (my fish..)

* I was contacted by someone who might be the dog’s original owner (yet to find out the exact connection)

* I had some fantastic late night online conversations with a friend I don’t see anywhere near often enough

* I taught myself and my after-school-help kid what adjectival attributes are (and genitive and prepositional ones)

* I started sorting through my enormous postcard-and-magazine-clippings box, ready to start decorating my room

* I rowed every day (on the machine), and got an all time personal best

* I have my old stereo back (almost)

* And the best part: some one really important to me got back in touch after several months – lots of good conversations (had, and hopefully to come)

And all that on top of working and keeping myself alive (washing (myself and my clothes), cooking, eating, washing up, sleeping…all the usual stuff)



I wrote the above yesterday lunchtime. I meant to come home, add the picture and press post.

I didn’t, partly because I got home later than expected – I worked until 6 and walked back with my stereo – and partly because I was so amazed/shocked/speechless about an email I received when I got home that I completely forgot about the post.

I’m not going to say what the email said, yet, except that it has to do with my miniature glass company and it’s very very cool news.

Yesterday was a very good day.


I feel like I’m still in the middle, but I can see the vaguest semblance of a path out. And right now, in the middle of all my chaos, I think life is pretty damn great 🙂

Jimmy Eat World – The Middle (screenshot of a YouTube video)

On swapping stereos when the music stops – in practice

This is the new one:

And this is mine:

Both freshly dusted with the airgun:

And wiped down with a damp rag.

This is the beginning of a good day 🙂

(Also of note but not worthy of a separate post: I achieved a personal best on the rowing machine, remembered to put the rubbish out for the dustbin, I’ve been at work 2hours already and it’s not even 9am yet! 🙂 So far, today has been a success..)

On curious cats

Curiosity probably didn’t directly kill the cat. It probably just kept it up so late it was too tired to avoid the things that could kill it.

Finding things out has to be worth a bit of sleep loss though, right?



On swapping stereos when the music stops

I took the dud stereo to work with me today (by train, after bringing my bike to the bike-workshop ;)) so I could swap it back with the seller for a working replacement after work.

Read that sentence again. What stands out most? Work work work!

And it does! Nothing broken, nothing dropped, nothing lost or soaked or dismantled. In fact nothing to laugh at at all…*

The new stereo is very dull, but it works (!!! Whee!!!) and it was pretty cool that the guy was willing to exchange it, and that he even had a second one for sale at all.

I’m going to take it to work tomorrow and swap it for my original one (because that one’s programmable and has a remote, and is properly mine!).

And when I get home with it, and the world stops making me dizzy, I will sit back and enjoy the music 🙂 ..

…and then clear up the chaos that ignoring my house for a few days has let ensue.

* Albert and the lion

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 never know when it’s going to stop working..

On breaking the old and dropping the new

From Friday.

Once upon a time, when I lived by myself, I bought myself all manner of things and used them as required.

Then I moved in with xDB and stopped needing most of my things. I sold some and gave lots away. The rest were put in the garage or the cellar or hidden stowed away in boxes.

Recently I moved out and back into a flat of my own. I began buying or being given things to replace what I was missing. I assumed that the things I already had would continue to work as expected.


Nothing is ever as one assumes. This is probably why assumption is something to avoid.


I went out to pick up a stereo system after work this evening.

My old one wasn’t as good as xDB’s and so had been rehoused at work when the ancient radio there decided it had had a good life and wanted to go to wherever good radios go when they die.

When I moved, I no longer had any way of playing music besides my alarm clock, my phone and my laptop. None of the three have spectacular speakers, especially the alarm clock. I’m not especially fussy about these things, but I’m quite happy if I can recognise who’s supposed to be singing or what song is playing.. I suppose I could theoretically take my old stereo back from work but I can’t imagine my colleague working without a radio, so I decided to leave it there and procure a newer one for my flat. Almost 6 months later I still haven’t. It hasn’t fought to the top of the priority list.

While I was browsing the free section of the small ads the other day, I found someone getting rid of a ‘micro stereo system in top working order’. I wrote to say I wanted to pick it up. The seller said it wasn’t free after all and named his price. I said he shouldn’t have put it in the free section if he actually wanted to sell it, but named my maximum and we agreed on a time and place to meet across town.

I decided, possibly foolishly after Wednesday’s adventure, to take my bike with me to save having to make a detour via work to pick it up afterwards.

I got the two trains with no problems. I found lifts and even found somewhere to change my large(ish) banknotes into smaller ones. I reached the designated meeting point at the designated time with the correct money and was feeling very proud of myself.

Even picking up the stereo was no problem. I didn’t want to leave my bike outside, so when the seller suggested he brought it out to save time I readily agreed

The man had packed it very neatly into two carrier bags. It was bigger than expected, and heavier, but I thought that must be a good sign.

One of the carrier bags was plastic, one paper. I’m probably a bit overly cautious but it’s January and the current weather forecast doesn’t make for overly joyful reading. I think potential rain and paper bags are a bad combination (though not as bad as actual rain and paper bags) so I carefully repacked my new speakers into my panier. The subwoofer in its plastic bag hung on my handlebar. It was much too heavy to balance while cycling so I pushed the bike.

The journey back was less simple. There’s a very large station in Berlin where a lot of S-Bahn and U-Bahn trains travel on different levels. It’s a station I usually quite like. I’ve been there a lot and changed trains there many times in many constellations….as a footpassenger. As a passenger with a heavily laden bicycle, stations turn into something quite different. I rode at least 4 lifts and spent a long time trying to find out where each of them were hidden. What takes me a maximum of 5 minutes by foot, took me at least 15 with the bike.

When I could finally see the platform my train was leaving from, but not the lift I needed to get to it, I gave up on the lifts altogether and used the stairs. My bike is fantastic, but it is not a light thing. There is no way I can carry it downstairs onehandedly, so I kept the front wheel in the air and let the back wheel bounce slowly on each step.

Approximately halfway down there was a sudden, strange noise. I looked behind me and saw the panier hanging from one of its clips. I was on the middle of a relatively well used staircase, a I had a subwoofer under one arm, the other hand on the crossbar with my elbow and wrist keeping the handle bars halfway steady. I couldn’t stop, couldn’t adjust my grip of anything, couldn’t even use my knees to push the panier back up to level because it was on the other side of my bike.

The only way out was down. I carried on going.

The second and final clip flew off before we reached the platform. The panier holding the newish stereo fell down and rolled the last few steps. It seems plastic clips aren’t up to being ignored for several years and then bounced.

I walked home with one bag on each side of my handle bars.

And the stereo didn’t even work when I got it home.

Before, I just wanted clearer music, now I also need new paniers.


On the [evening after the] morning after the ride before

Apart from sleeping through my alarm (s) I felt ok when I woke up. I even stretched without too much of a problem.

Then I stood up to walk to the toilet.


My feet, my knees, my legs, my shoulders, my elbows – all the moving parts – hurt. A lot. If that’s what getting old feels like, I don’t want to.

A little while later, after quarter of an hour on the erg (ouch!), and breakfast, and my usual faffing about, I could walk again, mostly without wincing.

Then I had to get back on the bike and cycle to work again.. this point I didn’t even bother trying to rename my expletives.

I am told that the second day is the worst.

I hope that’s true.


In other news, I now have a mattress! Whee!

(I also have a better pillow but the pillow case is in the wash)


The neighbour with a car helped me carry it up the stairs and into my flat.

The seller had rolled it up and tied it with string like a roly-poly pudding*.

I have never seen such knots!

I set to work undoing the strings, and getting the mattress into place on the bed while the-neighbour-with-a-car talked (and talked and talked).

It seems he’s capable of multitasking though, because I’ve just found this:

I don’t know anyone who ties string so neatly…


Goodnight people!


* Tom Kitten