Wednesday, 21 July 2010


I got a new bike today. I know – same old story. This one is a bit newer than the last new one. It is way less cute and considerably more nickable-looking, and it has gears (three of them) and is another of those weird Dutch hybrid bikes. Having encountered two such bikes in close succession encouraged me to look around a little, and discover that there are, in fact, many bikes in the basement of this block of flats alone which are this sort of hybrid. This bike brakes a little more smoothly than Dinky when backwards pedalling occurs. This is not exactly difficult, but I like it a lot.

Either the new bike has been named already, or it is owned by Raphael.* The sticker on its handlebars says so. Raphael seems like a good enough name to me, so Raphael it is. I think that Raphael will be my main bike, as she comes with a working dynamo and two lights attached, both of which work.

Today has been a day of shopping and dynamos. It is Wednesday, which is market day, so I went into town first thing this morning** to buy fruit and vegetables. That accomplished, I treated myself to pea soup with some sausage in and returned home.

I had been told that the guy in the flat across the way from me had a dynamo that I could use on Dinky bike. I was to ring his doorbell at 3pm. I was only three minutes late (I was trying to finish my tea – I sensed that the dynamo exchange could be long, involved and incomprehensible, and I wanted both to be properly hydrated and to ensure that no flies could drown in my tea while I was away. I am all about the safety of flies), but there was no answer. I didn’t push the issue,*** and returned to the flat to make poppies out of felt, and to learn German.

At 4pm, my closest neighbour rang my bell, and asked if I had seen neighbour across the way. I said that he had been out, which she translated (I think) as he had been sleeping. She probably had a lot more knowledge about the situation, so it was very good that I didn’t push the issue. When she rang the doorbell, it was answered, and the quest began.

It all started out simply enough. We went into the basement and two dynamos were located. One was deemed to be suitable, and I was shown how it must be fitted. I said that it was not difficult to fit a dynamo, and that I had a spanner to go with the proffered spanner, then thanked the neighbours. Neighbour across the way departed. So far so good.

But it was not good enough. Neighbour below me had to be summoned by closest neighbour to fit the dynamo. I don’t think that females here are expected to be able to handle two spanners round here. He came, and we eventually got the dynamo attached. It would have been faster had I been left alone, but it hadn’t taken all that long. I thanked the neighbours and hoped that the task had been completed.

The task had not been completed. Although I had seen how to fit the wires to the dynamo, I had to do it while watched. The back wire connected easily enough, but the back light didn’t work. Closer inspection revealed a distinct lack of bulb. This was quickly remedied, and all was good.

The front light, however, was a problem. Its wire was too short to reach the dynamo. As I have a spare front light with batteries in in the flat, I wasn’t worried. My neighbours, however, were. First, the light was inspected and a bulb was fitted (which sounds simple, but took about ten minutes). I gather that these are important for proper functioning of bike lights. A piece of copper wire was obtained, and put into the dynamo. It was held against various parts of the bike light to no avail (please note that we did turn the wheel to make the dynamo do its thing). Apparently, electricity in Germany is no more magic than the English sort. The wire was poked into bits of the light and the process repeated. Eventually, the bulb was removed and put into the rear light. It was found not to be working.

A new bulb was procured. I inspected the inside of the light and wondered how it could possibly work. I have, for a number of years, been of the opinion that electricity has to have an in and an out to make a light bulb work, and this only had an in. Or an out. Either way, one of the directions appeared to be missing.

While I was pondering this mystery, another light was procured from another bike. The bike was rather dead, apparently, although it looked a lot better than those I am riding. I think that the bottom bracket was kaput. Also, it had no saddle. Again, it was poked and prodded, and the copper wire was inserted. Again, this process was to no avail. New bulbs were inserted, wire was removed from kaput bike, connections were made, bulbs were moved around. Nothing.

The dynamo was then removed from kaput bike, and attached to Dinky bike. It wasn’t sitting against the wheel properly, but I figured that I could fix that when I was alone. When appropriate, I discreetly held the new dynamo in place so that it produced power. Still nothing.

By now, it was 6pm. I had things to do (more shopping and e-mailing), so I asked if I could finish fixing it myself tomorrow. I think that I won’t be fixing it alone (or, possibly, at all), but the project eventually came to an end at 6.15. This is when I was given another bike to use, and promised that the lights worked. They did. I am very pleased.

Finally, I was able to send e-mails and do the rest of my shopping. This wasn’t very interesting. I then returned home, tidied up a bit in preparation for my friend’s arrival tomorrow (today’s train tickets were too expensive), learned some more German while playing the recorder (go, Blackadder theme tune!) and cooked and ate an artichoke. It was delicious, but the butter didn’t contain enough salt.

The flat looks good now, though. It needs to be hoovered and some surfaces in the kitchen need to be wiped, but I finally feel as though I am settling in properly.

And before you say anything, I am immensely grateful to my neighbours for their help and concern. They really do go above and beyond the call of duty for this uncommunicative foreign girl who arrived in their midst (in the flat of the strange foreign man who doesn’t wear shoes a lot of the time). Without them, my stay here would already have been a lot more difficult. I am thinking of making them a cake. And possibly also something out of felt.

*I don’t ask where the bikes come from. I would have to use German to ask the question, and even more German to understand the answer. I just trust that they have come from authorised sources, and will give them back when I leave.

**OK, at 1pm. This lack of routine is not doing my sleeping any favours. Nor is my lack of self-control.

***One pushes the issue by ringing the doorbell multiple times. If nobody is in, they do not know that one is pushing the issue; if somebody is in, they come to the door eventually (generally), but they are angry. Good things do not come from pushing the issue, particularly when one does not speak the language.

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