I am in Holland for a ten day speaking tour to local groups of the Anglo-Dutch friendship society and I plan to post regular items on the blog on my thoughts. Whenever I go to Europe and spend a bit of time there, it amazes me just how different each society is from Britain, and indeed from each other. I hope that the growing dominance of the European union does not change that.
I went for a run this morning in the suburbs of a small town called Hengelo, in the Eastern part of Holland, near the German border. It is remarkably suburban, the houses are small and built to very tight specifications demanded by the Dutch authorities. My host Giles, tells me that this extends to ensuring that everyone has the same type of roof on their houses, the same colour front doors and does not work in their gardens on the Sabbath.
Just on this short run, it became so apparent the way that life is organised around the bicycle.
I ran along a Fitspad, a bike path, for a couple of miles, and when I ran outwards, there were just a few students and the odd youngster on their bikes, but on the way back, the cycle path was full of kids, parents with kids on bikes, parents with kids on the back, and groups of teenagers. It was cycle rush hour just before school was starting and it was so nice seeing all these children cycling to school, from rather stern looking little blonde girls, maybe just 8 – 9 pushing determinedly to teenagers larking about and waiting for each other on corners.
And of course none were obese. Nor did any have flash bikes and not a helmet in sight – why would you need one when you had cycle paths all the way. It was such a heartening sight. This is so good in so many ways: the kids are learning independence in a way that ours are not allowed to do. How many British parents would allow eight year old girls or boys for that matter, to cycle to school on their own? Or even walk there? You could see what the arguments would be about in Holland: some parents were accompanying their five year olds, pushing them along a bit, and you could imagine that soon these kids would be demanding to go on their own.
But it is a win win situation in so many other ways, too. The environment, of course, but also these children’s fitness and wellbeing. Just cycling a mile or two to school every day, and, as my host told me, also to school outings – going by bike to swimming lessons or the local museum is apparently compulsory – ensures these kids are far healthier than they would be if driven in their parents’ cars. There were far fewer cars on the road at that time in the morning than there would be in an equivalent suburb in Britain.
These advantages are all so obvious – but why is Britain so different, so reluctant to see these advantages? Your thoughts would be most welcome
Next entry will be on the train service, which, surprisingly perhaps, is not all good news!