The Netherlands (again)

It was only when I started writing this blog that I realised that I had spent so much time in ‘the naydorlaanz’ as our Dutch friends called their country, they didn’t seem to like us calling it Holland.

Why did we spend so much time there? There were the boats for Ken of course but it wasn’t just that. My feelings about the country all started the second day we were there. We were cycling to the village to buy bread when we passed a field. In this field were about fifty children from about seven to ten, and what were they doing? They were building houses. Dotted about the field were piles of wood, planks and hardboard. They were handling saws, hammers, chisels, the lot, and building these structures, some had two storeys already. It was brilliant I was absolutely enthralled that they had been trusted to be sensible and they were being so creative in the process. It was everything that I admired. Sadly I didn’t have my camera with me.

We met a young family man with whom we soon became friends. Richard Van der Berg, His father was Dutch and his mother English, so he spoke good English (mind you so did everybody else and with good accents) He invited us to stay at his home in Zwartsluis, near Zwolle. The village was a kind of junction between major waterways.There was also a thriving canal barge village there. He was interested in conservation and had bought a tumbled down, but beautiful, old canal toll house and was converting it himself. He was a social worker in charge of some truly difficult young men, nothing was working with them. Then he hit on an idea, he would buy a wreck of a traditional boat, the old ones with barge boards and rebuild it with them. It was paid for by the Social Services. Can you imagine that. It had worked and they had nearly finished it. They had all acquired marketable skills along the way.We went on a voyage with them and they were rightly proud of what they had done.

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……………Richard holding the tiller and the boom.I’ve just noticed that I have printed the photo the wrong way round…look at the writing!

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Richard and his delinquents restored this historic boat from a wreck.

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Richard took us to meet his father and mother who were pensioners. They lived in houses especially built for pensioners by the Zwolle council ; these houses were so thoughtfully planned for old peoples needs. Their pension was much better than ours and they seemed to be better cared for in every way. There were council led clubs and events that they could go to.

Whilst we were there an uncle died and we were invited to the funeral, at first we said no, we didn’t think we had a right to be there. They insisted, so we did go and it was quite an eye opener.The main area of the crematorium was a rather beautiful oval shape and the doors on one side opened out into a custom built cafe. The main room had a huge curved wrap around cinema screen. It was a humanist service and as part of it the screen opened up and showed this life enhancing film of the beauty of the seasons, the night skies with all the stars and the dawn,accompanied by gentle music and natural sounds, it was so fitting. Then everybody went into the cafe where the food was laid on. All these things were adding up to my belief that the Dutch are a very civilised, socially orientated community. All the time I was there and ever since I have been impressed. On Tuesday this week I had an appointment at my surgery. On the paper that they had given me the hand written time looked like 3.10,  I should have been there at 2.10. She said that they could fit me in an hour. I could have gone home but I find the walking from the scooter to the waiting room difficult so I decided to wait. Alas I had left my book at home, there was nothing for it but to read the regional Health Magazine. The first thing I saw said, East Kent to adopt the Dutch system (it did give it a proper name) for training nurses in the community. It said how well the Dutch had developed it and how successful it was. We would be following the Dutch programme. They would be paid whilst they were studying and working.

Several more things happened to reinforce my admiration. In a local village where several more members of their family lived, on a farm, there was going to be a Flower Festival consisting of a parade of floats. There is a huge one in Zundert every year and maybe in other villages in Holland. We were invited to help., The whole family pitch in, and when I say pitch in everyone works through the night. Rather like the Rio Carnival, there is  rivalry between the farms and the clubs taking part. The subjects of the floats are a closely kept secret till they are revealed in the parade. We all went into a huge barn lit by lanterns. There on the back of a big flat bed truck was a massive chicken wire structure, it wasn’t altogether clear exactly what it was at that stage. Down one side there were tables with mounds of dahlias with more in great piles behind. Each table dealt with a different colour. I sat down at the white table, our job was to cut the stems off and put the flower heads on trays. When they were full they were carried to the people who were threading them into the chicken wire structure. People were singing and loads of food and schnappes were being consumed all night long. A real family and friends effort and everyone knew that the same scenario was being enacted in other parts of the village.Why leave it so late why not do it the day before, the answer is that the flowers need to be as fresh as possible. All the flower cutters could go home once all the stems had been dealt with. Something else impressed me the children were making their own little floats on hand carts and prams.

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The parade started around 3pm, to say it was amazing was an understatement. It was so creative and clever. Our carnival, I’m sad to say, much as I love it, is rubbish in comparison. It used to be better in the 80’s I think. I have lots of photographs which I will put on this site  and you can judge for yourself. By the way our float didn’t appear, the lorry had a puncture! All that work wasted.

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All made of flower heads, usually dahlias. Brightly coloured of course.

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Even the police have decorated their sidecar.

But I still had one more positive experience to come many years later. In the Herne Bay paper it said that some Dutch Folk Dancers (a lot of whom had been in the services) had been invited by the ex servicemen’s club in William Street. They were coming to dance in Herne Bay and Canterbury and the surrounding villages. They were appealing for people to put them up whilst they were here. We offered.

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Johann and Elizabet outside the door of my house.

The couple were getting on but a bit younger than us. Johann and Elizabet. They had their own musicians and were good dancers, we had fun. The next year they came to us just for a holiday with their grandson nov18dutchdancers1

My drawings of the group in their national costumes.

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Then they invited us to stay with them in Holland, they lived in a little village called Zwiep, near Lochem. He had just said he was a baker and we imagined a bakers shop like the ones we have. How wrong we were, they owned their own mill, ground their own flour and cooked the bread in traditional wood burning brick ovens. The bread was brought out on wooden paddles. You have never tasted bread, pies and cakes more delicious. There was something else about the place, it was known for it’s witches and around the grounds of the bakery there were wooden witch effigies.

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Their house, left and the mill beyond.

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The Bakers.

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They were so kind and took us all over the place. I have written all this and not even touched on my favourite Dutch Province Friesland, I’m afraid there will have to be another episode. I think it likely that most of the British people think of Holland as being staid and a bit dull, look under the surface and you will see that that is a mistaken view. They have a far greater sense of care in the community which puts us to shame.

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