This mini break has been a comedy of forgetfulness, as usual with any journey that has me in it. All the more so, given that for the first time in 20 years I’m travelling abroad without Mr Suburbanite as the responsible adult. I’m sure one day there will be a name for the disconnect in my brain that causes me to leave something crucial behind every time I leave the house… in the meantime I am diagnosis-free, and as my mother has the exact same symptoms and still managed to found and run an international charity I’m not going to worry about it too much.
So here I am on Schveringen beach blogging on the Cutester’s iPad because I’ve left my phone in London (yes, all the pictures are taken with the iPad – not very inconspicuous when I pull it out of the bike basket at traffic lights). And shortly we’ll have to leave the beach and return to the B&B for lunch, because that’s where I left our picnic.
Never mind. The sun is out and the Cutester is busy creating things out of sand, among families playing or sunbathing (fully clothed, North Sea style). Our bikes are parked on the seafront railings along with many hundreds of other bikes. After lunch we will pedal to another, quieter beach resort called Kijkduin, on paths through dunes populated by, of all things, Highland cows.
I have absolutely no inclination to go home tomorrow.
Loads of the families at the beach clearly came here by bike.
We’ve seen children carried on every conceivable type of cycle seat, although our favourite was a woman cycling with a small child in front of her and another one behind, each one holding an Elsa-shaped helium balloon as big as herself. We’ve seen loads of cargo bikes. We’ve seen a few adults get backies on other bikes. And the dog question has been answered. Dutch dogs do frequently get lifts on bikes like the one in my last post, including a Jack Russell strapped into a pannier bag, and a cargo bike inhabited by a German Shepherd – but they also get to walk while the owner cycles. We saw dogs jogging to keep up with owners on bikes, and at one point a teenage girl on cycled around a corner ahead of us at speed, pulled by three terriers like huskies.
Turns out you can actually carry most things on a bike. We’ve seen a girl cycling with a cello case strapped to her back (she was on the phone, as it happens), a man sheltering under an open golf umbrella as he cycled in the rain, and a man with crutches across his handlebars. We saw a group of teenage boys with their own soundtrack – one of them had a speaker attached to his backpack, playing sweary rap music. They sped by like the equivalent of boy racers with a booming stereo, except about a million times less offensive.
And then kids are cycling themselves, as evidenced by the photos above, from the age of tiny upwards. We’ve seen family groups ride together with the classic Dutch parent-hand-on-child-shoulder. Of more interest to me are the kids we see, no older than the Cutester (10), cycling in small groups without an adult in sight. And they’re not just independent on bikes. We’ve seen kids aged about 8 or 9, hanging out at a place that sells ice cream, or walking along purposefully arm-in-arm. As we cycled on one street, a mother and two girls spilled out of a house onto the pavement. The girls were on roller blades and were about 8 and 10. As they skated off, the mum stayed in the doorway of the house, bellowing detailed instructions in Dutch that the girls seemed to be paying no attention to whatsoever. They turned off the main road and went up a side street.
Which brings me to another observation that’s very close to my heart at the moment. Back in Enfield, the council have started surveying residents about residential neighbourhoods for the re-launch of their Quieter Neighbourhoods programme. The idea is to make streets where people live fit for walking, cycling and play. Currently, our residential streets have 30mph limits; are lined with parked cars; often serve as rat runs; and most adults would never consider cycling on them, never mind letting their children play on the street. Our streets look and feel like through routes, not places to slow down and give priority to residents – because they are through routes.
Not so here in Den Haag. In an attempt to find a supermarket this morning I was nearly thwarted by seemingly every side street having a ‘no entry’ sign with symbols of a bike and a moped. And a Dutch word I couldn’t understand – it took me ages to realise that it was ‘except’. (No entry except cycles and mopeds. Doh!) These are residential streets, not through routes for cars. Other streets also had signs marking them out as ‘Woonerfs’ or ‘living zones’ where children’s play should take priority over traffic. One or two even had a playground, right there in the street. It’s easy to see how children might graduate from playing on their own street independently (I did see three young kids have great larks piling on top of a junction box) to going further afield, say to a larger park for a kick around with friends. It’s easy to imagine, because in terms of traffic, these streets are deserted. Each one of them is a quiet haven; all the through traffic is where it should be, on the main roads. To me, this just confirms the genius of Waltham Forest’s low-traffic neighbourhood scheme in filtering through traffic out of residential streets.
We took our bikes back to the hire shop with heavy hearts. The Cutester was so determined to eke every last moment out of it, she practically rode her bike through the door of the shop.
We get the train home tomorrow. I don’t know whether my return to Enfield will trigger deep despondency, or renewed vigour for the fight. London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk keeps telling me there is hope, and it’s true that the Waltham Forest scheme – plus Enfield’s work building cycle lanes on the A105 – represent two huge leaps in the right direction.
So, just another 40 years’ work to go…
-* If you can’t recognise this as a Jigglypuff, you’re either not looking properly or have no understanding of Pokémon whatsoever (I refer to the one on the left)