A number of years ago former Murphy and Gunne team mechanic Seamie English and myself went to work in a meat factory in Holland . The factory was located in Enschede near the German border . Seamie was an experienced boner but I was an unexperienced Aer lingus trimmer . ie : Seamie would cut all of the meat from the bone and I had to trim the fat and gristle off of it .
Our first night there saw us arriving at eleven pm into a typical Dutch terraced estate . Our accomadation had been arranged by the contractor who we were working for . We rang the doorbell and a six foot six , twenty five stone blond haired should have been a wrestler answered the door . In an ill fitting high pitched voice he said ‘ Halloo , come eeen ‘ and we did . Next thing he turned towards the stairs , as the living area seemed to be up there and said to us ‘ come I make you suffer ‘ . I was ready to bolt out the door but Seamie headed up the stairs so I had to follow . We reached the top of the stairs and turned right into a kitchen area . Our new landlord then went over to put on the kettle . What I quickly discovered was that Leo , our landlord , pronounced his p’s like f’s , so he was actually making us some supper !
Seamie and I shared a room with a tv but the Scottish and English guys downstairs had Hot beds , ie: one half worked day shift whilst the other worked nights so there was always someone in the bed . Not ideal by any stretch of the imagination . Leo was ok though , and even procured us two bikes from a neighbour for fifty gilders each .
We cycled everywhere at weekends as the country is so geared up for it . Beside the roads , seperated usually by about two feet of grass margin were really good cycle lanes . There were bicycle specific traffic lights and racks everywhere to leave your bike .
After a few weeks we came accross a place called Haagsbergen where they rented out log cabins in a wood . We rented one straight away , but when we told Leo we were leaving he wanted us to stay . His incentive to get us to stay was to offer us free adult channels on the tv . I guess it shows the Dutch mindset .
Unfortunatly , shortly after moving out there Seamie hurt his arm at work and had to go on ‘The Gak’ . Perhaps I should say fortunatly for Seamie , as ‘The Gak’ is the Dutch national health insurance which pays you your full wages whilst you are out sick from work . So Seamie was back in Ireland , having a ball and getting his wages lodged into his account each week by ‘The Gak’ .
I was still working the evening shift in the factory which gave lots of free time each morning . I used to cycle into the nearby village where twice a week there was an open market where you could buy cheeses and vegatables and breads . Most towns and villages in Holland have a central cobblestoned square , very often with a Church in the middle and cafes and Bars put their seating outside which lends itself to a great atmosphere .
It was so easy to cycle everywhere . Even in the woods they have the normal fire road but many also have a cycle lane on the side of that . One day whilst following one of these paths I found myself in Germany which was only 25 kilometres from where I was staying but I did not have to cycle on the road at any stage to do so . The fact that the country is so flat does help but the way that cyclists are facilitated really makes a huge difference .
We now have cycle lanes here in Ireland but most are strewn with broken glass , never swept and very often will come to an abrupt end without any warning . They are very rarely seperated by any more than a two inch white line from the panicked commuter traffic and people wonder why there are accidents involving cyclists and motorists . Even the way they are turned sharply at traffic Islands and the height which you will often have to bunny hop up onto the so called bike path shows a total lack of understanding by those who design them .
So what is the real difference between Holland and Ireland as regards cycling and bike paths etc . Well I don’t think that it would take a genius to presume that the bike paths in Holland have been designed by people who actually ride bikes and understand what is really needed . The bike paths in Ireland seem to have been designed by gas guzzling SUV driving beaurocrats who were told that they had to put in a bike lane somewhere if they wanted the EU money to build the new road .
We now have two government ministers who proclaim to cycle to the Dail each day , so it should be interesting to see if they make any changes over the next few years .