Friday, 22 April 2011

Dutch life

Just returned from The Hague, where I was invited to give a talk by Stroom, an arts centre and gallery with a specific focus on the city. Holland is in a very different position to the UK with regard to the themes covered in Ground Control, with for example only one gated community in the whole country and an incredibly high quality public transport infrastructure.

The day after my talk my hosts suggested I borrow the office bicycle and cycle around the city, which was fantastic. Boris Bikes may have arrived in London but we are light years from Dutch cycling culture. Cycling in London is virtually impossible without levels of assertiveness bordering on aggression and I am normally too much on edge to enjoy it. The Dutch experience is entirely different with a network of cycle lanes, with equal status to roads, built into the city. Also nobody wears helmets - after all there is no feeling of danger - and the bikes are notable for their utilitarian unfashionability, in contrast to the hugely expensive top of the range models competing for status on London streets.

Cycling is just one aspect of Dutch life where the standard of living seems incomparably higher than in Britain. This was my feeling from the moment I arrived in Holland. The transport system apart, I couldn't quite say why this is the case but I think a perception - and gross generalisation - that everyone is middle class contributes to such a feeling. My hosts assured me that this was not the case but income differentials between people are far, far less than in the UK which does create an all round sense of greater common affluence, emotionally as well as financially.

One other piece of news: a new edition of Ground Control will be published in January 2012, in time for the Olympics, which will be a focus.

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