I wish I’d been born in The NL – I would like to truly belong here. I often try to design my ‘Utopia’ and the more I see of this place, the more I think it fulfills my deepest wishes.
I was born in a northern British city (Leeds) and although I have great affection, or maybe nostalgia for it, the fact is, it was a pretty brutal place to grow up. I was lucky perhaps, to live between Hyde Park and leadfy Headingley and also within 30 minutes walk of the city centre. So for a girl without transport, until I bought my bike with the proceeds of two years early morning paper round, there was still a lot on my doorstep. Victorian, millstone grit buildings, remnants of the times when Headingley was where the privileged lived, or of the conspicuous wealth of Victorian Barons of Industry. Now, I mostly dislike British cities: they’re all right if you have money, or are just visiting, but if you don’t or aren’t, Heaven help you. I’ve met people who say, ‘Oh, Leeds! Such great shopping in Harvey Nicks!’ When I was a child, it was the pre-Harvey Nicks era and the posh shops were only for pressing your nose against the window and dreaming. In the sixth form, we were allowed to take a local train to Bradford to use the Ice Rink and I spent the train journey imagining the windowsills of factories enhanced with trays of red geraniums. The shabbiness and hard concrete in Leeds really crushed me. If it was raining, the buildings seemed to act as icy-cold air conditioning and radiate freezing air at you. If it was hot, the concrete and lack of green spaces, where I lived anyway, made it unpleasant to be outside. Hence, my pasty complexion, as a teenager. Even then, I craved trees, grass and an open vista, but felt that it was wrong that my city and presumably others, sentenced so many of its inhabitants to less than complete existences. Most of the world’s population live in cities, so that means the conditions in which most people live are less than desirable, to put it mildly.
The Netherlands is an small country, reclaimed from the sea, with a dense and diverse population. So do most of them live in concrete and unforgiving squalor? As I’ve said before, I have no experience of the massive conurbations such as Rotterdam or Amsterdam. I can only vouch for what I’ve seen. And I like it. Oh yes, I do!
There’s the quaint Netherlands. The tourist honey-pots, with their tiny canals, houses either side and a bar and gift shop at the end of the street. But that’s not what I envy, although such places are a pleasant way to spend an hour or two on holiday. Just as Kendal isn’t representative of the UK, these are not a true reflection of the NL experience its residents have.
The towns are different. Even more so, the cities (Leeuwarden and Groningen). In both there are the terraces of houses
and also huge houses, now mostly divided up into flats, I guess, but redolent of times past, when merchants or others were very wealthy indeed.
But where do the ‘ordinary’ people live? In places like these!
Apartment living is a very definite and conscious choice, These aren’t top of the range. Jus where people live. After all, if your job is to ‘sell’ the graciousness of this country by working in hotels and bars, shouldn’t you live somewhere gracious?
These apartments overlook a Yacht Haven.
Everyone can enjoy the good weather, sitting out on their balconies and watch the comings and goings of the boats, whether they have one themselves or not. And wouldn’t you be cheered up by these fantastic colours?
In Groningen, the blocks of flats more than 5knm outside the city, too far out to have the city ‘vibe’ but not far enough to have left the city behind allow their residents to enjoy a good lifestyle. There’s a Jumbo supermarket around the corner, so even if you can’t get to the twice weekly open air market in the centre, you can buy food of excellent quality, at very reasonable prices. Wine too! And why can’t we give everyone in the UK access to some green space like this?
Another thing I’m amazed by is the sense of fun of designers and architects here. From sticking interesting/funny/strange things onto the outside of buildings
to making pipework and mooring points interesting and amusing.
The Dutch are the tallest people in the world. As someone whose height is on the 3rd percentile, you might say that all this admiration of The NL is merely the outworking of my angst at being small. And my lack of verticality does cause me problems here…I can only just reach to put 50c into the slot to start the shower and if I had to rely on mirrors in public WCs to know if my hair’s tidy, I’d be even scruffier.
Make up your own mind!