Windmills and Bikes – A typical Dutch tale

We have another family visiting from the UK, with their children who are 9 and 12. I have been nervous about entertaining such big children, but so far so good. Everyone has been pitching in and it seems my 2 wee ones are revelling in new attention. I have had to give in to skate boards in the house and the floor completely covered in play-mobile but I’m surprisingly unfazed, instead of my usual tendency to get wound up I am embracing the chaos and I think I’m getting away with it! None of my neurotic jitters are showing through. I am a picture of cool headed easiness. The hostess with the mostess!

“You’ve got a lovely house” our guests say reassuringly on the first evening.

“So far, we’d give you 5 stars on trip advisor!”

Our guests are bakers, as in they bake bread, as a profession I mean so we have decided that we have to visit a windmill. We’re in Holland afterall! And these people undoubtedly have an interest in flour – a working mill – what could be better – what could go wrong?

The 2 dads go into town to hire bikes for the 2 big kids. They measure them up and come back with 2 reasonably well fitting bikes. We all go out on the street and have a practice. Everything seems to be going well, apart from my 2 year old who is disappointed not to have his own bike. He pleads and persuades, but I am not willing to let him meander on behind us on his trike.

“I’m sorry, it’s just a bit too slow, you need to go in my bike with me”

“I’ll go fast!” he says over and over. His bottom lip is starting to wobble.

A sits neatly in the front of the bike waiting for her brother. I bundle him in past a snail that hangs to the plastic rain cover.

“Ahh ahh” he complains.

“It’s OK, lets not panic” I say removing the snail.

It has taken us a couple of hours to get to this point but finally everyone from the age of 2 to 42 seems to be ready. We set off, P is doing a great job at the front of the party, keeping everyone in check with the oncoming traffic, making sure they stay on the right. I am coming up at the back with my heavy bakfiets and the 2 kids. S has cheered up and is giggling a bit manicly in the front of the bike with his sister. They lurch from side to side trying to grab at various leaves and twigs – this is highly amusing it seems.

I’m going to keep my cool I think as I sweat it out and struggle to steady the bakfiets.

“Isn’t it lovely here” says Mrs Baker “that you can just hop on your bike and go everywhere I mean.”

After a good half hour we see the sails of the windmill turning ahead of us and as we approach we cycle past typical Dutch houses with their criss-cross wooden shutters. We park up alongside a line of horse chestnut and oak trees and wheel the bikes across scattered autumn leaves. So far, so good, the destination is living up to the promise of a scenic Dutch day trip.

“Look at that! It’s thatched!” says Mrs. Baker pointing at the windmill.

We step up through the tiny wooden doorway. At the back of the narrow entrance there’s a steep ladder leading to the first floor. There’s no signposts to tell you who is or isn’t allowed up the stairs in fact there’s not a lot in the way of health and safety – everyone just files up the ladder – me carrying S on one hip and grabbing the handrail in the other hand. Two men in white boiler suits are lowering sacks of flour on a rope through a trapdoor down to the ground. I get the feeling this is not for our benefit, the visitors look on but the two men working the rope are not smiling for the camera, in fact they are emphatically ignoring us. The rope goes up and down with more and more sacks. Mr. Baker snaps pictures on his iPhone of all kinds of weights and cogs turning round. There’s a balcony with a precariously inadequate wooden railing – we step out for a perfect close up of the wind sails wafting in front of our faces.

After eating our packed lunch on the grass and loading up with a few bags of flour we head back to the bikes.

“Ok – you guys could head off for more adventures. I’ll cycle S back home for his nap”

This requires a bike rearranging plan.

“So Mr. Baker, if you go on the racer and then P you take the bakfiets and then Mrs. Baker, if we swap then I can take the bike with the child seat”

Everyone swaps around.

“Oh but this tyre seems a bit flat” says Mrs Baker

“Oh yeah, you’re right, what shall we do?”

“You can go on that one” suggests P looking at me “and then we all cycle home together and pump it up. It’s not totally down.”

I remove S from the back of my bike and put him back in the bakfiets.

We get on our bikes in the new formation.

I hear a sort of flap-flap noise and look at P on the bakfiets.

“Wait, that tyre is totally flat as well!” I say “There’s no way you can cycle that”.

We all stop.

P goes back into the windmill to see if he can borrow a bicycle repair kit. He comes back with a big box.

The kids run around looking for conkers under the trees.

“So if we get these fixed are we on plan B or C?” asks Mrs Baker

“I dunno. I think it’s still B” says P “I think we should head back together”

“Honestly, this never normally happens” I say, but it doesn’t sound all that convincing. I think my shell is starting to crack a little.

“I hope it’s not going to effect our rating on trip-advisor?”

Bikes patched as best we can, we gather up the kids and try again, but clank I hear the chain as my peddle goes around. I’m freewheeling. Shit the chain is off I realise.

“Stop everyone, my chain is loose.”

P looks at me “This can’t be happening”

The bike has a protective cover over the chain so that, in theory it can’t come loose. That means, though that you also can’t fix it without a screwdriver if it does.

“Right this is ridiculous!” My voice has lost the care-free tone. I start barking instructions.

“I am going to lock this bike up right here and go and get the bus. You lot carry on, and don’t forget to put that boy in bed when you get there. I’ll see you at home.”

They’ve gone and I’m marching down the road. On my way to the bus stop I walk down a shopping street and discover that there’s a local bicycle shop.

I poke my head inside.

“Is there someone available to help me with my bike chain?” I ask

“Yeah, sure, just wheel it in to the workshop round the back.”

I run back to the bike realising on the way that I’d walked a fair bit further than I thought. It seems to be taking ages to walk with the bike so I try to freewheel. I step and push as if it were a scooter, but this does my thighs in so I stop and have to walk again.

In the workshop, the repair-man hangs the bike and unscrews the chain cover. He fiddles and tightens. 20 minutes later, I hand him €5 and the bike is fixed.

I don’t have my phone with me because I left it in the bakfiets, so I cycle as fast as I can.

It’s quite a long way back. When I finally get home I wheel the bike into the front garden and look through the window.

“Look” I say, gesturing at the bike. I keep pointing and mouthing at them through the window but
no one sees me. I open the front door and go into the living room. Everyone is looking at pictures on their phones. The kids are rolling back and forth on skateboards.

“Hi” says P

Everyone continues to just sit there, drinking tea.

“Hey, weren’t any of you worried?” I say “I took ages didn’t I? I got the bike fixed….see it’s there!”

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