John Lichfield: The life cycle of the Dutch teenager
Emmeloord Notebook: Teenagers chatted each other up by cycling in slow circles, without dismounting
Monday 20 July 2009
Sitting on the terrace of a restaurant in Emmeloord, in the Netherlands, I had an idea for a Dutch teen movie. The script would be the same as a dozen Hollywood teen movies. Small town teenagers would be trying to discover the joys of sex; parents and police would be trying to stop their fun.
The difference would be that the Dutch teenagers would not be revving and honking around downtown in noisy convertibles. They would be riding bicycles. Working title: Miss Dutch Graffiti Cheese Pie.
As we sat on the terrace surveying the nightlife of Emmeloord (population 24,000) the entire teenage population went past us at least three times. Ethnic Dutch teenagers and some Moroccans, they were all riding bikes. They eyed each other up and chatted each other up by cycling in slow circles, without dismounting.
How civilised. Emmeloord is the closest you will come to a town built for the bicycle. Until 66 years ago, it was 30 feet beneath the sea. When the Dutch government came to map this newly drained land in the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was decreed that the towns and villages should be an "easy bicycle ride" apart from one another.
Half a century later, the whole of Noordoostpolder ("North-East Polder) and the other polders reclaimed from the Zuiderzee, still feel as neat and pristine as a freshly painted watercolour. The rest of the Netherlands is a mega-suburb, in which the ancient town centres are marooned like 17th-century Dutch masters in a dull, modern art museum. Up here in the polder country, you find air and space and immense fields of potatoes.
Everything seemed so orderly and sensible and restrained. Could anything plausibly happen to drive the plot of Miss Dutch Graffiti Cheese Pie? A friend from Amsterdam solved my problem and shattered my illusions. "Up there," he said, "they have one of the worst youth drug problems in the Netherlands."
A challenge for a tooth fairy
I was in Noordoostpolder to investigate the immense by-catch of ice-age fossils – from woolly mammoths to sabre–toothed cats – accidentally fished by Dutch beam trawlers from the sea bottom. Before the 1940s, Noordoostpolder was a branch of the North Sea; until 8,000 years ago, the North Sea was land.
I had my 11-year-old daughter, Grace, with me. A kindly fisherman-turned-fossil trader gave her the tooth of baby mammoth which had died about 40,000 years ago. The fist-sized black tooth with its ugly, jagged root now has pride of place among her china dolls and teddy bears.
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 2 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 3 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before character like Homer or Lisa
- 4 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
- 5 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin wedding: The famous congratulate actor and human rights lawyer after Venice nuptials
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers requ...
£18000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...