Not that long ago, a friend of mine on Facebook was complaining about the lack of maintenance in his home state of Illinois. By maintenance, he meant things like roads, mains-water systems, electricity cables etc. At the time, I said I'd never complain about the Dutch obsession with maintenance again, but I have to say I'm backtracking on that idea.
It's true that this country is maintenance mad. I lived in Rotterdam for twenty years and it seemed as if every road, pavement or subway in the city was dug up at least once a year, sometimes twice or even thrice for maintenance of some kind. I never knew what it was, but each time it was something different. Why couldn't they coordinate these activities? I asked. Why was it that the same road had to be dug up three times in the same year for different purposes?
Buildings too. Maintenance is almost a disease here, it really is. Every few years, whole blocks are shrouded in protective netting while renovation companies revamp the facades of buildings that still look brand new to me. I often used to wonder how it was that 16th-century townhouses in the older cities all managed to look fake — like Gdansk*, only more so! But it didn't take me long to find out. It was all down to regular and (almost) obsessive smooshing.
*For those who haven't seen it, Gdansk was rebuilt after the war in its own likeness. Much of the centre that looks old is actually new.
However, the Netherlands' slightly OTT attitude to keeping things under control and in good order has tested my patience more than somewhat this year. As many of you know, we spend part of our time at what we affectionately call 'the crumbly cottage' in Zeeland. The little house sits on a traditional Dutch dyke and is part of a five-kilometre-long village with houses on each side of a narrow, mostly cobbled road. Every kilometre or so, a small parallel side road veers off the main dyke, giving access to other houses and farms below it, and then rejoins the dyke a few hundred metres further along.
Now earlier this year, the local authorities announced they would be embarking on the replacement of the water, electricity and gas lines along our part of the dyke, a major undertaking that would take several months. Done in phases, they began the project at the beginning of May and have only just finished a section of less than a kilometre. During these seven months, we have had to take a long and circuitous route around the country to even reach our local shops by car. But that's not been the main issue. Think of having the road dug up in front of your house for three of those seven months and the car access to your house closed for the whole period, especially in these pandemic times when we've relied so much on deliveries, and you begin to get the picture. The photo below is of our section of dyke.
The bizarre thing about the entire exercise is that they haven't dug the road up just once; they've done it three times for each section. And not actually for different purposes. Why? Yes, you may well ask. The first time was to lay the new pipes and cables; the second was to make the connections to each house and the third was to remove the old pipes and cables. And each time, they've filled in the road and replaced the surface cobbles before digging it all up again. I know. Incomprehensible, isn't it?
We've toyed with all the possible reasons why, but I've come to the conclusion it's just the Dutch way. This is a country built on shifting sand, so maybe it's important to keep the dykes as cohesive as possible and if that means doing one job three times, then so be it.
Oh and by the way, they haven't finished yet. Although they've now confirmed they've completed our section, they've still got the rest of the dyke to do. It'll take more than a year for sure.
What's more, we've now been told the phone company is going to be putting in fibre optic cables for internet and TV in the coming months, which will mean digging it all up again. And after that, guess what? The council will come and redo the whole surface of the road because the cable layers can't do a proper job. Perish the thought that it might be uneven or, worse, have potholes! Hey ho, away we go.
So to go back to what I was saying about our US friend's complaints, I think I'm thoroughly over maintenance now and would be quite happy with a few imperfections in our roads and houses for a while.
Hmm, a post with only one pic? That will never do. Here’s a photo of a short spuddle we took on Saturday to turn the Vereeniging around for ease of departure (see, we live in hope!)
Enjoy your week, allemaal!