"On Yer Bike!"

# “What if I'd been born fifty years before you, in a house on a street where you lived?
Maybe I'd be outside as you passed on your bike…” #
Ben Folds

Everybody needs a rest and holiday, right? The way I tend to approach my writing is the same as I would any job – I do the actual act of scribbling and typing up my thoughts during the working week and then at weekends, where ironically most of my free time lies, I enjoy the break from it, concentrating on family life at home…

Well, recently, my wife and I planned what turned out to be a brilliant cycling trip to the Netherlands to help us unwind in this early part of the year from the pressures of our day jobs. Once again, even though I took a couple of small notebooks with me, after my strivings with the new draft of Moon Crater, I was actually looking forward to giving my brain a rest and time to recuperate from the story for a week or so…




The holiday itself was a truly inspiring one… We began with quite an eye-opening trek from our home in the northeast of the UK to just down the road and our local ferry port at North Shields, where we boarded a huge vessel to carry us across to Ijmuiden in the Netherlands. Trying to stow your bike as a cyclist on one of these ferries is definitely not for the faint-hearted and you have to have your wits about you as cars and motorbikes zoom past you, spewing out choking fumes inside quite cramped areas. You get the real sense that push-bikes are at the bottom of the pecking order for the people organizing the passengers on board and you also sort of stand back in wondered shock at the arrangements for stowing your bike (basically tying them one on top of another so that there’s just a mesh of bikes left and you find it difficult to make out your own by the end of it…) The crossing though, despite all of this was really nice and we found our welcome as cyclists in Ijmuiden to be much better than the ferry, and so began to really enjoy the two-wheels experience a lot more…

We were following a small part of the the North Sea Cycle Route but were still making a bit of an epic journey being non-professional cyclists 30 miles south to a place called Rijnsburg. We’d take in some great views along the way though, passing through Zandvoort, Noordwijk, and Katwijk in “Zuid Holland”, journeying through quite rough terrain at times along the coast regions (although, as we discovered and quietly hoped when sitting at home planning the trip, the Netherlands is absolutely geared towards cyclists, so their “rough” roads were still enjoyable to travel on, and all the cycle roads (not paths!) gave the humble cyclist a lot of room to maneouvre confidently away from cars and other infernal petrol machines… (Vespas seem particularly popular around Rijinsburg IN the cycle lanes too!) I have to say too that I was really surprised how easy it is riding with fully-loaded panniers across the back of a bike - I thought it'd feel really heavy, but was pleasantly relieved to find the balance of the bike actually helped immensely.

We were using Rijnsburg as a base for the week and it was on a Eurocamp site there that we’d rented a luxury tent… and apart from the odd fresh mole hill every morning just outside the tent door, we really did enjoy our stay in the Koningshof Eurocamp – the staff liaisons there were really helpful with advice about the local area… Having been to Amsterdam on a previous trip to the Netherlands, we planned to just explore the locality via pedal power while we were here and found quite a lot in the immediate vicinity of Rijinsburg and along the coastline there for sightseeing.

One such place was the European Space Research and Technology Centre which allows visitors to look round a brilliant public events centre. This place wasn’t on our “to do” list before we arrived, we just discovered it by accident while noticing a small sign on a roundabout on the way into Rijinsburg so it was a great find… There were loads of things to read and interact with, including mocking up a photo of yourself as an astronaut through a clever camera rig set-up through a computer.

A couple of the other places we visited on the west coast of Holland were Leiden (where we saw our first up-close working windmill, both inside and out!), Voorhout, Haarlam, Delph (where we went potty over the pottery) and Den Haag. This last place is definitely going to be worth a longer trip back to it – “The Hague” with its brilliant open markets and inspiring the M.C.Escher Museum) isn’t to be missed if you’re in this region of the Netherlands.

I began this post by saying that I was looking forward to having a “holiday” from my writing on this trip as well as life back home, but I also mentioned that I always like to take a notebook along with me or even buy a new blank one as a memento of the trip (pocket-sized, cheap and with completely blank pages is normally the criteria I use to select one) – and to be truthful, getting away from the everyday grind of the day job and my novel writing always give me a space to think and look at my opus with a fresh perspective, so my mind never really shuts down or off from my creative scribbles. I’m going to talk more about it in the next post here, but in Den Haag for instance, seeing the Escher Museum really inspired me to think up a new Indiana Jones tale which might even develop into a full length fan novel at some point… I really connected with Escher’s ideals on what was real and not real on the page (he was talking about drawings, of course, where I’m thinking more about writing, but the notions still interconnect and relate to one another…) Worthy of a mention too were the truly gothic and weirdly inspiring chandeliers in the museum which ranged from a skull and cross bones to an apple… Very surreal and fitting Escher’s mind set.

Visiting the ESA Centre too though proved actually particularly useful for the budding sci-fi author within me and my yearnings to pour as much solid research into my “Moon Crater Adventures” online game books as possible. I came across a mock-up of the part of the International Space Station module which the ESA contributed to the project and became mesmerised by the quite kitsch but still brilliant-looking control panels with rows of switches and blinking lights… There was even a whole section of wall panels which held artist impressions of what the future missions to Mars might look like – I’ll let you into a secret here, I’m even more obsessed with the Red Planet than I am the Moon when it comes to my writing…

Anyway, If you still haven’t discovered my “Moon Crater Adventures” yet or seen some of the opening designs of the talented illustrator Rich Windass, who’s working on the project with me, you can start YOUR Adventures now by following this clue across the desk top of my Official Website's: it's shaping into an "out of this world" story, so, which object looks spaced out enough to take you to the launch page of “Moon Crater Adventures”, do you think? Click the object you think best fits this and go to the Adventures Portal Page where you can then begin YOUR story by clicking the "LAUNCH" link...
Coming back down to Earth, and more specifically, to adventures of a different kind in the Netherlands, I’d have to say that our Holland holiday was a fantastic break and worked out much better than we’d hoped, never having done a trip away completely on bikes. Over there, push-bikes are without doubt prized positions, (and apparently can even be a status symbol if they’re from the World War Two era, being snatched from the occupying Germans who left them behind when they had to leave unexpected in 1945…) Overall it was just what a holiday should be – relaxing and full of fresh air. I loved the fact that people in Holland just seemed to cycle up to bike racks with dozens of cycles (if not hundreds in some places) and just left their bike propped up against another (we did still lock ours just as a precaution), but you got the real sense that there’s a geniune respect for this particular item of personal property in Holland…



Since I’ve mixed sci-fi obscurely with a trip to mainland Europe in this post (I'm sure Escher himself would have found the mix of real and imaginary fitting though), I’ll end with one last anecdote from our Netherlands trip which was just gobsmacking to me when I saw it. Sending some postcards in a newsagents in Voorhout I looked at a stand of greetings cards and noticed some for Father’s Day and suddenly a 30-year-old mystery was solved… The Dutch word for father is “Vader” – now, I’m a huge Star Wars geek, and it dawned on me that George Lucas back in ’77 was dropping a big fat hint at who the Dark Lord of the Sith really was in his original space odyssey, even before the terrible truth was revealed with the sequel in 1983! It just goes to show you, a good character name can be the key starting point for any great story…

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