W. H. Davies


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

One of my daughter’s favourite words is ‘canal!’ She runs alongside them wherever we go in The Netherlands and loves to spy their wildlife. There is a word I often see printed here; vliet. It’s not so easy to translate, though I have asked. I did come across this meaning; Vliet is a Dutch term for a minor streaming water, though it may refer to a city canal that connects such flows or a river with such, and is related to “vlieden” meaning ‘to flow’. The cycle paths here mirror the energy of the canals. This intimate country is totally interconnected by them. It is electric. I will always remember when I got on a bike here for the first time. My mobility was usually restricted in the countries where I grew up whether due to my age, gender or type of transport. Not so in The Netherlands. Here I can go where I want. I can never forget seeing the miles and miles of cycle lanes outside of Den Haag to Zoetermeer. I stopped and stared, my mouth open. It was awe inspiring.

My older sister was enchanted when she visited. She loves London as much as I do but unlike me, she has cycled its streets for more than 20 years. She was especially impressed with the wide, safe cycle lanes and how cyclists have priority. She wished it so in London and told me an anecdote; When London introduced the congestion charge, there appeared the next day people decked out in expensive cycling gear. They punched their fists in the air and swore at motorists.

“Bankers?” I laughed

My sister just shook her heard. There is no such cycling culture in The Netherlands. That’s not to say that I haven’t encountered anything negative. I am sometimes perplexed as to why people can be so impatient to overtake me. I always slow down and let them. I’m in no race. And they always look a little sheepish when I sidle up to them at the traffic lights.

Retreating, pausing, absorbing. I’ve had to do this each time I’ve internationally relocated. It has affected my health at times. The stress of moving has manifest in my back and the right shoulder since I came to South Holland.

“Don’t be passive, be active,” a Dutch physiotherapist told me.

He is correct. The blood has to start coursing, to heal. But this third culture kid has to gather her resources to do so. I have different rituals and rhythm to a man and his kind utterly at home and in place in their country. His flow of life is not mine though our currents may meet.

“Don’t say that. You can’t wear that. No, we do it this way.”

I heard this countless times when growing up. It took me a long time to understand that they were not necessarily right and also that it didn’t matter. Sensitivity to third culture can also be reciprocated.

So, here’s to passivity in an active life. And I’ll catch you up at the lights.