Hedge your bets!

We are approaching our fifteenth year in the same house, which is quite amazing given the many places I have lived prior: Nieuwerkerk a/d IJssel in the Netherlands where I was born; Keyingham, Thorngumbald and Burstwick in England where I grew up; back in the Netherlands, in Oostvoorne and Zwolle where I finished school and Delft and Rotterdam during my studies. My first job was in Eindhoven, before I moved to Belgium to live in Brussels, Vossem and finally Wespelaar, a village belonging to the municipality of Haacht. The fact that we’ve lived here so long must mean that we enjoy it very much. And we do.

Haacht, or in dialect, ‘Hoght’, derives it’s name from ‘Hedge’ and is one of those places that is not spectacular to visit, but is a great place to live. Close to the grounds for the famed annual Rock festival in Werchter, Haacht also holds the annual Primus Fest and my village boasts a quaint, but fantastic Blues festival every August called “Swing Wespelaar.”

Notable in Haacht are the St.-Remigius church with original walls dating from 1281; an Anti-Tank canal built in 1939 to protect against German attack (which actually proved quite useless as the Germans circumvented it, but therefore it is very well preserved); the Arboretum in Wespelaar with some 2,000 different plants and trees; and of course the brewery of Haacht, the largest Belgian-owned, with great beers such as Primus, Tongerlo, Keizer Karel, Mystic, Leeuw and Super8. I always try to reason with my wife that consumption fuels the local economy…

There are great restaurants, fantastic sports amenities, three train stations, a well reputed school Don Bosco and plenty of shops in the town its self, but also along the Mechelse Baan in neighbouring Boortmeerbeek. The brilliant cities of Brussels, Mechelen and Leuven are a mere stone throw away and in my last blog, “Sit as little as possible”, I told of my heightened activity using a hand-bike, discovering the many cycle-paths around Haacht; along the canal, the river Dijle, or on narrow roads slicing through fields of wheat, barley, corn, chicory, asparagus, potatoes and fruit.

Cycling in the mornings is a joy, with the rising warmth of the sun and the friendly people you meet on the way, each with their own lives, their own stories, their own perceptions: The retired couple enjoying their clockwork strolls hand-in-hand; the hypnotic hips of a fit middle-aged woman; a young man and his dog, a border-collie retrieving thrown balls as if a walk is not enough; school kids, allowed in class again following COVID-19, polite enough to nod; the marathon-running blonde with her fluorescent orange shorts and sweet smile; the friendly people at the full circle-brewery Hof ten Dormaal.

I have long since learned that where you live is less important than the people that live there. Especially through our son’s school and sports, my wife’s hobbies and my work and sports activities, we’ve met many warm people, various of whom have become friends. Our neighbours have accepted us as ‘belonging to the street’ and as one of them put it: “As the boisterous and arrogant Dutch people go, you guys are not too bad…”

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