A few weeks ago I cycled around Holland. Before the pedants start being pedantic, I am aware that Holland is a region of the Netherlands and these two place names are not synonymous (thanks QI) – I cycled around the region of the Netherlands specifically referred to as Holland, so there.
On the ferry ride home I successfully managed to smuggle a small ceramic windmill out of the country. I am aware of border security’s no-nonsense attitude towards gaudy tourist tat, and I did my best to conceal the windmill by wrapping it in paper and placing it discreetly in my bag, rather than wearing it on a piece of string around my neck as I would have preferred.
The windmill was brought into the country for my mother, who has an obsessive interest in miniature ceramic structures. Some say she is a ceramoholic and her addiction to ceramic buildings borders on the dangerous and self-destructive, and doctors have advised her to move on to a clay-based substitute as soon as possible, but my mother maintains she can stop collecting these tiny souvenirs any time she wants to.
I purchased the windmill because windmills are universally known to be an iconic feature of the Dutch countryside, but having seen rural Holland for myself I am not convinced that the country’s windmill density is high enough for it to be considered their thing.
There were definitely a few windmills hanging around; don’t misunderstand me, I’m not claiming the country is devoid of windmills and they are propagating an obscure lie about their cultural features, just that the country’s windmill population is too sparse for them to claim the windmill as a national symbol.
Let me put it another way: imagine you are a lonely British windmill, probably living in somewhere like Hull, where the windmill population is notoriously low and your role there is more as a kind of National Trust tourist attraction rather than a fully functioning windmill. You hardly do any winding or milling; you just stand there by yourself, stationed between an overpriced organic whole foods shop and a café that specialises in delicious cream teas. When a westerly wind blows you can smell the lovely scent of fresh fruit and warm bread, but when the wind changes direction you get a whiff of elderly women covered in jam. You cry out in despair but nobody can hear you, because the only language you can speak is windmill and you live in Britain, where the people are infamous for their lack of interest in foreign languages.
Saddened and frustrated, you decide to move to Holland in order to assuage your loneliness. “Windmills are their thing,” you say to yourself in your native windmill tongue, “there will be other windmills all over the place.”
And then you arrive in Holland and settle yourself down around the outskirts of Utrecht, only to find yourself disappointed by the density of windmills in the surrounding area. Sure, you see one or two windmills, milling about, usually on your way to work or in line at the Post Office, but there still are not enough of them and you find yourself leading a considerably solitary life without the comfort of any windmill-based company.
“So what does it matter?” I hear you ask. “Let the Dutch lie about their windmills. They’re not doing any harm.” In response I would like to remind you about a certain Mr Adolf Hitler, who in 1933 tried to claim the windmill as the symbol of the Nazi party. In fact his party originally wore red armbands with an encircled image of a black windmill. Eventually the four blades of the windmill were later adapted into the shape of a swastika because Hitler saw one on a skinhead’s skin head and thought it looked cool, but it was the cruel, unforgiving values of the windmill that inspired Hitler’s politics.
It’s clear from this historical example that the appropriation of windmills is the first rung on the ladder to fascism, so let’s all boycott Holland until the tulip-sniffing potheads agree to take on a more geographically common piece of outdated machinery as a national symbol.