On the back of dad’s bike

Written by Bert Plomp

In the 1950s, people primarily moved around on foot or by bicycle. The streets were devoid of cars, with only a few vehicles parked here and there. The motorized traffic in my neighborhood mainly consisted of passing buses from the Municipal Transport Company Utrecht: GEVU.

My father was always a true cycling enthusiast. Before the war, when stationed near Den Helder as a soldier, he didn’t mind cycling ‘just’ back and forth to Utrecht on weekends to visit his sweetheart on Nicolaasdwarsstraat. In the fifties, my father and I would cycle to a farming family in Odijk every Saturday. Odijk was a village an hour’s ride from our apartment on Napoleonplantsoen in Utrecht. This weekly visit served a dual purpose. Firstly, to collect the insurance premium from the farming family. In those days, my father worked as an agent for the insurance company ‘Onderlinge ‘s-Gravenhage.’ It was customary to collect premiums in cash at the door on a weekly basis. The second purpose of this bike trip was to buy fresh milk and a chicken from the same farmer. Seated on the back of the bike, with my legs dangling over two large panniers on either side, I covered the distance to Odijk and back. It was a true ordeal, lasting about three hours in total. Throughout the entire journey, I sat without a cushion on an iron luggage carrier. After fifteen minutes of cycling, that carrier made its presence felt. Days after the ride, I could still feel its imprint on my legs and posterior. Once in Odijk, after collecting the insurance premium, I joined my dad and the farmer to the chicken coop. There, in front of my inexperienced eyes, a chicken was grabbed by its scruff and promptly had its neck wrung. Along with several bottles of fresh milk, the chicken disappeared into one of the bike panniers. I still remember the bewildered look in the poor creature’s eyes. Subsequently, I was invited to take my place on the back of the bike again, commencing the journey back to Utrecht. A journey with renewed pain in my posterior and legs, including a somber encounter of one of my limbs with the still-warm dead chicken in the pannier.

A completely different excursion where my presence was always appreciated was the distribution of calendars to customers around the New Year. Once again, I sat on the back of the bike with the two large panniers. This time, the chicken and bottles were replaced by a large batch of calendars from ‘Onderlinge.’ We toured half the province of Utrecht in the icy cold. After wishing the customer a prosperous New Year, they received a calendar as a gift. I had the honor of ringing the customer’s doorbell and presenting the gift. It was crucial that I conveyed the New Year’s wish in a disarming manner. I was chosen for this job because my parents believed that my appearance at the door worked extra endearingly, increasing the chances of a good tip. At that time, I regularly visited a summer camp to recuperate.

My father’s customer base was diverse, ranging from farmers to ladies of the night. It was solely for this reason that I found myself in the company of the latter at a very young age. These were ladies who managed to stay upright by lying down. And yes, they were also covered by my father. Insurance-wise, of course. I must admit that I was happy to leave a calendar with them. Not only because, even then, my eyes were not in my pocket. It was always pleasantly warm at the houses of these ladies of pleasure, there was something to see, and they were generally very friendly and generous.

Once back home after such a day, half, if not entirely, frozen, the day’s earnings were counted and evenly distributed among the participants.


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