No. 3: Baarle-Hertog, the Belgian town inside a Dutch town, Baarle-Nassau

You know where you are. Image: Jerome/Wikimedia Commons.

Baarle-Nassau is the name of a town, and the municipality that contains it, in the southern Netherlands province of North Brabant. It's not particularly important. It is, indeed, pretty tiny: less than 7000 people live there.

Baarle-Hertog is the name of a town, and the municipality that contains it, in the northern Belgian province of Antwerp. It is, if anything, even less important. It's certainly smaller: less than 3,000 people live in this one.

The only reason any outsiders take notice of either of these places are because of their relationship to each other. This is Baarle-Nassau...

Image: Google.

...and this is Baarle-Hertog:

Image: Google.

When we suggested that this building, which sits half inside and half outside London's city limits, was the stupidest city boundary in the world, we might in retrospect have been being a tad naive.

This slightly crazy situation in the Baarles dates all the way back to the 12th century, when a series of treaties and commercial deals split the local lands between the lords of Breda and the dukes of Brabant. In the centuries that followed, the two areas would sometimes be part of the same political entity, and sometimes be governed separately.

But somehow, the vague absurdities of the border were never addressed. The border between Belgium and the Netherlands was formalised by the 1843 Treaty of Maastricht; but since that drew the line in such a way as to put Belgian Catholics on one side and Dutch protestants on the other – even if that meant going through the middle of buildings – it didn't do much to simplify things.

The result is that the Belgian town of Baarle-Hertog consists of 26 separate bits of land inside the Dutch border. Some of these are as small as 2,632m2; others have more bits of Baarle-Nassau within them, so that you get a bit of the Netherlands inside a bit of Belgium inside the Netherlands.

Over the years this has led to all sorts of absurdities. Strict Dutch laws on restaurant opening times reportedly led to a nightly ritual in which, at the appointed hour, waiters would forcibly move lingering customers to new tables on the more liberal Belgian side of the border.

Today that's not a problem: close relations between the two countries, plus the European Union, mean that it doesn't really make that much difference if you and your companion are in different countries when the desert trolley rolls around. But to make sure you know where you are, the two municipalities mark their boundaries with tiles, and their houses follow different numbering styles and often feature national flags, too.

Incidentally, this story contains examples of both enclaves and their slightly more obscure cousins, exclaves. The word "enclave" describes the relationship between a parcel of land and the single territory that surrounds it; the word "exclave" describes its relationship with the territory it actually belongs to.

So Kaliningrad is an exclave, because it's part of Russia, separated by other states. But it's not an enclave because it's not surrounded by a single state. 

The Vatican, meanwhile, is an enclave, because it's surrounded by Italy; but it's not an exclave because there isn’t a bigger Vatican territory it's been cast off from.

Much of the land in Baarle-Hertog can accurately be described as both enclave and exclave. Don't say we never teach you anything.


There isn’t a war on the motorist. We should start one

These bloody people. Image: Getty.

When should you use the horn on a car? It’s not, and anyone who has been on a road in the UK in living memory will be surprised to hear this, when you are inconvenienced by traffic flow. Nor is it when you are annoyed that you have been very slightly inconvenienced by another driver refusing to break the law in a manner that is objectively dangerous, but which you perceive to be to your advantage.

According to the Highway Code:

“A horn should only be used when warning someone of any danger due to another vehicle or any other kind of danger.”

Let’s be frank: neither you nor I nor anyone we have ever met has ever heard a horn used in such a manner. Even those of us who live in or near places where horns perpetually ring out due to the entitled sociopathy of most drivers. Especially those of us who live in or near such places.

Several roads I frequently find myself pushing a pram up and down in north London are two way traffic, but allow parking on both sides. This being London that means that, in practice, they’re single track road which cars can enter from both ends.

And this being London that means, in practice, that on multiple occasions every day, men – it is literally always men – glower at each other from behind the steering wheels of needlessly big cars, banging their horns in fury that circumstances have, usually through the fault of neither of them, meant they are facing each other on a de facto single track road and now one of them is going to have to reverse for a metre or so.

This, of course, is an unacceptable surrender as far as the drivers’ ego is concerned, and a stalemate seemingly as protracted as the cold war and certainly nosier usually emerges. Occasionally someone will climb out of their beloved vehicle and shout and their opponent in person, which at least has the advantages of being quieter.

I mentioned all this to a friend recently, who suggested that maybe use of car horns should be formally restricted in certain circumstances.

Ha ha ha. Hah.

The Highway Code goes on to say -

“It is illegal to use a horn on a moving vehicle on a restricted road, a road that has street lights and a 30 mph limit, between the times of 11:30 p.m. and 07:00 a.m.”

Is there any UK legal provision more absolutely and comprehensively ignored by those to whom it applies? It might as well not be there. And you can bet that every single person who flouts it considers themselves law abiding. Rather than the perpetual criminal that they in point of fact are.

In the 25 years since I learned to drive I have used a car horn exactly no times, despite having lived in London for more than 20 of them. This is because I have never had occasion to use it appropriately. Neither has anyone else, of course, they’ve just used it inappropriately. Repeatedly.

So here’s my proposal for massively improving all UK  suburban and urban environments at a stroke: ban horns in all new cars and introduce massive, punitive, crippling, life-destroying fines for people caught using them on their old one.

There has never been a war on motorists, despite the persecution fantasies of the kind of middle aged man who thinks owning a book by Jeremy Clarkson is a substitute for a personality. There should be. Let’s start one. Now.

Phase 2 will be mandatory life sentences for people who don’t understand that a green traffic light doesn’t automatically mean you have right of way just because you’re in a car.

Do write in with your suggestions for Phase 3.