This Brexit business — with all of its economic and social implications draws closer every day.

Accordingly, like any competent reporter, following the story as closely as possible, it is the purest of truths that I am once again residing in the borderlands this week.

I was born in the borderlands, up in Fermanagh, and fled away from them as quickly as possible.

Now, for the first time in over 50 years, researching on your behalf of course, I am back up against the border. And, as so often before, there is a bitter general election battle coming to a close all around me.

It is necessary to point out to you straight away that I am nowhere near Monaghan or Donegal as I write. 

No, I am in the farmlands of Gelderland in East Holland, my wife’s homeland, and the border with Germany is only a mile or two down the road.

And I am delighted to report that this is the kind of very soft border which we all hope will emerge from the Brexit negotiations between John Bull and Brussels.

It is totally different to the extremely hard and explosive border of my youth. Fact is that it is virtually invisible as the unhindered and unchecked traffic flows freely through along the flat highways.

Just like ourselves at home the Dutch and the Germans both make canny use of the price fluctuations in their countries. 

If petrol or sausages are cheaper in Germany than in Holland, then the Dutch shop over there.

Likewise their German neighbours for any services cheaper in The Netherlands. Commonsense.

There is no friction between communities either, unlike that which is convulsing the Orange and Green camps in our island. 

Down the road, in fact, in another village whose name I forget, there is a common police force to control the communities on both sides of the invisible line. That would not happen for sure in South Armagh.

Forgive my ignorance on farming matters as a non-farmer please. Gelderland is a province of large dairy farms and a huge flat acreage of tillage, mainly grain crops.

What strikes me powerfully on farms is the sheer size of cows of the Friesian-Holstein variety and, incredibly, the fact that so many of these huge cows have rings in their noses like bulls at home. 

When I queried why this was so I was informed that it was to prevent them from suckling each other in the giant sheds.

It is quite a sight to see. Given the reality that the pastures are below sea level and often soggy I was also told that foot rot is something which farmers have to constantly check for.

I assume that progressive Irish farms also today, in some cases, have the robotic milking systems which are common in Gelderland.

When the cow approaches her feeding trough the robot recognises her immediately through her chip, dispenses exactly the amount of feed she is entitled to.

Simultaneously, the cups attach themselves to her udder, making the personal adjustments for different quarters, and the milk flows.

That’s a far cry from the bucket and stool in the open fields of the borderlands of my youth.

Different strokes, they say, for different folks.

I recall, on a previous trip to Gelderland, hugely enjoying a platter of very tasty smoked meat, soft and herbal and splendid altogether. 

After I was told I had just devoured horse meat I responded by asking for more. I hope I will get another serving before this borderlands week is over.

Wasn’t horse meat once very popular in Limerick too, come to think of it. At another level, Gelderland’s tillage farmers will not be slow to answer the call, if as currently proposed, they are cleared to grow acres of cannabis in the near future.

I mentioned the fact there is a general election campaign in Holland at the moment.

Because of that I will have to watch my step a little because there is a politician called Wilders, even further to the Right than Donal Trump, who is campaigning on a platform to ban all immigrants from the country, especially those he has called “Moroccan scum”.

Incredibly, he is heading most of the opinion polls; he has to be protected whilst campaigning by a small army of police and soldiers, and I am certain he would not have much time for Irishmen either.

If I survive this borderlands sojourn, I will tell ye next week about sucker farmers. That’s a promise.


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