Hail to England! Part 2.

For part 1, see here.

The championship begins
At one point all pipe smokers were placed at the benches so the BPSC could begin. Everyone was handed a zip lock bag with in it the championship pipe (made by Ian Walker), 3 grams of tobacco (Peterson Elizabethan Mixture), a pipe cleaner, a tamper, 2 matches and a card with the rules:

  1. 5 minutes to load pipe
  2. 2 x matches
  3. 1 minute to light pipe (after lighting all unused matches to be returned to the table judge)
  4. Only tamper while pipe is in mouth
  5. No blowing into the pipe to make smoke
  6. No drink till 10 minutes have lapsed
  7. You may be asked by the judge to make smoke
  8. Declare to the table judge when pipe has gone out
  9. When out please leave the arena

Rule nr. 4
We were specifically warned for rule nr. 4, since it often wreaks havoc amongst the contestants. Every table had a judge who kept his eye at us like an eagle. And so it began.. I filled my bowl with the proven press hard, press medium, press soft method. 1 match for the false light and 1 match to rule them all, I mean, 1 match for the true light. The whole tobacco surface was glowing and burning steadily. I tried to find a slow rhythmic breathing cadence to inhale through the pipe and exhale through my mouth. After about a minute suddenly our judge pointed at Peter. Apparently out of habit he had tamped the bowl outside his mouth thus breaking the dreaded rule nr. 4. The poor guy was gutted.. I tried to focus on my own smoking and it went well, until at 18 minutes my pipe went out without a warning.. I couldn’t believe it, it was going so well! Major bummer.. I ended up being 41st of 45 contestants with 18m 40s. Matron fared a bit better, 31st at 37m 20s. Overall winner was Reg Stevens with 1h 31m 55s. The female winner was Fiona Wells from the Yorkshire Pipe Club with 37m 45s. Impressive! At the prize ceremony it turned out that Peter wasn’t last, to his delight. The consolation prize was for Dan, no idea what he did wrong!

Matron, Helen and some couple

Nicotine overdose
When I lost I left the “arena” and looked around the main tent. Eldritch Pipes had an evil, gnarly looking prince, just my thing. If it had a black or black-red mouthpiece I would have bought it. What I did buy was a mini-pipe from Chris Askwith. It looked just like a regular briar pipe, but tiny! And totally smoke-able. When I had gotten myself an orange juice – soda I sat down with Peter and his girlfriend. Really lovely bloke, true KPC material! As we chatted along I saw Matron sitting together with the woman next to him. She sat a bit slumped and Matron was putting a wet towel on her neck. I walked to them and it turned out that Helen (her name) had a pretty severe case of nicotine poisoning. She already had threw up 4 times and was looking worse for wear.. Auwwtsch.. Being with the Scottish Coastguard Matron has a rule: never leave a sick person. So I provided them with some drinks so he could keep an eye out for her. Very sweet tea for Helen since sugar helps with an overdose of nicotine in your system. Slowly she recovered and we went inside the inn. We were sitting together with a couple who came from the same region as Helen. The guy was funny, when Matron shouted at him “Show me your pipe face!” he just looked a bit dumb. “Nono, show me your PIPE FACE! GRRRRR!!!!” Then he understood and showed us a proper piping facial expression.

Girls, girls, girls
I can’t write this blogpost without saying something about the wonderful British girls/women. I saw many on my trip, sometimes in outfits that swiftly moved the necks of men like the head of that exorcist girl. When we slowly drove through the busy traffic in Preston I suddenly spotted boys and girls in school uniforms walking on the sidewalks. I thought it was a thing from the past, that perhaps only the upper-upper schools still did it. But no. Boys in a neat looking uniform, girls also with a short skirt instead of pants, sometimes with knee-socks. Here in the increasingly prudish Netherlands (!) this would be a huge no-go. Such a shame. I know, I am a (dirty) middle aged man but I like to see the beautiful things in life. Just look, don’t touch, ok? When we drove at walking pace I saw 2 stunning schoolgirls in uniform strolling towards us. I must have been staring, which they saw and one of the girls (a blonde) waved at me and said “Hello!”. Which totally made my day. Another time was at the The King’s Lock after the championship. We were sitting inside, Matron, Helen and the couple with their backs to a window, me opposite being able to look through the glass. At the other side of the window was the field with the long side of a wooden bench perfectly aligned with our window. Some older girls were having a drink, when one decided to fully lay down on the sitting part of the bench with her legs towards me. She was wearing a short skirt and despite that she kept her shapely legs together I could see a small part of her underwear. Matron saw me suddenly staring with big eyes through the glass, but since he sat beside Helen I couldn’t tell him of my excellent view. Which got even better when the girl sat up again, opened her legs towards me and began casually adjusting her knickers showing me glimpses of her *ahem* shaven “heaven’s door”. When I finally told Matron he was gutted he missed it. Lastly, when Helen went home she gave me not 1 but 2 big hugs and a wet kiss in my neck. If I had been 20 years old my Spear of Satisfaction would have surely reared its ugly head. I think I might have developed a fetish for English women..

Matron enjoying his morning coffee

No patience..
The next morning it was Sunday, our last full day in England. Drinks & Bites at 35 wasn’t open so we had breakfast at another place in Middlewich. Where we could sit beside the canal and enjoy our food (not as good as the other place) and the view. But what to do after that… Matron came up with the idea of going to Lichfield and visit its ancient cathedral, perfect with me. It only was a 1 hour drive before we arrived. But where to park our vehicle? According to Matron England has a “car parking problem”. Which turned to be true when we got to the main parking area of Lichfield. Damn, it was very busy and totally full. Several cars, under which we, were like vultures hunting for a free space. If that was The Netherlands I would have parked my car illegally somewhere with crossed fingers. No patience. Which the English do have, because after 10 minutes Matron saw someone leaving and we could park.

The Green Man of Lichfield Cathedral
The Lichfield Cathedral (building years 1195-1340) was easily spotted. It is the only medieval cathedral in Great Britain with three towering spires. The front is a sight to behold with archaic figurines and ornaments sculpted from Mercian red sandstone. Inside we were greeted by a lovely old lady behind a desk. We chatted a bit with her, gave a small donation and received a folder of the cathedral in return. By no means am I a religious person, but I have to say that many fantastic buildings were erected by people of faith over the millennia. How they build the cathedral in the Middle Ages is a true riddle for me. Matron, also not in the least religious, especially likes the tranquillity in such places and, because he is an all-around handyman, methods of building. At one point he was constantly looking up. “What are you trying to see?” I asked. “The Green Man!” “The what?? Aliens?” “A Green Man is a motif in architecture and art featuring a face either composed of or entirely encircled by leaves, which typically radiates outward from the centre of the face. The Green Man is often interpreted as representing a pagan mythological figure. And they look like… There!” Matron pointed to a small face above us in the middle of other ones with indeed, leaves on its face. “Tricky to spot but very satisfying when you find one!” I agreed with him.

For whom the bells toll
After the cathedral visit we went to a nearby cafe/restaurant that I spotted on the way. I think at one point it was a grand villa that was now re-used. Behind it was a large and lush garden where you could sit and enjoy a lunch, beverage and a good smoke. We all did that. At one point the bells of the cathedral began to ring. Very beautiful but after one hour (!) of it we decided to leave. On the way back to the car we encountered a small candy shop. I couldn’t resist buying some old world typical British candies (advised by Matron and the store-lady) and a selection of Dutch liquorice. I know that non-Dutch folks don’t like our salt liquorice at all, so being a bit of a bastard I offered Matron a piece. Presuming he was going to gag and spit it out, payback for the pickled egg. Sadly he loved it and ate them all..

Oh curry my curry
Back in Middlewich it was time for the last dinner in England. I wanted a savoury typical British pie or an Indian curry. Faith decided for us because the kitchens of both places who had the pies were closed. Indian it was going to be so we went to the only restaurant there where you could sit down and eat. The other Indian restaurant was only a takeaway. Here Matron was a good guide in deciding which dishes to take. As the appetiser-appetiser we had some papadam with all kinds of dip sauces. Hmmm, yummie! Then I had a selection of appetisers and Matron had… I forgot.. My main meal was the classic chicken tikka masala, recommended by both Matron and the waiter. Really yummie! A kind of sweet curry that hit all the right spots.

The scared kitten
After dinner we visited the White Bear Inn, with some covered places outside where we could sit down. To my surprise they had alcohol-free Guinness, yes please! However, what pained me was the friendly but skinny and haggard looking young waitress. When the computer didn’t properly work and she had difficulties with the pull tab of the Guinness can she stressed a lot. I calmly told her to relax but she looked like a scared kitten. When Matron and I were outside smoking she came by to say it was cool we smoked pipes. She also smoked a pipe. “But not for tobacco, for something else, right?” Matron said. To which she rather painfully nodded. I really hope she pulls things together. It’s a tough world and sadly especially the young seem to fall by the wayside more and more.

Back at Schiphol Airport

Luckily not a terrorist attack on my birthday
Monday May 13th was my birthday! Not that I had any intention of celebrating it. I don’t like birthdays, never did. Also not other person’s birthdays. Especially family birthdays. Sitting with a lot of people who you don’t really like in a small room. No thank you. I was glad Matron knew this so luckily he didn’t wake me up with a boisterous version of “happy birthday”. For our last breakfast of the trip we went again to Drinks & Bites at 35 *guttural sound of pure pleasure again*. Afterwards Matron dropped me off early at Manchester Airport (kiss & ride £5!!!) because he had to drive all the way to Scotland that day. We hugged and I thanked him for everything. It had been such a fun trip together and we had some very good and deep conversations. At the airport I grabbed my e-reader and headphones and immersed myself in the book I was reading. Until I suddenly saw everyone leaving the hall. Uhrr, what? When I put off my headphones I could hear an announcer saying we all had to quickly evacuate the hall and listen to the staff. F*ck me, I thought, probably some terrorist attack, on my f*cking birthday! I went to another hall and half an hour later the announcer apologised for a drill gone wrong.. So fortunately I arrived on time in The Netherlands where my sweet Ellen was waiting for me. Back home I thought about Bob’s words; “Come here, it will be fun, fine pipes, good tobacco, good food, good drinks, lots of girls and you know the sun always shines here!” I’ll be d*mned, he wasn’t lying!

Many thanks to Bob and Ian and all the volunteers for organising the British Pipe Smoking Championship, they did an excellent job! Also a big thank you to Sergeant Matron, the best roommate, friend and guide one can wish for. And oh, I heard the BPSC date for 2025 is May 10th. Be there or be ■.

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Hail to England! Part 1.

“It will be fun!” he said…
At the end of last year Bob Gregory (formerly the Managing Director of Samuel Gawith) was nagging me to get my ass over to England. Why? Well, because even in his old age and slightly demented state he was organising the British Pipe Smoking Championship (BPSC). Together with English pipe-maker Ian Walker. “Come here, it will be fun, fine pipes, good tobacco, good food, good drinks, lots of girls and you know the sun always shines here!” Bob exclaimed. I had my doubts about some of his words, but then I heard that my old chap, Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club (KPC), also was coming. And even better, on his way from Scotland to the South he could pick me up at Manchester airport and drive us to the quaint town of Middlewich (already baptised “Middlebitch”, by Matron). The heart and home of the BPSC. So I said “yes”, I will come. Being as organised as he is, Matron also took care of lodgings. We were staying at the local Travelodge.

Sadly going by Spitfire wasn’t possible, I had to do it with Sleasyjet..

Too early..
At freaking 05:30AM my alarm clock went off on Friday May 10th. Ughhh…. What do normal people do at this time?? I asked myself while groggily walking to the bathroom. After a hot shower I felt a bit better and was looking forward to the trip and thought like: Ha! The quest for the ultimate pipe smoking price on the scarred fields of Middlewich finally begins! I will have to conquer the great metal beast on the flat lands, fly with the iron bird over the deepest seas to the ancient kingdom, slay many fuming dragons, but in the end the virgin leaf will be mine! So I got on the train, the most nerve wrecking part of the journey. Will it be on time or not? Will it have a delay or not? You never know in The Netherlands.. Thankfully it was on time and with a sigh of relief I entered Schiphol Airport.

They took me knife!
Sadly the relief only lasted until I got to customs, where my luggage was checked. Being a pipe smoker, you always get picked out because the x-ray folks think you are carrying illegal items. In this case, my cigar cutter and pocket knife. After I explained to the customs woman how a cigar cutter works by nearly slicing off the tip of her finger she took my knife. I know the rules, the blade can be no longer than 6cm. But she held it against some card for measurements and said she had to confiscate it because it was 0.5cm too long… What?? “Normally you don’t have an issue with something being half a centimetre too long..” I muttered to the woman. At which point I was taken away for a thorough strip search by a big man called Bubba.. No, only kidding, but I lost my knife! Grumpily I entered the plane. Fortunately the flight went well (except for that there should be a place in hell for parents who bring their little crying children along) and when I saw my old friend Matron with open arms waiting for me at Manchester Airport all was forgotten.

My Smoking Shop
After paying a hefty parking fee of £20(!!!) we went on our way to Preston, in the opposite direction of Middlewich. Because I arrived early and we couldn’t go into the Travelodge yet, Matron proposed a visit to the famous My Smoking Shop in Preston. By all means, fine by me! When we arrived and went in we expected the shop to be a bit bigger. Nonetheless we were impressed, mostly by the array of British made tobaccos. I swear Matron was getting a hard one by seeing all the smoke-able goodies before him. Sadly, very sadly they didn’t have much J.F. Germain offerings. I was hoping to score some Rich Dark Flake, but apparently My Smoking Shop only had 2 Germain deliveries in the past 12 months. Both without Rich Dark Flake.. Bummer! So I went for some mouthwatering Gawith & Hoggarth Westmoreland Slices, Dark Flake and the excellent Irish Brown Twist. Also I needed a new knife to cut my tobacco. The nice lady behind the counter came up with a good looking Joseph Rodgers 3 in 1 Gentleman’s Smokers Knife. Made from genuine Sheffield steel, Rodgers (founded in 1724) still produces the finest quality knives, ensuring excellence in every aspect of production, from materials to craftsmanship. I immediately loved it so bought it.

“It will only be a small walk there…”
I tested out my new smokers knife at the nearby terrace of a cafe. Worked like a charm! I had an alcohol-free beer while Matron was drinking something I didn’t know: an orange juice – soda mix. Typical English I guess. I tried it, loved it and had many more during the whole trip. After a delightful smoke we drove to Middlewich and checked into the Travelodge. It was nearing dinner time and Matron thought it was a good idea to eat some proper fish & chips at The King’s Lock Inn, the venue for the pipe smoking championship. “It will only be a small walk there.” Matron said. Famous last words.. He got lost (and the freaking internet didn’t work..) and when we asked a local man for directions he had a big laugh at us twits and said we were some miles away.. Thankfully in the end we got there and it didn’t disappoint.

Fish & chips with mashed peas

“Try it, it will be nice.”
The King’s Lock is a nice rustic old pub alongside a canal suited for narrowboats. In front is a field with some wooden benches where we sat down. At the back the tents for the pipe smoking championship were already erected. Opposite the pub at the other side of the canal is the best fish & chips shop of Middlewich (according to many): Kings Lock Fish & Chips. Which was underlined by the long row before the door. Matron asked me what I wanted and I answered: fish & chips as British as possible. When he came back he had some food-boxes and other things with him. For me he had gotten fried haddock with chips (fries) mixed with mashed peas and salt and vinegar on top. For himself he had fries with a curry sauce. But before delving into the main course he had an appetiser for me: a pickled egg. A peeled hard-boiled egg with a bit of a sour smell. “Try it, it will be nice.” the bastard said. I took a big bite and…. UGHHHH!!!! It was so sour all my facial muscles contracted, to the great amusement of Matron. Apparently it is something you eat after a night of hard drinking. From my experience I think you will go from drunk to sober in a split second. Of course I didn’t give in and ate the whole damned thing. Afterwards the fish & chips (despite looking like someone’s stomach contents) tasted heavenly. Great Britain had redeemed itself from the foul junk fish & chips in Jedburgh.

“Sorry, he comes from the Netherlands, he doesn’t know better.”
Saturday May 11th was the date of the BPSC. It started at 11 o’clock so Matron and I had plenty of time for a good breakfast. You have to lay a good foundation for a day of smoking right? On Google Maps we found a nice looking place called “Drinks & Bites at 35“. Matron went for the obligatory beans on toast. Beans in the morning?? No thank you.. I ordered “Eggs at 35”; scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, cream cheese and 2 slices of toast. I was keen to try the famous black pudding so added one of those. The lady at the counter looked weird at the request, so Matron responded with “Sorry, he comes from the Netherlands, he doesn’t know better.” The meal was utterly, utterly delicious. Every aspect prepared to perfection. To top it off I had a slice of home made lemon drizzle cake.. *guttural sound of pure pleasure* Best cake ever!

The BPSC venue
Matron dropped me off at the The King’s Lock and went back to the hotel because I (stupidly) didn’t bring my pipe bag. The venue was in essence a field with tents and benches. Upon entering I was immediately warmly greeted by Bob Gregory. We hugged and both were very pleased to see each other. “Come, I’ll introduce you to everyone. Here now lads, this is Arno, The Dutch Pipe Smoker, all the way from The Netherlands!” Bob exclaimed to a group of mostly young pipe smokers with dashing matching shirts. It turned out to be the Yorkshire Pipe Club. I had barely shaken everyone’s hands before Bob dragged me along to the big tent, where all the exhibitors, pipe-makers, tobacco-sellers were. Where it went something like this: “Arno, this is…..” *shake hands* *bit of small talk* “Let’s go!” “Arno, this is…..” *shake hands* *bit of small talk* “Let’s go!” etc. I snapped some pictures and promised to return later. Finally Bob dropped me off at the Yorkshire Pipe Club table. What a lovely bunch they are! Very passionate and knowledgeable. I spoke a lot with founder & chairman Dan about the current smoking regulations in both Great Britain and The Netherlands. It was quite a shock for him to hear the current bleak situation in my home country where tobacco is even more expensive than in the United Kingdom. I also shook hands with president Jim Boyle, who I know, but didn’t recognise.. Sorry Jim! And chaps, if you read this and ever need help when visiting The Netherlands or Belgium, let me know!

Perhaps “The Piped Peter” is a good bothy name for him?

Peter our saviour
Matron had also arrived and slowly we got ready for the main event. Only, we had a small problem.. We were there as the KPC but teams needed a minimum of 3 persons. No worries, Bob had the solution in the form of Peter the pipe smoker who would join our exalted ranks. We immediately hit it off with Peter who was quite nervous since it was his first pipe smoking championship. Join the club lad, it is also our first time! We are all virgins here! He was present with his charming multilingual wife girlfriend who even could speak a little bit of Dutch! “I really hope I don’t go out first..” Peter muttered. Almost famous last words!

Stay tuned for part 2 and find out about the championship results, a nicotine overdose, English girls, an ancient cathedral and a possible terrorist attack.

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