For me the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium) halfway March always marks the beginning of spring. The lengthening days, the slowly rising temperatures and the anticipation of the meeting make all the shadows in my mind from the dark, cold winter disappear. For some reason (probably the location in Belgium near the Dutch border and cheap beer) the Wuustwezel meeting always has been the best attended one. This year 80 people applied under which Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club. PRF goes international!
The day of the meeting began early at 07.30 am. After a shower, shave and breakfast I gathered all the tobaccos and pipes I wanted to bring with me and waited for Ed, who rang the doorbell at 9.00 am. I almost walked outside when Ed said, shouldn’t you give a goodbye kiss to Ellen? Oh! I forgot.. So I rapidly went inside, pressed a kiss upon her lips and went to Ed his car while Ellen shook her head and sighted “just like giddy schoolboys going on a field trip..”. Like last year we picked up Mark at the Deventer Central Station and Johnny near the highway.
The journey to Wuustwezel from Deventer Central Station takes about 2 hours but to me it felt like only half an hour. Conversations enough in the car. When we arrived in Belgium our first stop was the local liquor store where we also went last year. Of course I had to re-stock my supply of Belgian beers, can’t live without! I almost did not recognize the store, apparently it had a huge renovation. Some walls were broken down and now there was a big space which housed all the liquor. It did not matter to me, the beers were easily found. Johnny is somewhat of a connoisseur on that field so he gave me some advice about what to buy besides my old favourites.
When I planned our route I noticed that the snack-bar we went to last year was not open at the beginning of the afternoon. Luckily there are enough “frietkotten” (snack-bars) in Belgium so another one, “Frituur Zodiac“, was easily found. We arranged with some other forum members (and also Matron and Florian) that we would meet there, the more the merrier. To our surprise there was another PRF group present when we arrived. And just when we ordered our food other forum members walked in until the small snack-bar was filled with hungry and noisy pipe-smokers. I went for a small “frietje stoofvlees” (Belgian fries with a meat-stew). Yes, small, I saw someone who had a regular size and it was.. Huge.. But it tasted divine! I am sorry for the snack-bar we went to last year but Zodiac was much better. Mark struggled to devour a frikandel XXL so being the good guy that I am I helped him with it. Just when we left the place Matron and Florian finally arrived together with Wilfred, who picked them up. I advised a bit what they should take and later that day I (luckily) heard they ate very well.
Almost precisely on time we entered the Bellekeshoeve, the location of the meeting, where not yet everyone had arrived. I liked it this way because in relative quietness I was able to put away my belongings, order a Vlaamsche Leeuw beer and fill up a pipe before plunging into the busy crowd. We were all welcomed by Willem and meeting-organizer Jan, with whom we had to pay for the traditional Belgian sausage–breads. Talking about Willem, he is a real character, a large man who’s presence commands attention. Last year he only was there for a short while because he does not like big gatherings (“You know Arno, in the old days I was forced to go to receptions and I thoroughly hated those..”), and had things to do. But now he stayed right until the end! With him he brought his charming wife, the green baroness, who started smoking pipe! I believe Rob (Robbie-San) bought her an elegant ladies pipe and soon she was smoking some aromatic tobacco. “Much better than those awful smelly Davidoff cigarettes she uses to smoke”, Willem whispered in my ears.
I was glad that another prominent forum and another Rob (robvoorburg) was present at the meeting. At first he did not want to go, not because he dislikes meetings (I think Rob almost attended all of them), but because of private reasons. To the delight of us all he was able to come because in my opinion a meeting without Rob is no meeting. No one can visibly enjoy a gathering of pipe-smokers more than Rob. And a pleasant side-effect of him coming was that he brought friend and forum-photographer Klaas with him.
Peter, one of the forum-moderators, had brought a lot of bags with him containing new PRF shirts and hoodies, designed by myself of course. Peter does the communication with the printing-company and the distribution. I bought one shirt and one hoodie with the new “smoking goat” design. With which we had some problems because the black print would not really show on the dark army green background I had planned originally. So we opted for a more.. Uhmm.. Visible kind of green. When I wore the hoodie at home Ellen almost burst out into laughter, “Finally you are wearing some colour!” Thanks darling…
Then I bumped into Fred, who had a lot of goodies for me. To start with 3 tins of Hearth & Home Magnum Opus. He has connections in the USA who can get the Hearth & Home range so when I heard that I asked him to order some tins of Magnum Opus. I smoked that blend once through my German friend Rainer and really liked it. When of the few blends out there containing the legendary Yenidje tobacco. Fred also had a pipe for me. And not just a pipe, no, a gorgeous Winslow bamboo B-grade! A while ago Fred had bought a collection of pipes from the family of a deceased pipe-smoker. He photographed them all and with the help of Peter put the lot for ridiculously low prices on the market-place of our forum. First come first served. And I was first so had the luck to buy this astonishing beautiful Winslow. The last item Fred had for me was the (in)famous Bothy Flake from the Kaervaig Pipe Club (made by Samuel Gawith). After the Inter-Tabac fair last year Fred ordered tins for anyone who wanted it at the forum and I was one of them.
Talking about the Kaervaig Pipe Club, Matron and Florian had brought presents for me and the forum. Florian gave me a bottle of German “Schnapps” from his home region and Matron presented me with an original KPC mouse-pad. For the forum Matron had something very special. From out of the unholy depths of his bag (which he suspiciously carried around with him all the time) he dug up a large package with 500 gr. of Samuel Gawith Golden Glow. “This is a gesture from the Kaervaig Pipe Club to the PRF, do with it what you want”, he said. Dumbfounded I thanked him and put the package away. Later at home I divided the 500 gr. in smaller amounts of 100 gr. and set up a lottery for all PRF members.
I especially liked talking to the German KPC member Florian. Before the meeting we had some short but pleasant mail conversations but that was it. In reality he proved to be a well-spoken, polite, intelligent man. I can understand German pretty good (speaking it is another thing) but for some reason we both stuck to English. We talked about all kinds of things; the forum tobaccos, German tobacco companies, German pipe-smokers forums etc. I can’t exactly remember any more what we all spoke about (the Vlaamsche Leeuw began to work) but we certainly had fun. I really hope he is going to be at the meeting next year.
It was also nice talking to Martijn, one of the new members, it was his first meeting. It always amazes me how easy it is to talk to new people I never met before, as long as they are pipe smokers. Because then you have at least one thing in common. And we had several things in common, amongst other things that we started smoking pipe because of our pipe-smoking grandfathers. Suddenly all conversation was stopped because Jos blew on his deafening brass ship’s horn. Time for the group picture. We went outside and when we all found our positions a huge banner was unfold with on it: Flakeroker sterkte (Flakesmoker lots of strength). Jorg came up with the idea (and it was executed by Peter), he wanted to let Flakeroker (real name Sandor) know that we all thought about him and wished him strength. This because Sandor has terminal cancer (in his whole body except his lungs..). In the weeks before the meeting Sandor sold all his pipes and tobacco because every day counts for him. I hope he lives long enough to properly say goodbye to all his loved ones.
On a more happy note Jos had decided to open a competition a couple of weeks before the meeting. Jos has a thing with.. Poo.. So the one who brought the tobacco which smelled most like poo would win the crap-price and an accompanying book. Freek won with a tin of Merde de Cheval, which translates as “horse shit”. What certainly did not smell like shit were the traditional Belgian sausage-rolls. Always a true delight, also the next day. I took a doggy-bag with me so Ellen and I could enjoy some later at home. I think the local bakery in Wuustwezel is very pleased with our annual meeting and accompanying sausage-roll order.
Someone who also was pleased was Robbin. On a Dutch market-place site he found a tin of ancient Capstan. I did some research and came to the conclusion it was even older than the tin I brought with me last year! Robbin was hesitating if he should bring his tobacco gem with him and open it and I was glad to see he did. The tin had lost its lid so he had to cut the thin foil open with a knife Matron dug up from out of his unholy bag. And… The tobacco was intact and still moist! Gotta love those old knife-cutter tins! I had the privilege of smoking a bowl and although different than the current incarnation, it undeniably was classic Capstan. I liked it even better than my old tin!
Too fast the hours went by, so many people and so little time. Slowly the group got smaller and smaller until only a few were left. Willem put his arm around my shoulder and said with a wicked smile “Please have another beer, you can put it on the bill of my wife!” But I graciously declined his offer, I already had enough of the Belgian nectar. It was time to go. After many handshakes and some hugs (especially Carro and Willem would not let me go) we walked to the car. The ride back home went smooth and I was glad to softly snuggle against the warm body of an already sleeping Ellen. I want to thank Jan and Sas for the organisation, all the volunteers behind the bar, Willem for the party-tent outside and Ed for driving! All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Rik, Dirk, Rob and Marielle.