Halfway March it was time again for the annual meeting of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) at Wuustwezel (Belgium). Normally for me this always marks the beginning of spring. You know, sunshine, flowers, birds and bees, girls in short skirts etc. But when I awoke the sky was dark-grey with rain coming out of it and it stayed that way throughout the day, even in Belgium. Argh… This year about 60 people attended and like the previous time Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there.
Mark on the left
In the morning I drove to Deventer to pick up Mark at the train station. When I had parked there I got a message from him. He had to go for a no. 2 when he would come out the train so it could take a while. Well, when nature calls you have to answer right? Surprisingly quick he came walking to the car. “Damned, there was a line where I wanted to change money and there is a long row before the toilet. But I know a McDonald’s just before we get on the highway, let’s go there.” Not wanting Mark to explode in my car I put the pedal to the medal and in no time we had reached our destination. While Mark was inside unleashing hell I texted Ed, who was waiting on the carpool spot further along the route where we were supposed to meet him. “Mark is doing a no. 2 at the McDonald’s in Deventer, you know he likes to take his time so it could be a while until we get to you.” But Ed, who was waiting in the rain, had no patience. “I am not going to wait in this shitty weather, I am coming to you, stay there.” So when Mark came back to my car with a face of relief I said we had to wait for Ed. Luckily he got here fast so we could begin the journey to Belgium. The only sad part was that Johnny, who normally is also driving along with us, could not make it due to private circumstances.
Frikandel XXL 🙂
After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel. Like always the first thing was to stop at the local liquor store. This time I did not need much. Last year I had bought so many beers that I still had a reasonable stock in my cellar. The only thing I wanted to buy was some bottles of Piedbœuf Brune, a table beer of only 1.5%. Not because I like to drink it, but I use it to make hachee. After that we went for something to eat. Throughout the years I discovered that the snack-bars in Wuustwezel have a kind of rotating system about who is open on Saturday afternoon. So this time snack-bar Manneke Friet was the one we could go to. Only thing, the tiny place had no room where you could sit and eat, you could only order food. Which resulted in the snack-bar being crammed with lots of hungry pipe-smokers. I choose the long frikandel XXL with mayonnaise, curry and onions. We took the food to the location of the meeting, the Bellekeshoeve, where we could eat it. When we arrived and I unwrapped the frikandel I immediately got a friendly pat on my shoulder from pipe-maker Meindert who said with a wink: “You will keep your thick head if you eat that stuff!”
Freek on the left
When I had finished the long frikandel I was looking forward to a glass of delicious dark Vlaamsche Leeuw beer. But to my astonishment it was not available. I looked at Jan, the organizer, and he apologetically shrugged. His supplier could not get the mouthwatering brew. So I opted for another beer instead. It were all Belgian beers so in essence I could not pick wrong. I then bumped into Freek. Earlier on the forum he offered a jar of Tinder Box pure latakia for free. Since I was almost out of blending latakia I responded. Since I was the first I got it! The generosity of some people knows no bounds. Throughout the years Klaas gifted me quite a lot. Samples of Balkan Sobranie, Upper Ten tobaccos, De Graaff tobaccos etc. Now he had a tin of John Patton’s Latakia Junction for me, thank you very much!
Me, matron and Jan
And still the Pipe-God was not finished blessing me. Matron called the Fuming Four and Florian together, all members of the Kearvaig Pipe Club. Who also belongs to that exclusive society of fine gentlemen is Bob Gregory, the master-blender from Samuel Gawith/Gawith & Hoggarth. He had given Matron some tins to divide under the KPC members. They were packed per 2 so you could not see what tins you got. I choose… Wisely! When I opened my pack I saw a tin of St. James Flake and Kendal Cream Deluxe Flake. I have never smoked the latter so I am very curious! Afterwards I had some time to chat with Matron, who surprisingly knows a bit of Dutch. Turned out that in time he still looked like a young god he had a girlfriend from the Dutch province of Friesland. When I walked around a bit I was stopped by stone-cutter Martin Romijn. He showed me his new shirt which was pretty hilarious, and beautiful! On it was an image of a pipe-smoking weasel. The story behind it is: the town where the meeting is held is called Wuustwezel. If you roughly translate that to English it is something like “fierce weasel”. Hence the picture on the shirt.
My François Dal tomato shaped pipe
Suddenly Nick called for attention. Like the last years he had been busy with the forum pipe and he wanted to unveil the new pipe-maker. It is… Drumroll… Bruno Nuttens! He is a French pipe-maker (with Belgian roots) and is going to make a cutty shaped pipe with a beautiful silver coloured ring. Since my pipe-cabinet is getting a bit too small I don’t know yet of I will be ordering this one. But it is a beauty for a good price, that’s for sure. One of the reasons that my pipe-cabinet has almost no more room walked around in Wuustwezel: maître pipier and pipe-maker François Dal. Since some time he is a member of the PRF forum and he continues to impress us with his craft. He brought some of his pipes along and I immediately fell in love with one of them: a tomato shaped beauty with flawless cross-cut and flamed briar. I smoked it several times now and I can honestly say it already belongs to the top smoking part of my collection.
No one can smoke a cigar as tasty as Ed
Sometimes I looked around and thought I had gone to the wrong meeting, a cigar smoker one. Many folks around me were smoking the phallus-shaped rolled tobacco leaves. Don’t get me wrong, I like them very much, especially in the summer, but on a pipe-smoker meeting.. Mwah.. At the end of the afternoon the delicious mandatory sausage rolls were served. I am a big fan of the Brabants worstenbrood but these one are also very yummie! Slowly it got dark outside and the Bellekeshoeve quieted down a bit. I sat at a table with d’Artagnan and had just fetched some tobacco from a jar I brought with me. As a mean of experiment he added a bit of the Tinder Box latakia. I did the same and.. Great! How easy it sometimes is to blend a decent tobacco..
Before we knew it it was time to go home. We almost were the last ones left so we did not have to say goodbye to many people. The ride home was pretty silent from my side, I was tired. I had spoken to so many people.. But it had been utter fun! I would like to thank Jan for organizing the whole, the bar-crew for serving us delicious drinks and Ed and Mark for the conversations on the road. By the way, Mark made a brilliant and funny photo-bomb! As usual I was oblivious to it all..
All pictures were made by Dirk, Klaas, Nick, Marielle, Roelof, Thomas and myself.
Day 3: Saturday 30 April I awoke with a headache, a queasy feeling and a thirst for water. Ah, damn.. Hangover.. Well, things could have been worse, I thought. With some difficulty I climbed over a snoring Thierry (we both shared the upper part of a giant sized bunk bed) onto the ladder. I fumbled in my backpack for some painkillers and swallowed them with loads of water. Silently I staggered to the bathroom, hoping that a shower would freshen me up. Suddenly it dawned on me that for the electricity in the lodge British Pound coins were needed. So perhaps the boiler did not work and there would be no hot water. I took the risk and while standing under the shower I mumbled a quick prayer that it would be warm. A weak trickle of water emerged and.. Damnit, cold! No, wait! After a long while it became hot. Aahhh.. Such a good feeling!
Matron and I sporting a hangover..
After the shower I got dressed and went to the living-room/kitchen part of the lodge. There I saw that Matron was awake and one look at his face told me that he was feeling exactly the same as me. The dishes had to be done so we did them together while groaning softly sometimes because of our hangovers. Matron did not have a good night. He slept in a bunk bed (in another chamber as us) on the lower part with Darren above him. In the middle of the night he was awakened because his sleeping bag felt a bit moist. “Shit! Have I pissed myself?” he thought. Carefully he felt his crotch.. No.. Then looked to the mattress above him and slowly saw some liquid dripping from it. He gave Darren a nudge.. “Pssst, Darren, wake up, did you piss yourself??” Groggily the inebriated Scotsman lifted up his sleeping bag.. “Ay..”
One by one the rest awoke. Alf, Gregor, Shaun and Rob all felt pretty ok considering the night before. Darren was still sleeping but Thierry looked like the ghost of Christmas past. He had tried to drink some water but it had all come out.. 1 time at night and 4 times in the morning, the poor lad. Luckily Matron had the solution: a good, hearty breakfast. He started baking bacon and eggs but also had the curry from the night before. “Anyone also curry??” “Ay!” Answered Rob and myself. I must say, I seldom had such a great morning meal. Bacon and eggs on a bun with some sauce combined with a leftover bit of curry. Delicious! Thierry was thinking the same, bit by bit he began to feel better. Such is the resilience of youth.. There was a bit of drama when Shaun went for a shower. Suddenly he came out the bathroom with a pale face. “Oh boy, I am really f*cked now..” It turned out that one of his special contact lenses (€3000 a piece!) accidentally fell down the drain. Lucky for him Matron found it back in the drain pipe where it got stuck. *pheww* Outside the weather was surprisingly nice, sunny and even a bit warm. I sat on the bench before the lodge and soaked in the healing rays of the sun.
In front of the Dalwhinnie distillery
Just before 2 o’clock we left for the nearby Dalwhinnie whisky distillery, I had booked a tour there. Darren and Gregor were not coming along (in fact, Darren had gone to bed again after breakfast. He was utterly demolished by all the Westvleteren he consumed..) so it was just the six of us. The distillery is set in a desolate, wind-sliced, rain-lashed patch of Highland wilderness. Especially with the two distinctive pagoda roofs the building and its surroundings look like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings. We were greeted warmly inside and soon met our tour-guide; an old chap with almost spiky hair and hands and a face that looked like he consumed quite a lot of the brew that was made there. But he was a truly amicable fellow and guided us with clear stories and a bit of humour through the rooms and halls of the distillery. It was forbidden to take pictures inside which I really regretted when we saw the 2 enormous and impressive copper stills where a lot of the magic happens. At the end of the tour we all got genuine Dalwhinnie glasses and of course a bit of the stuff itself. Before I could say “no” Rob (who was driving) already poured the contents of his glass into mine. Oh man, and I still wasn’t feeling too well because of the hangover.. But like the brave Dutchman I am I downed the glass in one gulp. And felt a bit better afterwards crazily enough.
The Fuming Four: real men
Rob wanted to have lunch so we went to some snackbar/grill restaurant something at the edge of a nearby village. When ordering the Belgians made sure that this time their chips would be well baked. The Scots had a strange (for me) dish: beans on toast. Literally just canned beans in tomato sauce heated up and dumped over buttered toast. They seemed to like it. Once we got back at the lodge the weather was still that nice that the Belgians, Rob and I decided to do a group picture KPC style. So we took off our coats, sweaters and shirts and posed for the camera like real men with bare chests.
Haggis with neeps and tatties, yummie!
In the evening Matron was preparing a signature Scottish dish: haggis. He (traditionally) served it with “neeps” and “tatties“, boiled and mashed separately. Normally a “dram” (a glass of Scotch whisky) goes with it but after the alcoholic orgy of the night before some water sufficed. I must say, the haggis tasted remarkably excellent! Like a smooth mixture between black pudding and liver. For herbivore Thierry Matron had also made some vegetarian haggis. I had some and it tasted surprisingly great. The remainder of the evening was spend quietly in front of the fire. The rest was chatting away and I was reading on my new e-reader, such a great invention! Thierry dodged a bullet by the way, he fell asleep before midnight but just before Shaun and I were going to press our butts in his face he woke up.. Needless to say we all went to bed early.
Day 4: Sunday 1 May After a great night’s sleep, shower and breakfast it was time to leave the bothy/lodge behind. The planning for the day was to go to the capital city of Scotland: Edinburgh. I rented an apartment there near the Royal Mile and opposite the castle. And the best thing was: we could smoke in there! The Scotsmen helped getting our gear to the cars where we said our goodbyes. In the short time we had together we all grew very fond of each other, that is for sure. Matron came along with us until the first stop: tobacconist G.T. Coventry in Kirkcaldy run by Maclean John Dorward. When we arrived in the coastal town at the shop Maclean was waiting outside. “The damn alarm won’t come off, I already called a mechanic but since it’s Sunday it can take a while..” Despite that he offered us a sneak-peak in his store, which was a bad move because the alarm immediately went off. And it made a truly hellish noise. Quickly we all went outside, Maclean kept waiting for the mechanic and we decided to go to a pub. Several streets further we could still hear the alarm..
Finding a pub was easy, but when we got inside we got the distinct impression we were not wanted there. It was a real Scottish pub for real Scottish people, not us. Across the street was an Indian/Nepalese/Chinese/Thai restaurant where an employee stood outside. “Are we welcome here?” Rob asked. (With an Indian accent) “Yes of course! Come in, come in, follow me!” We sat at the back of the place which had a lovely view across the sea. The food was more than excellent! I had noodles with chicken, mouthwatering good. On a small tray were some flakes of something which I fully added to the noodles. Rob looked amazed at me. “You realize you just threw in a bunch of spicy chilli flakes in you dish?” Whoops.. But despite that, great food, only my stomach pained me afterwards..
Maclean of G.T. Coventry
Suddenly Matron got a text message, at G.T. Coventry the mechanic had fixed the alarm. When we entered the shop we were (once again) greeted by Maclean. Looking around it was smaller than I though, but in a good way. It had a certain cosiness. Also because of the lovely old world style wooden interior. The building itself is really old. In 1720 it was a mill (horse-powered), in 1861 it was a chemist and drug-store and then a hatter in the 1890’s. Since 1906 a tobacconist has been located at this site. For a better and longer description of the store, see this KPC magazine.
Maclean weighing off tobacco
Maclean proved to be a very nice, relaxed chap, answering questions and telling about the shop. Strange laws they have in Scotland, you are allowed to sample what you are buying but you can’t smoke it inside the shop.. Of course I had done some research about his store and in all honesty I must say, I was a little disappointed about the assortment. On pictures I saw that only a couple of years ago he had more pipes and pipe and snuff tobaccos for sale. Despite that, it was still pretty impressive. We all bought something and the loose tobaccos were measured in the old fashioned style on scales. I purchased 2 Gawith & Hoggarth bulk tobaccos (can’t remember which ones..) and a piece of black rope tobacco. I could not help noticing that things were going downhill for Maclean. “Alone last year I lost 8 regular customers..” Maclean sighed. How? “Well, they died of old age. And no new customers are replacing them..” When we left the store the good man gifted us a tin of Peterson Signature Flake (in the vein of Capstan). I really, really hope his business endures.
View from the apartment
Outside the shop Matron said goodbye to us, he was going home. We all thanked him for some fabulous days we will never forget! On the way to Edinburgh we noticed that Shaun his bladder infection slowly healed, thankfully he brought medicines with him. In the capital of Scotland we parked our car near the castle, not cheap but the closest to our apartment. Once we got there I opened a small locked box beside the door with the key in it with a code I got from the owner. The apartment was more spacious than I could see on the pictures, excellent! There were 2 beds, 1 in the bedroom and 1 sofa bed in the living room. The one in the bedroom was large enough for 2 but the sofa bed not. Luckily I had brought an inflatable mattress with me. The view from the main window was great, we could see the castle and the Royal Mile.
At first we wanted to get some food at a supermarket and cook it ourselves but of course we could not find one in the city centre. After a short walk we decided to eat almost beside our door at Maxies Bistro. Since it was the last evening in Scotland Shaun and I both decided to dine a bit decadent with a Scottish border rib-eye steak served with black pudding in a rich Port sauce. Yummie! That also went for the friendly and good looking waitress. They had an excellent customer service by the way. Rob always drinks Coca Cola but they did not have that, they had Pepsi, which Rob hates. Suddenly a waiter came back with a can of Coca Cola. Turned out that a while ago they had run out of Pepsi and hastily bought some loose Coca Cola cans. Rob’s smile went from ear to ear. Back in the apartment Rob and Shaun wanted to watch Match of the Day, especially Rob is a big soccer fan. So we all sat there, smoking a pipe, watching TV. Afterwards Rob and Shaun decided to sleep together in the main bed, I had my air mattress and Thierry opted for the sofa bed.
Rob and his full Scottish breakfast
Day 5: Monday 2 May My air mattress was a bit empty when I woke up but nonetheless I slept well. Soon we packed our stuff and decided to have breakfast just beside our door at The Castle Arms. Shaun and I went for a simple bun with bacon & egg but Thierry and Rob opted for the full Scottish breakfast. Rob even had haggis with it! With a good “foundation” in our bellies we began the journey back to Newcastle. This time via the coastal A1 highway, well, highway.. Here in the Netherlands we would call it a provincial road. But it had some great views of the British coastline. On the radio there was not much. Luckily Thierry brought a little speaker with him which he hooked up to his phone so we could enjoy some decent music. Before we arrived at the ferry we wanted to get some food at a supermarket because of the high prices on the boat. On the outward journey we encountered plenty of supermarkets, now none.. Grrrr..
The bad-ass Fuming Four
Entering the ferry went pretty smooth again despite Thierry and Rob receiving a warning from customs because they brought the wrong kind of pocketknife with them. On the boat our cabin proved to be a little bit bigger than on the outward journey, but just as hot.. Because we failed in buying food at a supermarket we were forced to dine on the ferry. This time we went to the Italian restaurant. I ordered a spaghetti bolognese (for a whopping €19!) and I must say, it was THE worst I ever had. Even when you get it from out of a cheap tin it tastes better.. Shaun also had a hard time eating his pizza quattro formaggi (4 cheeses). The crust was very weak and fat just floated on top of it.. Yuk.. On this boat there was no secluded bar where we could drink something so we just stayed in our cabin. Thierry was goofing around with his camera which ended up in one big hilarious photo-shoot.
It was wonderful!
Day 6: Tuesday 3 May Once again I awoke sweaty because of the lack of air conditioning. Nevermind, it was the last night, today I would sleep in my own bed again. We decided to skip the expensive breakfast at the ferry and eat something along the road. But the journey home went so smooth and fast we did not stop. I said my goodbyes to everyone at Rob’s place and drove to a nearby aunt and uncle of mine to get some late breakfast. Before I knew it I was home again which surprised Ellen, she thought I would have been back later that day. We hugged and she asked how the vacation was. Well darling, do I have some stories to tell…..
I want to thank Rob, Shaun and Thierry for their great companionship during the journey, you’re the best! I also would like to thank Matron, Alf, Darren and Gregor from the KPC for their unconditional hospitality and friendship! You guys rule!
All pictures were made by Thierry, Rob and myself.
Update 25-10-2016: Today I heard from Matron the sad news that on 20-10 Maclean-John Dorward of G.T. Coventry passed away at the tender age of 60. He had an inoperable terminal cancer and associated problems with his kidneys. Maclean said that he’d been feeling unwell for sometime and “knew something was up” before he was diagnosed with cancer about a month ago. G.T. Coventry is now closed and will be sold. Also see this link from the local newspaper. R.I.P. Maclean-John Dorward.
2 Belgians and 2 Dutchmen are sitting in a car in Scotland… Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke right? Well, it is not! Since some time the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers Forum (PRF) is friends with the Scottish Kaervaig Pipe Club (KPC). Members of the latter (Matron and Florian) have even visited the PRF Wuustwezel meeting several times. So now it was time to return the favour. At first Fred (who you know from the Inter Tabac blog posts) was busy with organizing a trip to Scotland. The original plan was to go with 9 PRF members in a van to Scotland, stay in a bothy in Balgowan (near Laggan) with the KPC and then, on the way home, pay a visit to the factory of Samuel Gawith (Gawith & Hoggarth). Sadly at the end of last year there have been some troubles on the forum and during that time Fred decided to leave. In the end he handed over the information to me about the Scotland trip he gathered so far. But when I asked if the members who had applied for the journey still wanted to go several called it quits. So I decided to pull the plug out of it.
The Fuming Four before take-off
However, I still wanted to travel to Scotland so I already had a plan B in mind. I called Rob(bie-San) and asked if he was willing to make the journey with me in his (large, diesel fuelled) car. “Of course!” He said. “And who’s coming with us? I have place for 2 more.” I immediately thought of Belgian friend Shaun and to make the group complete I asked his fellow-countryman Thierry if he was willing to join us. They both were enthusiastic so the deal was sealed. Only setback was that the visit to Samuel Gawith could not go through. Due to the British excise tax office tours to the tobacco factory are no longer allowed, to the disappointment of both Bob Gregory and us. Oh well, instead we opted for a short trip to Edinburgh. Finally at the end of April the day for the Scotland journey had come for the Fuming Four (aka. The Beards and the Bald).
Behold Thierry’s packing talent
Day 1: Thursday 28 April After a restless night (too much excitement) I started packing my belongings for the trip. I could not bring too much with me because the packing space in Rob his car was limited. Besides, bringing enough booze with me was more important than a clean pair of pants. When I arrived at Rob’s home I noticed the 2 Belgians (who had arrived the day before) and Rob himself thought exactly the same. We all brought many pipes, (snuff) tobaccos and cigars with us but the vast amount of alcohol was staggering. The Belgians brought a large crate of the best beer in the world: Westvleteren and all kinds of other Belgian beers with them. Rob had bought Beerenburg, Citron brandy and Old Jenever. I had taken Lagavulin and an excellent Jonge Jenever with me. So now getting it all in the car.. Fortunately Thierry proved to have a talent for packing and with ease he stuffed the car full to the brim and, also important, invisible for curious customs officers.
Shaun and I having our intimate Titanic moment
After a very taste lunch made by Rob (home made chicken satay) the trip to the harbour of IJmuiden where we had to get on the ferry-boat went smooth. The weather was a bit chilly but at least dry. Luckily it did not take too long to get passed customs (who looked at us rather intensely, all those beards, suspicious…) into the huge ferry. After climbing some steps we soon found our cabin not far from the bow of the boat. I expected it to be small, but that small.. No way of letting a fart without everyone smelling it.. However the worst thing was the itty bitty tiny air conditioning hole in the ceiling. It was bloody hot in the cabin. We dumped our stuff and went on deck for some refreshing wind and a drink. When I watched the sea passing by at the ship’s rail Shaun no longer could hold back and we had our own intimate Titanic moment.
In the ship’s bar
Our bellies grumbled so we went down to look for something to eat. Aboard you had several options: buy small things (like sandwiches, chocolate bars or bags of chips) at the shop, there was an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse, a fancy dining place, an all-you-can-eat restaurant and a café. We opted for the latter because it was the cheapest option. Well, cheap.. Not exactly, not even near. I had a plate of dry nasi goreng, with only 3 measly pieces of chicken, which was just enough to full my hollow tooth for a whopping price of €17! I almost asked the waiter if he could hold my man-boobs, because I like that when I am being screwed! Later that evening we luckily found a nice and quiet bar on the boat which shielded us from noisy children who were running around and (half)drunk bachelor party folks. When I walked back to the cabin afterwards I noticed the weather outside had become a bit more rough. I only had 1 alcoholic drink but when I bounced from wall to wall in the hallway it felt like I had plenty more.
Shaun with our Titanic moment still in his mind
Day 2: Friday 29 April When I awoke all sweaty because of the shitty air conditioning I was glad I brought ear-plugs with me. Man, those guys could snore. The surprisingly good shower freshened up my sleepy brain and to further wake it up I joined Thierry outside on the very windy deck. The cold wind blew so hard I could backwards lean into it without falling! Soon it was time for breakfast. Which was also very expensive.. While not trying to think too much of the price I shoved in the bun and soon we all got back to the cabin to pack our stuff because the ferry had arrived at the Newcastle harbour. Without much hassle we left the boat, went through customs where I was the suspicious person (why do you have no beard?) and started driving.. Left.. Being a land of traditions the British still drive on the wrong side of the road. Oh well, Rob drove in Ireland before so the only places we had to look out were roundabouts and in busy city centres.
Snow, snow, snow…
The weather was also typical British: nasty. A couple of weeks before we went I mocked Rob for keeping his winter-tires for the journey. The end of April, beginning of May, certainly we were not going to see any snow! Ehrrrr wrong! On some roads it was so bad we even had snowplowers in front of us. In fact, everything that could fall from the skies we had (except aeroplanes luckily). Rain, hail, snow.. It seemed as we were on some Lord of the Rings kind of quest (with Rob as Gandalf, Shaun as Frodo, Thierry as Boromir and myself as an.. An.. Orc?) where we first had to conquer the elements before reaching the safe haven. But I have to say, the views along the road were amazing. We opted to take the A68 through the scenic Kielder Forest Park and despite the bad weather we very much enjoyed it. Unfortunately Shaun was having a difficult time in the car. It turned out that he had a bladder infection so he had to take a piss every couple of miles..
Baaaad fish & chips..
Around lunchtime we stopped at a town called Jedburgh with the ruins of a beautiful old abbey. Unfortunately the weather was so bad we decided only to look out for a place to eat. Soon we found a Fish & Chips bar and upon entering we got the first warning: the owner spoke German to us.. Do we look like a bunch of Germanz yez?? Most of us ordered fish & chips and when we got the food it looked, well, not really appetizing. The chips were bleak and proud Flemish guys Shaun and Thierry nearly retched when they tasted the defilement of what in essence is their region’s proud heritage dish. Blagh.. Shaun wanted to buy a Scottish cap and we were directed by the friendly Tourist Office to a menswear store: David Thomson & Son. Soon Shaun found a good looking suitable cap but while looking around Thierry saw a nice coat which fitted him well and I spotted a tweed waistcoat (always wanted one) which we ended up buying.
Explaining to Matron were we had gone wrong
The ride to Balgowan took longer as we expected due to the weather and windy roads so I constantly had to text to Matron, who was waiting at the bothy, that we were going to be late. But lo an behold, as soon as we approached our destination the sky opened up and the glorious Scottish mountains and hills basked in sunlight. I led Rob upon a small and bumpy road which, in my opinion, led to the bothy. When we after some hassle (we were loaded too heavy) got to the end of it the house we saw was not the bothy we were searching for. The Scotsman who lived there was not amused to say the least we had driven upon his private road.. Whoops! After a phone-call with Matron he told me they were waiting at the main road. Luckily when we got down from the private one we saw him and other KPC member Alf waiting for us. Turned out we had to turn off one road earlier..
We were led up a footpath with the bothy at the end of it. Well, technically it wasn’t a bothy. A bothy is, I quote, “a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge.” What we had was a mountaineer lodge with basic luxuries as a toilet, shower, kitchen, mattresses and furniture. Inside it already smelled good because the curry Matron made was quietly bubbling on the fire. After a welcoming glass of whisky other KPC members Darren and Gregor joined us, they had been mountain biking nearby. When I greeted them I noticed that real Scottish is a language that is pretty hard to grasp. Half the time I just smiled and nodded without understanding a word.. The curry Matron made together with some bread tasted more than excellent. I also had my first experience with a real English ale Matron brought along: Harveys Best Bitter. A bit strange at first but once you got used to the taste, great!
The rest of the evening was spend smoking (Thierry and Rob had brought some excellent cigars with them and Matron yummie pipe-tobaccos), talking and drinking. Matron already warned the other Scotsmen about the strength of Westvleteren compared to British ale but most of the bottles were consumed in no time. It took not long for Gregor to fall asleep on the couch. One of the bothy rules is that you can’t fall asleep before midnight so he was photographed with some bare asses in front of him. The later it got the more my memory failed me. I can vaguely remember Matron making all kinds of strange “dance” movements and I was screaming along at the top of my lungs with the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen..
All pictures were made by Thierry, Rob and myself.
Like every year 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, grey and rainy 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 about 70 people applied and like last year Matron, a Scotch-man and Florian, a German, both from the (in)famous Kaervaig Pipe Club, were there. Tobacconist Rudi even brought a special guest, more about that later.
Gates at the Deventer train station
The day of the meeting began at 07.30 am but I was already awake because of my bad back… Great, ageing… But when I came from under the shower and had a small breakfast (their would be plenty of food and drinks during the day) I felt re-energized and ready for the day. Normally good friend Ed would have picked me up but he moved away from his old town near me to a location pretty far away due to some private stuff. So now I had to first pick Mark up at the train station in Deventer. I parked my car there and texted him where I stood but no response. And I waited, and waited.. In the end he turned up. At the train station they have small gates and Mark’s public transport pass malfunctioned so only after a lot of trouble with the security guards he could get through. That soon was forgotten and we drove to a parking lot somewhere beside the highway where Ed waited for us together with Johnny.
Pipe-smokers munching away
After a pleasant ride we arrived in Wuustwezel where, just like the other times, our first stop was the local liquor store. Only once a year I get the chance to properly re-fill my beer basement and I take that chance with both hands (while carrying a stocked beer-crate of course). “No cash payment because we got robbed” said a sign on the door. How sad.. I mean, Belgian beer is so delicious that one could steal it but to actually do that.. Bastards.. Inside the store I noticed I was not the first Dutchman there that day because the shelf with the delicous St. Bernardus Abt 12 was already half empty. Luckily there was enough left and together with my standard favourites and a few tips from Johnny my beer basement bulges out again now. Then we went to the snack-bar. Unfortunately Zodiac from last year closed down permanently. No not the recession, the owners were old and decided to quit. Thank the fried-heavens another snack-bar was open, the one we went to in 2014: Fritsnack, with the remarkable choice of Dutch (sweet) and Belgian (sour) mayonnaise. I went for the Belgian one this time together with a snack called “Twijfelaar” (doubter), which includes small bits of all their meat snacks on one stick, very yummie! Half the establishment was already taken by hungry familiar looking pipe-smokers under which Matron and Florian (this time with no hang-over from the previous evening). Matron had brought the prices which I won at the KPC raffle with him: a tin of Bothy Flake and Holger Danske Royal Navy Flake. Thanks! I sat across Arjen who had a big portion of fries (and in Belgium that is BIG, I had a medium fries which was too much for me..) together with two more snacks. While we were talking I watched with amazement how he devoured it all in no time. Wowzers!
Rob and his home-made tin-guitar
When we arrived at the Bellekes Hoeve, the location of the meeting, organiser Jan sat beside the door to collect the money for the traditional Belgian sausage rolls and rent of the place. Which by the way was only €1 per person due to the fact we drank so much last year. Jan used the profits he made then to keep the entrance fee low for us. First thing I did when I put away my belongings and shook a few hands was order a Vlaamsche Leeuw at the bar. Utterly delicious! Which was also the opinion of Matron, Florian and Ed who all praised the Belgian beer. Then I bumped into Rob who had made a guitar out of an empty tin of WO Larsen Indigo, hilarious! On a table I made some space to place a mason jar which had to serve as a money box. In September my girlfriend Ellen is going to climb the Mont Ventoux in France for a cancer fund. Louis, one of the forum members, suggested that I put a money box at the meeting so people could make a small contribution. Well, small, in the end €131,60 was put in the mason jar! So unbelievably great! By the way, supporting Ellen is still possible through this site.
For Marielle I had some Amphora pouches. The evening before the meeting she asked on the forum if anyone had some and could bring it to Wuustwezel. Last year on the Inter Tabac PipesMagazine.com host Brian Levine gave me some Amphora pouches since MacBaren produces them. I never smoked Amphora and to be honest the blend not really seems my cup of tea, so giving hem away to a lovely lady was pretty easy. And in return she gave me a tin of one of the only aromatics I smoke: DTM’s Sweet Vanilla Honeydew. But I had more for Marielle. For some years I own a small 1980 Dunhill group 1 pipe which in essence is a ladies pipe. It came from the time when I snatched up every Dunhill below a certain price but I never had a click with it. So Marielle could have it, I mean, a pipe is meant to be smoked. But surprisingly she did not want it. What I did not knew was that Marielle is a filter-smoker and the Dunhill is non-filter. So she said “Give it to someone who really wants it and is really going to smoke it.” Ok, so if any female pipe-smoker reads this and you want this Dunhill, mail me at email@example.com with a picture of yourself while smoking pipe and perhaps you are the lucky one! And gents, please no pictures of yourself in a dress or lingerie while puffing away ok? Thank you.
Per Jensen and his wife
Talking about Amphora and MacBaren, Rudi tapped me on the shoulder, “Look there, our special guest, he wants to speak you”. I turned around and saw Per Jensen, the product manager of MacBaren who I already met at the Inter Tabac. Wow! I know he goes to big American meetings but a humble Dutch/Belgian one.. So nice to see and speak to him again. He brought all kinds of MacBaren tobaccos that are not for sale here so we could try them out. I lit up a pipe filled with the excellent HH Pure Virginia. Per had a question for me, he was busy with re-creating an old Amphora blend but he could not find any info of it. So if I perhaps could dig up some information. I’ll do my best Per! Of course I also had question for Per. This year I am busy with a new forum tobacco made by Samuel Gawith, but over 2 years perhaps MacBaren is a nice option. So a bit hesitant I asked Per if he was interested in producing one of our forum tobaccos. Hesitant because I know MacBaren only produces large quantities and around 250 tins is just total peanuts for such a company. But surprisingly he was willing! I get back to you in 2 years Per!
The generosity of the people on the forum never ceases to amaze me. I saw Freek sitting and he motioned for me to come closer. Last year at the Heukelum meeting I got a bottle of Westvleteren blond from him. One of the best blonde beers I ever drank. But now with a sly smile he produced 2 bottles of the mythical Westvleteren 12! “Here, these are for you. They were a gift to me but I don’t really like the beer.” Wowowowowowow!!! I mean, Westvleteren 12 is chosen as best beer in the world multiple times. What Balkan Sobranie is in the pipe-tobacco world, Westvleteren is in the beer world in my opinion. Last week I drank one bottle and I must say, a truly exceptional brew! Thanks Freek!
Klaas on the left
Still with a smile I bumped into Klaas, one of my pipe tobacco mentors. “Arno, I enjoyed your Upper Ten blogpost so much, here is a tin of De Graaff Kegelbaan for you.” Wow again! One of the earlier latakia blends I smoked through Klaas was the no longer made Kegelbaan, one of the house-blends of the once famous tobacconist De Graaff in The Hague. This mixture is really something special and spoiled my taste buds. It contains Syrian latakia, Old Belt Virginia, Brown Cavendish and the elusive Yenidje. Thanks Klaas! Later I spoke with Andre, who has a very good site where he sells refurbished estate pipes for beginning pipe smokers or people with a small budget. At Heukelum he gave me a blasted Orlik bulldog, a surprisingly fine smoker, and now he produced another Orlik, a good looking billiard. I could also have that one. Thanks Andre!
Suddenly every one was being hushed to silence. Nick took the floor and directed himself towards Arjen. In a couple of months Arjen is getting married with a lovely Canadian woman called Misty. Behind his back the forum members collected money so we could give them a dinner at a restaurant. Well, we ended up with giving the soon to married couple a 5-course meal at the fancy Las Palmas restaurant, a night at the Hotel New York Rotterdam and two glasses and a bottle of bubbles.
You probably know the feeling when you see a pipe and that it just speaks to you like in, I am beautiful, I will smoke good, buy me! I got that when I looked at a pipe amongst Rudi’s wares. A gorgeous D-grade Winslow bamboo. It was precisely what I was looking for, a small to medium sized pipe in which I could smoke Virginia or VaPer mixtures and flakes. And Winslow bamboos are relatively rare. I already have one (a B-grade) which is a terrific smoker. I must say, all my Winslows are excellent smokers and I can’t say that of all my Dunhills.. Rudi saw me (almost drooling) looking at the pipe but the only thing holding me back was the price. But Rudi knew he had the fish on the hook and only needed to haul it in. He made me an offer I could not refuse, a discount. I immediately shook his hands, the deal was closed.
I am a big fan of Lemmy from Motörhead and so is Matron. When we heard about his death we were both devastated. During an e-mail conversation we came up with the idea to bring a toast to Lemmy in Wuustwezel. Of course that would happen with the favourite drink of Lemmy, a Jack Daniels/cola. So I brought half a bottle of Jack with me (the other half I drank on the evening of the day I heard Lemmy died..) and to my delight I saw that Matron had taken 2 Motörhead shirts with him. His shirt was without sleeves. “You know, this shirt once had sleeves. But on a day when I was hiking I realized I forgot to bring tissues with me when I just had taken a shit. So I ripped off the sleeves of my shirt…” The shirt he had for me was a perfect fit, “size fat bastard” he said to me with a wink. We filled our glasses and raised them in honour of our fallen hero. R.I.P. Lemmy!
In the morning when we drove to Wuustwezel Johnny said “Always when I go to a meeting time suddenly goes very fast from the moment I enter the building until I leave it.” I also precisely had that. It was a fun day as always, I had spoken with lots of people, also did not speak with lots of people (better next time!), the sausage-rolls were delicious, the tobaccos great, the beer tasty etc. Around 20.30 we shook hands with the remaining forum members and half an hour later (you know how it goes..) we finally sat in the car on our way home. After a long journey which seemed short we arrived at the parking lot beside the highway. It appeared our cars were well guarded by some men around and in a van who were.. Ehmm.. Jerking off. So we hastily said goodbye to each other (and of course wished the masturbating men a pleasant evening) and went on our merry way.
I want to thank Jan, Sas, Miep and Dirk for organising the meeting and keeping us all hydrated. All pictures were made by Klaas, Jan, Dirk, Nick and Jef.
EDIT 09-05-2016: The Dunhill ladies-pipe has a new owner! Lots of pictures of ravishing pipe-smoking ladies were send in. Some even showed me totally new and quite interesting ways to smoke a pipe.. And no you pervs, I won’t show those photos! In the end there was a clear winner: Italian pipe-smoking lady Emilia. She is the vice-president of the Pipa Club Italia and owner of one of the biggest pipe-smokers website communities: Fumare la Pipa. She started smoking when she was 21 years old. Her first pipe, a Savinelli, was given to her by a friend. Her second pipe she bought at the Peterson factory during a study-holiday in Dublin. Today Emilia attends many events where she had the opportunity to meet many pipe-smokers and pipe-makers (like Tom Eltang and Manduela). For 90% Emilia smokes Italian made pipes. Her favourite is the Kronos pipe, made by Bruto Sordini from Don Carlos. Surprisingly (for a woman) Emilia likes the taste of latakia! Her favourite tobacco is GL Pease Maltese Falcon and she often likes to smoke Tuscan cigars. Emilia is also participating in the slow smoking Italian Championship for several years. Last October she even contented in her first World-Championship in Italy near Venice: 71st out of nearly 300 participants. Currently she holds the women’s title in Italy. Emilia, I wish you lots of happy smokes with your Dunhill!
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!
Johnny (notice the longer beard)
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.
Willem and Jan
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 whomwe had to payfor 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…
Winslow bamboo B-Grade
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.
Matron digs up a surprise for Marielle..
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.
Whisky AND beer?? Germans…. 😉
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.
Martijn and Monique
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.
Freek, winner of the crap-price
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!
Willem and Carro want YOU to come (again) next year!
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.